Yesterday we went to the Santa Monica Farmers Market with the intent of zeroing in on whatever is fabulous. The heirloom tomatoes are abundant and transcendent. The Pineapple Tomato from Munax Ranch of Paso Robles was so sweet and meaty that it took every reserve I possessed not to bite into one right then and there with no regard for the juicy pulp that would surely smear my face after such a barbaric act. The only thing stopping me was the fact that at 10 a.m. there were only a dozen of these bright yellow beauties left and Matt greedily scooped them all up to use for a catering party this Saturday. Sigh.
As usual, we stopped by McGrath Farms and asked Arturo for his strawberries that were pretty sensational this year, as good as Harry’s Berries really and less expensive. His Gaviotas are gone now but Seascapes are around the whole year and are peaking at the moment. To unveil the quality of your strawberry, look for shine and a vibrancy of crimson that remains consistent down to the interior flesh (no white, please). You will never find strawberries of this quality in the produce aisle of your grocery store as these little gems are too fragile to hold up to much transport and handling, but you can find some wowza strawberries at McGrath Farms this Sunday at the Hollywood Market. Keep strawberries refrigerated as they will perish easily, or you can freeze them in zip lock bags also.
Packed with Vitamin C, you can just eat them in the car before you get home, but you can also do what Elizabeth did at Cake Monkey for her pop pies and turn them into a jam. Because strawberries have a considerable amount of pectin, they make jam production less daunting, and if you refrigerate this luscious spread rather than stockpile it in your basement, you needn’t to worry about all the necessary neuroses involved with canning. The reward of making your own jam from perfectly ripe, intensely red strawberries is matched only by having a boyfriend who cooks for you every night (well at least he used to).
Whenever I get my hands on some scarlet goodies, I make a puree using ½ cup of sugar to every 3 cups of fruit and then whiz it up in the processor. You can add Grand Marnier and orange zest or you can heat it up and make an infusion with a toasted star anise or vanilla bean, bringing it up to a boil and then removing from heat and covering, allowing the mixture to incorporate these flavors. I use this to coat cake layers in Trifles and thinned out or strained, it makes a lovely sauce.
With less sugar, strawberry puree makes a refreshing salad dressing when combined with some red or white balsamic, olive oil and pepper, and looks gorgeous over frisee and chopped mint, golden raspberries and toasted almonds. Truth be told, however, my all time favorite use of this puree is when Matt muddles it with basil and fresh ginger to use as the base of a vodka and ginger ale drink. You can use it as a dramatic base for lemonade too, and no harm in sassin’ it up with some, yes, vodka.
QUICK STYLE STRAWBERRY JAM
For every pint of strawberries, use ¾ cup sugar and the juice from ½ lemon.
Hull your strawberries the way Alton Brown says: Take a star pastry tip and plunge it over the leaves, twist gently and pull out. Thanks Alton, this (star) tip has saved me oogles of time!!
Combine the sugar and lemon juice in a suitable saucepan and cook on low until the sugar has melted (about 10 minutes).
Add the (whole and hulled) strawberries and if desired, and any flavorings like mint and pepper. Continue to cook on low until it has reached a jelly like consistency. You can test this consistency by putting a plate in the freezer and putting a drop of the cooking jam on the plate. Return to the freezer for a moment then remove and check by pushing your finger onto the drop. If it wrinkles, it’s as ready as a face lift.
Tara Maxey is the sweet side of Heirloom LA, with Matthew Poley handling the savory side.