Get your strawberries while they're ripe.
Don't wash them until you are ready to eat them. These berries are like little sponges, and will soak up water and then begin to rot soon thereafter.
I keep my berries on the countertop and eat them within a day or two. They can be refrigerated to keep longer but will lose some of their delightful juiciness when chilled. If you can't eat your berries immediately, it's better to freeze them for later use. Just wash and drain them, cut off the stems and place them in a zipper-lock bag in the coldest part of your freezer. If you think ahead, you'll be able to enjoy some of the local crop in a strawberry pie in the middle of winter.
Right now, however, pie is the furthest thing from my mind. When strawberries are this flavorful and juicy, I don't bother cooking them. I serve them on top of ice cream or ricotta cheese, with panna cotta, and in a sweet and savory salsa that's great with grilled fish. Here are some of the simple ways I plan to eat them over the next week or two:
GINGER PANNA COTTA WITH STRAWBERRIES AND MINT
1/2 cup milk
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 cup strawberries
1. Pour milk into a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Let stand until gelatin dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Combine cream, 1/2 cup sugar and ginger in a small, heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture and whisk constantly for 1 minute to dissolve gelatin. Let stand 15 minutes to steep. Stir in vanilla and strain into four ramekins or custard cups. Refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours or overnight.
3. Bring water and remaining 1/4 cup sugar to boil in a small saucepan. Stir in mint leaves and let stand 10 minutes to steep.
4. Place strawberries in a bowl and pour mint syrup through a strainer and into bowl, pressing down on leaves with a spoon. Let stand 10 minutes to cool to room temperature.
5. Fill a medium-size bowl with very hot tap water. One at a time, run a paring knife around each panna cotta, then dip bottom half of ramekin in water for 30 seconds. Place a small plate on top of mold, invert, tap bottom of mold and lift off plate. Arrange berries around each panna cotta and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
STRAWBERRIES WITH RICOTTA AND BALSAMIC-BLACK PEPPER SYRUP
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
1- 1/2 cups strawberries, stemmed and sliced
2 cups full-fat ricotta cheese
1. Combine vinegar, 1/2 cup sugar and peppercorns in a small saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Simmer, adjusting heat as necessary, until reduced by half. Strain into a bowl or small measuring cup and let cool to room temperature.
2. Combine ricotta and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl. Divide among 4 dessert bowls. Spoon strawberries over ricotta, drizzle with syrup and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
This is good on grilled fish, with tortilla chips or spooned over slices of fresh mozzarella.
2 cups strawberries, stemmed and diced
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
Juice from 1 lime
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Combine strawberries, avocado, jalapeno, lime juice, cilantro, sugar and salt in a bowl and gently toss. Serve immediately with grilled fish or tortilla chips. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
STRAWBERRY, MASCARPONE AND AMARETTI PARFAITS
1 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon Amaretto or other almond liqueur
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
6 amaretti cookies, crumbled
1 cup stemmed and sliced strawberries
1. Combine mascarpone, Amaretto, cream and 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Beat with a mixer until smooth.
2. Divide crumbled cookies among 4 parfait glasses. Spoon strawberries over cookies, then top with mascarpone mixture. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours before serving. Makes 4 servings.