Tom Kitchin: ‘Some of our best loved desserts use strawberries
WITH Wimbledon in full swing, I like to think it brings with it sunny days but the reality is, unfortunately, more likely to be rain.
I really enjoy playing tennis, and though I seem to have less time to enjoy the sport as much as I'd like these days, I still think it’s the perfect way to spend a summer day.
Away from the courts, what is synonymous with Wimbledon and indeed any summer, whether or not it includes tennis, is that firm favourite – strawberries and cream.
Seasonal Scottish strawberries are an absolute joy. The quality is outstanding around mid-July, when they are at their prime. Rather like a jewel in nature's crown, strawberries are the foundation of so many delicious classic summer desserts, and when they're in season there's no excuse not to make the most of what is grown locally here in Scotland.
A unique balance of rain and soil fertility means we have an ideal climate for growing strawberries, and I'm proud to source most of my berries from Blairgowrie in Perthshire. They also grow in abundance in many other areas of Scotland, including Grampian, the Highlands, Arran, Ayrshire and the Borders.
We depend hugely on weather conditions to get the right fruit. Though strawberries rely on cooler summer days and long daylight hours, which help them ripen and give them plenty of flavour, an incredibly wet season is bound to have had an impact on this year's delicate crop.
It's encouraging that Scottish strawberries sell so well during the season – usually from mid-June. It's testament to their absolutely fantastic quality. And as the seasonal window is short, it's even more essential to buy them while we can. Scottish berries have an unmistakably sweet, succulent taste, and if you buy them locally they will be in peak condition when they reach you – not too hard or unripened, yet not too bruised or squashed.
It breaks my heart to see strawberries in shops and on menus all year round. They are a treat that we should enjoy and make the most of during their short seasonal peak. It’s useful to know that strawberries imported to this country are actually picked before they are ripe. Given that the fruit doesn't continue to ripen after it’s picked, you are never going to get the same freshness or quality as you would with locally grown produce.
A wonderful thing to enjoy in summer is going out to pick your own strawberries – and they certainly don't come any fresher than that. Many farms across the country welcome people in for strawberry picking every year, and it's a fantastic thing to do with the whole family. Not only is it a fun way to spend some time together, you can take home the fruits of your labours and make all manner of exciting dishes.
When selecting strawberries, look for those that are brightly coloured, firm, plump and unblemished. It’s always tempting to reach for the largest ones you can find, but actually they contain more water, and therefore tend to be less tasty and juicy than the smaller, daintier strawberries.
As we all become increasingly health-conscious, berries are still being celebrated for their health benefits and are thought to protect against many illnesses, including cancer. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, and actually contain the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit.
What better excuse do you need to try making some summer favourites? Some of the restaurant’s best-loved desserts use strawberries, from simple strawberries and cream to classic Eton mess, and pavlova to sumptuous summer pudding.
Once you have picked your own, or bought some fresh locally grown fruit, there area few things to remember to get the most out of your strawberries. If you need to wash them, do so only very lightly as they can become quite mushy if they come into too much contact with water, and it's best not to wash them before you put them in the fridge for the same reason. If you do wash them, leave them to dry for about an hour on a tea towel or a piece of kitchen paper before eating or cooking with them.
Whether or not you will be watching or playing tennis this summer, you can still join in the spirit of the sport by enjoying some fresh, juicy, local strawberries in whichever delicious seasonal dessert takes your fancy.
Strawberry tart and pepper ice-cream
• For the pastry
100g icing sugar
350g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• For the strawberry filling
500ml whipped cream
punnet of strawberries
1 jar good-quality strawberry jam
For the garnish
lemon thyme leaves
1 scoop vanilla ice-cream
sprinkle of cracked black pepper
• To make the pastry
Sift the flour and sugar together. Pulse with the butter in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg and knead gently until the dough clings together. Flatten into a round, wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6, then roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 4mm and use it to line a 23cm pie tin or fluted flan case. Trim the edges and add some parchment paper and three cups of baking beans.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for ten minutes, then remove the beans and paper and cook for another ten to 12 minutes or until golden. While the pastry is still warm, brush the inside of the case with beaten egg, as this helps to seal the pastry from the tart filling and ensures a crispy base.
To make the filling
Once the pastry is baked and cooled, fill the base with whipped cream. Top and tail the strawberries and place on top.
Meanwhile, in a pan, heat the strawberry jam until it thins. Pass the jam through a sieve to remove any seeds. Brush the jam mixture over the strawberries and then garnish with lemon thyme leaves.
To serve, place a scoop of vanilla ice-cream next to the tart and sprinkle with the cracked black pepper.
Strawberry, lime and mint sundae
2 tbsp golden syrup
100g caster sugar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tbsp water
500ml mascarpone cheese
zest of 2 limes
juice of 2 limes
50g icing sugar
1 punnet strawberries
150ml strawberry coulis
1 tbsp chopped mint
• To prepare the honeycomb
Grease a 20cm square cake tin or slice tray.
In a large pan, heat the golden syrup and sugar together, bring to the boil and then simmer on a low heat for five to ten minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda. Quickly mix it in because the mixture will foam up instantly.
Pour immediately into the cake tin, leave to set and then break into bite-size chunks. Crumble into smaller pieces for the sundae.
Add the mascarpone cheese, lime juice, lime zest and icing sugar to a bowl and whisk.
Top and tail the strawberries and cut into quarters.
Place a small amount of coulis in the bottom of a cocktail or whisky glass. Place the strawberries on top, followed by a sprinkle of mint and honeycomb.
Repeat this process until you have several layers in each glass. Add a sprig of mint on top to garnish.
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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