Savouring Strawberry Season – a recipe round-up

On a recent morning ramble, Clara and I found the first wild strawberries, a handful of tiny sweet gems that signaled the start of our glorious berry season. And on a day-trip to the country last Saturday, we saw no less than seven farm stands boasting ‘Fraises du Québec’, and I spent the next hour balancing several quarts of berries on my lap. After all, it’s not a legitimate weekend road trip until you hit up a roadside fruit stand, am I right?

Yes, mid-June is typically when local strawberries hit the markets here in Quebec, and we throw ourselves headlong into making the most of them. Soon the neighborhood U-pick will open its doors and we’ll ride the wagon along the dusty track to fill our baskets and pails with berries.

It’s a sweet season, and we savour the local strawberries in a multitude of ways from salads to ice cream. Even the hulls from the organic berries are rinsed and used to flavour water. Today’s post is a round-up of my favourite strawberry recipes and really showcases the true versatility of this June berry.

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Spiced Pear Gingerbread

There is a new cookbook on my shelf, a recent arrival from the Berkshire kitchen of my friend, Alana. Actually, it hasn’t rested on the bookshelf yet; I’ve been keeping it with me in the kitchen for daily cooking, baking and tea-time reading.

The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure is the second cookbook from Alana, and a long awaited companion to The Homemade Pantry. It’s a personal and passionate ode to home cooking without an ounce of pressure. Alana encourages aspiring cooks with memorable lessons such as Do Your Best and Then Let Go, Be a Beginner, and Do the Work. In fact, these guiding principles form the outline of her book, and she explains and expands on them in thoughtful essays that undoubtedly come from a place of learning.

I’ve been cooking plenty from The Homemade Kitchen already, so read on for more thoughts on the cookbook and a splendid giveaway, too.

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Kale Tabbouleh with Cucumber, Mint and Garlic Scapes

I never know which direction my summer salad obsession will take me until that first forkful.

Last summer it was the grilled green bean salad. I experimented with every possible variation from June through September, then I picked my favourite and added it to my upcoming cookbook. The summer before was a smoky grilled corn, red onion and bell pepper salad, served warm with plenty of torn basil.

This summer, it’s all about the tomato salad in every possible form. Paired with briny olives and salty feta in a tangy Greek salad, sliced with fresh mozzarella and basil in the Caprese, and married with watermelon and mint for a refreshing bite.

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Rhubarb Vanilla Bean Jelly

It’s a little late in the season to be sharing rhubarb recipes, but my patch is still producing, fighting for space next to the English peas and the garlic that keeps getting taller.

Besides, I’ve been talking about making this jelly for far too long, ever since a friend brought a case to exchange at my very first ever jam swap. It was a clear favourite of both Danny’s and mine, and we hoarded our jars for as long as possible.

You’d think that after six years I’d develop my own recipe for the rhubarb vanilla jelly, but here’s the honest truth: jelly scared me. Homemade jelly is a whole ‘nother ball of wax from making jam. Jelly either sets or it doesn’t (becoming syrup). It’s cloudy or it’s clear. It either works – or it doesn’t.

Today I’m sharing a homemade jelly recipe that most definitely worked for me. It’s not actually that scary after all.

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Early Summer Risotto with New Garden Vegetables

I can’t quite remember when risotto went from being a favourite menu item when dining out to a weeknight staple around our table; a go-to comfort food that changed with the produce brought by each new season.

It may have been when my Italian culinary school chef tutored my class on the art of the risotto, instructing us never to rush the dish or the rice would guess our haste and become gummy rather than creamy. Perhaps I became less intimidated to cook the classic dish after testing it out frequently on Danny when we were newlyweds.

At any rate, I eventually discovered that the cheesy rice dish was an indispensable vehicle for getting my children to eat vegetables. Ever since, I’ve seldom been without the basic ingredients for risotto: chicken or vegetable stock in the freezer, butter and Parmesan cheese in the fridge, rice and onions in the pantry.

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