Photos by Collin Richie.

Strawberry Fields: Fruit-forward recipes to savor the season

Of the many bonuses I discovered when choosing to move to Baton Rouge eight years ago, strawberry season ranks near the top. Though I have not been to any you-pick farms here, the thought of the adventure takes me back to my Florida childhood. My mother hauled us to the strawberry fields every spring in her wood-paneled station wagon with the backward-facing seat. Cue the road trip singalongs. We plucked as many juicy berries as we could manage in our two assigned baskets each and brought them home to play. The options, in addition to nibbling the fruit right off the little green cap, outnumbered the stars.

Recalling the aroma, the berry-stained fingers and juice dripping down my chin are my happy meditation. I adore being able to recreate these memories when I pick up a flat of local berries at the Red Stick Farmers Market (with abundant thanks to the hands that grew and picked them). I love that local strawberries linger into May and can be the star of Mother’s Day brunch.

Whether you are hosting Mom for her special day or are the mom being celebrated, this strawberry-focused menu will please everyone at the table—and in the kitchen. There are do-ahead tips to make it Sunday brunch ready or even a weeknight salad supper. The most fun part, I think, is that the dishes look impressive, fancy even, without a lot of fuss. Even better, the menu gets my delicious and nutritious seal of approval with the bounty of fresh greens and berries, some tangy and crisp goat cheese crisps, and roasted Louisiana pecans. Even the dessert gets brownie points with its petite size and whole wheat pastry plus just-sweet whipped cream kicked up with Greek yogurt.

Join me in raising a toast to all the moms and the queen of the Spring fields, red ripe strawberries. Make it a glass of sparkling strawberry lemonade and your Mother’s Day menu is complete.

Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese Crisps and Strawberry Vinaigrette

The salad ingredients are for each serving. The goat cheese crisps can be assembled a day ahead and cooked just before serving or cooked and reheated.

For Goat Cheese Crisps:

1 11-oz. log of fresh goat cheese, cold

13 cup flour, seasoned with 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper

1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp. water

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Slice goat cheese into twelve equal pieces and shape into 2- to 3-inch disks. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and chill until you have assembled the breading ingredients.

In a shallow baking dish or pie pan, combine flour with salt and pepper. In a second dish, mix egg with water, and in a third dish, sprinkle in panko. Press each disk of chilled goat cheese into flour, turning to coat, and shake off excess. Dip into egg to coat, then into panko, pressing so crumbs coat top and bottom. Return each coated cheese disk to parchment-lined sheet. When all are coated, chill for 30 minutes or cover and chill overnight.

Right before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Carefully add crumb-coated goat cheese disks and cook until golden brown on first side, 2 to 3 minutes, then turn and cook on second side for another minute or two to brown and heat through. Remove to a plate lined with paper towel and let cool slightly before serving. Extras can be refrigerated in a sealed container for up to 3 days.

For Strawberry Vinaigrette:

Don’t toss the last of the jam jar! Save those few lingering teaspoons of jam to make a quick and easy salad dressing.

1 Tbsp. strawberry jam or preserves, in the jar

3 Tbsp. red or white wine vinegar

13 cup extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp. each coarse salt and pepper

Add vinegar to jam in jar. Screw lid on tight and shake well to release jam from sides of jar. Add olive oil and salt and pepper and shake again.

Makes about 23 cup, enough for 6 to 8 salads.

For each serving of salad:

2 large handfuls fresh baby spinach

2 strawberries, capped and sliced

Roasted pecans

Goat Cheese Crisps

Strawberry Vinaigrette

Lay the “per person” spinach out in a shallow serving platter and toss with a Tbsp. or so of dressing per serving to lightly coat. Top with the strawberries, pecans and about 2 goat cheese crisps per person. Serve.

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade

A little muddling and shaking is all it takes for this craft mocktail.

¼ lemon, sliced (more if you like it really tart),
plus a peel twist for garnish

2 large strawberries, rinsed, capped and sliced,
plus more for garnish

Handful of ice cubes

¼ cup cold water

12 oz. sparkling water

Put sliced lemon and strawberries into a cocktail shaker and muddle/mash with a cocktail muddling tool or handle of a wooden spoon. Add ice and mash a little more to get the juices out of the fruit. Add cold water, put top on shaker, and give it a vigorous shake. Using a coarse strainer, strain mixture into 2 glasses—you should have lots of strawberry bits in glasses. Top each with 6 oz. sparkling water and serve with a strawberry plus lemon twist garnish.

Makes 2 glasses.

Personal Strawberry Crostatas

Mixed in a food processor or by hand, this classic pastry comes together nicely with a strong wheat flour. I opt for the freshly milled flour available at Straw Cove Baking Company in Lafayette. Of course, fresh strawberries are the filling, serving as the star of this dessert.  These pastries are sprinkled with sugar and brushed with cream before spending just a few minutes in a hot oven. Sweet, springtime perfection.

1 stick (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter

1 cup whole wheat or unbleached flour

1 Tbsp. sugar

¼ tsp. coarse salt

2 to 3 Tbsp. ice water

Flour for rolling the pastry

Fresh strawberries

2 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. heavy cream

Grate cold butter with large holes of box grater onto a sheet of wax or parchment paper and chill until other ingredients are assembled. Place flour, sugar and salt in bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade. Pulse a few times to combine. Add cold butter across top of flour and pulse until butter is size of lentils, about 8 to 10 pulses. Add 2 Tbsp. ice water through the feed tube while the motor is running and process for a few seconds until dough starts to come together without becoming solid. If loose flour bits remain, pulse in a few sprinkles of water.

Turn dough out onto parchment-lined baking sheet, pressing in any loose particles. Divide into 6 or 8 equal pieces, pressing each into a rough disk. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper and chill for one hour, or wrap well and freeze for up to a month.

Remove the dough disks from refrigerator and place on a clean work surface sprinkled with flour. Keep  parchment-lined baking sheet for baking crostatas.

Gently pat each dough disk into flour to lightly coat. Roll out each disk into a 5- to 6-inch circle and transfer to prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each dough circle with 1/2 tsp. sugar. Lay sliced strawberries in center of each dough circle, leaving a 1-inch border, mounding extra fruit in center. Fold plain edge of crust up to partially enclose strawberries, leaving fruit exposed in center. Dough will drape gently over fruit, with creases or folds every few inches. Repeat until all crostatas are formed. These can be chilled for an hour before baking.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Brush edges of crostatas with cream and sprinkle with remaining sugar on dough and over fruit. Bake until golden brown and juices are bubbling, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on sheet for about 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 1 large freeform crostata or 6 to 8 individuals.

Tangy Whipped Cream

Blending in Greek yogurt to this traditional recipe stretches the whipped cream and adds a little protein boost. A dollop on each serving is all you need. Whip with an electric mixer or get the kids to help whisk it by hand, which is so fun!

13 cup heavy cream

1 Tbsp. powdered sugar

½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

13 cup plain Greek yogurt

In a large, chilled bowl, whisk cream, powdered sugar and vanilla to combine. Then, whisk briskly until cream thickens and begins to form peaks. Continue to whisk until almost whipped-cream consistency and holds firm peaks (be careful not to overbeat or you will make butter). Fold in the yogurt and serve. Can be made two days ahead, re-whisk if the mixture has separated.

Makes enough for topping 6 to 8 crostatas.