The strawberry fields will soon be ready for picking.
Everybody knows by now that the strawberry is the only fruit with seeds on the outside, but did you know that there are more than 200 seeds on just one berry? Strawberries are also one of the lowest-calorie fruits available. One cup of strawberries, about 12 smaller berries (144 grams), contains about 45 calories. That's less than four calories per berry and they pack a lot of nutritional value, especially vitamin C, and are rich in antioxidants.
The United States tops the list when it comes to producing strawberries, followed by Spain and Russia. Mid-June to the end of July is picking time in New England, depending on the weather. New Hampshire has more than 30 strawberry farms full of fields for picking your own or buying already picked. Many farms also offer raspberries, apples, blueberries, peaches, etc.
When you go out strawberry picking, make it a picking party - bring the kids and the neighbors and make a day of it. Make sure to bring along hats and sunscreen to protect everyone from the sun. And the best time to pick strawberries is first thing in the morning while it's still cool outside. Strawberries are not known to ripen after picking, so look for the berries that are shiny, very red and fully formed. When picking strawberries, try not to jerk or pull at the berry, or you might damage the plant. Instead, gently twist the stem just above the berry and it should come right off.
There are many varieties of strawberries, but here in the Northeast look for earliglow, sparkle or jewel. There's a lot of talk around about a new berry being bred for the wintertime called camarosa. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about that soon.
One of my all-time favorite desserts is strawberry panna cotta. Its beautiful pink color and creamy texture makes this dessert a standout. Panna cotta has no eggs and requires no baking. Panna cotta is Italian for "cooked cream."
For a strawberry field near you visit www.pickyourown.org/NH.
Strawberry Panna Cotta
Yield: 6 (8 oz.) ceramic ramekins
24 large or 36 small sliced strawberries (3 cups)
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
(shake well before measuring)
6 tablespoons sugar
(just less than one-half cup)
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups strawberries, trimmed
(preferably small, about 1/2 pound)
1 tablespoon superfine granulated sugar
Purée strawberries, buttermilk and sugar in a blender until very smooth.
Sprinkle gelatin over milk in a small bowl and let stand several minutes to hydrate.
Bring cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add gelatin mixture, stirring until dissolved.
Gently whisk cream mixture into strawberry purée and pour into molds. Chill panna cotta, covered, until firm, at least 4 hours.
Dessert can be served in ramekins or unmolded. To unmold place ramekins in warm water to loosen the sides slightly, unmold onto dessert plate.
Make compote while panna cottas stand
Slice strawberries lengthwise and sprinkle sugar over berries and let set 10 minutes. Toss gently.
Serve panna cottas with sauce spooned over the top.
This article appears in the June 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine