Early strawberries in balsamic vinegar
We are starting to get good fresh strawberries now. They are being shipped from places like Spain and Italy, which is not quite the same as the freshly picked ones that will be available from local sources in a few weeks. Still, they are much better than the real long-distance travelers from places like Israel and California with woody insides that are sold out of season.
When I was growing up, our favorite way to eat strawberries was in milk. This even has a name in Japanese, ichigo miruku. It's such a popular combination that there is even candy with that ichigo miruku flavor. Basically, you pour some cold milk over a bowl of strawberries, and crush the strawberries into the milk. It is a methodical and quite satisfying process. Sugar is sprinkled on often, though my mother was rather strict about allowing the kids to have extra sugar, so it was not a regular feature in our house.
A variation on ichigo miruku was served at one of my friend's houses: strawberries with condensed milk. This was so soul-shakingly sweet, that I craved it. Never would my mother have allowed this - I don't think she ever even allowed condensed milk into the house. The syrupy-ness of the condensed milk was a perfect foil to me to the tart strawberries. The resulting sugar-high afterglow was quite interesting too.
Anyway, now I am an adult more or less, and my favorite way to have strawberries that are not quite the peak of freshness and sweetness (that kind of rare strawberry should simply be eaten plain) is to macerate them in some good balsamic vinegar with a bit of sugar. This is an Italian method I believe, though I think I first read about it in one of the Frugal Gourmet cookbooks years ago. It also appears in Nigella Lawson's How to Eat book. It doesn't even deserve a recipe, because it's simplicity itself, but a recipe of sorts follows anyway. The balsamic vinegar seems to bring out the strawberry-ness, and the liquid that you are left with after the strawberries are gone has a most wonderful vinegar-strawberry-sweet flavor that I can just drink as-is. It also makes an interesting drink - dilute with the same amount of sparkling water, add ice and a lemon slice.
Strawberries in balsamic vinegar
- 1 large pack of strawberries
- 3-4 Tbs good quality balsamic vinegar
- 3-4 Tbs sugar
The main task you have for making this is to get the best strawberries you can find. Wash the strawberries with their hulls on, then take out the hulls (otherwise, the water seeps into the middle part and can make them soggy). Cut any large strawberries into halves.
The balsamic vinegar should be the most expensive kind you can afford, with that wonderful sweet-mellow flavor.
For each pack of strawberries, you want about 3 to 4 tablespoons each of balsamic vinegar and sugar. If you are wary about the vinegar, add less; if the strawberries are very tart (sort of a rarity these days) add more sugar. Toss the strawberries around gently in this mix in a non-metallic bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours, preferably overnight.
Bring the strawberries out a bit beforehand to take the chill off them. To serve, just place in a glass bowl or even a brandy snifter, spoon some of the liquor over it, and garnish with a sprig of mint if you like.