summer

Strawberry Conserve

If early summer could be captured in a jar, Strawberry Conserve is how it would taste.

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Conserve is a fancy way of saying a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar. This one has just three ingredients: strawberries, superfine sugar and lemon. Pretty perfect for summer.With such few ingredients, it’s important to use the highest quality you can find, and not to make substitutes. Don’t fall for the large, watery berries from the grocery store (even at peak season). Get to a garden, farmer’s market, or pick-your-own farm. Superfine (caster) sugar is available at grocery stores, but if you can’t find it, you make it with granulated sugar and a food processor.

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Garden or farm-fresh strawberries are low in acid and pectin, which makes it tricky to preserve. That’s where the lemon comes in: the pith and rind are natural sources of pectin, which helps the jam to set.

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What does one do with a jar of summer? Why, just about anything you can think of. Spooned over ice cream or yogurt. Drizzled over pancakes. Spread on a biscuit or toast. On a picnic with crusty bread, Serrano ham and a little aged balsamic vinegar. Mixed into a cocktail. Folded into whipped cream. Eaten straight out of the jar.

Where did I leave my spoon?

Strawberry Conserve

From Bon Appetit

Yield: 2 cups

4 cups fresh strawberries (about 1 pound), hulled, halved
3/4 cup superfine sugar
Peel (with white pith) of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, wide pot. Cover; let sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. (The berries will ooze and sugar will dissolve.)

Bring strawberry mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring gently, until strawberries are just tender, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer strawberries to 1 pint jar. Continue simmering liquid until it thickens into a syrupy consistency, 1-2 minutes. Discard lemon peel and pour syrup over strawberries; seal and let cool to room temperature. Chill for up to 1 month.

Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

With all due respect to my tomato-loving friends, I just can’t eat raw tomatoes. They’re squishy and gooey (and NOT in a good way). Or, so I thought.

When I received this month’s issue of Bon Appetit, one of the first things that caught my eye was a feature story about a summer vacation in Tuscany, including a gorgeous photo of a pasta dish with a no-cook tomato sauce.

We’ll get there in a minute. But first, can we talk about how much we Americans could learn from the Italians about how to vacation? When I traveled through New Zealand, it was painfully obvious just how much I had to learn about vacation, including the fact that it’s a verb. I think my next lesson on how to properly vacation should come in Tuscany. Preferably from a hot Italian man.

The author describes a month-long vacation in the Tuscan hills, complete with sunny 90-degree days and bottomless glasses of prosecco, concluding with this gem: “As it often does, lunch will meander for a good hour or two, ending with figs from the tree. And then, of course, it’s time for that nap. Or maybe a dip in the pool.”

Yep… definitely practicing my vacation skills in Italy.

Anyway, back to that pasta. It couldn’t be simpler: good-quality olive oil and vinegar, tomatoes, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Always buy the best quality ingredients you can afford, but especially for simple recipes with few ingredients.

I cut the recipe in half. Forgive me. For me, pasta is best as an occasional indulgence rather than a diet staple, and I was trying a food I don’t typically like, after all. A week later, I found myself back at the market, making another batch.

If only I’d picked up another bottle of prosecco.

Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

From Bon Appetit, August 2012

3/4 cup (or more) extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved, pulp discarded, flesh cut into 3/4″ pieces
3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, torn
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped or twisted pasta

Whisk 3/4 cup oil and both vinegars in a large bowl to blend. Add chopped tomatoes. Using a potato masher or your hands, slightly crush tomatoes to bruise and release juices. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover bowl and let tomatoes marinate at room temperature for 1 hour to allow flavors to develop.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain; return pasta to pot and add to tomato mixture; stir to evenly incorporate. Let pasta stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes to allow pasta to absorb flavors from sauce. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with more oil, if desired.