Every week, only in LIFE
Imagine sitting in the sunshine, munching on juicy, sweet, succulent strawberries, says Rachel Allen. What could be more delicious?
Ialways remember the excitement of heading down to the beach at Brittas Bay in Wicklow with my family on a sunny summer’s day, and getting to stop at one of the roadside stalls selling strawberries. We had to wait until we got to Brittas (which seemed like an eternity) before we could devour the plump, juicy berries, which were always still a tiny bit warm from sitting in the sun. Sweet, succulent and intensely flavoursome, it’s one of the loveliest abiding food memories I have of my youth.
The most seductive scarlet red fruit of all (saucily immortalised by Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke in the movie 9ƒ Weeks), strawberries also happen to be darn good for us. Jam-packed full of vitamin C and a whole host of other goodies such as manganese, dietary fibre and potassium. And strawberries, while they are amazing toute seule, have the ability to marry well with so many other flavours, too.
I love adding torn basil leaves to halved strawberries and allowing them to macerate for about 20 minutes before serving with meringues and cream. Strawberries also work really well with a little dash of balsamic vinegar and sugar, or a twist or two of black pepper. Of course, the sweet, fat berries also love other summer fare, such as rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries.
I think my favourite strawberry match is with peaches or nectarines. The combination is just dreamy, and this crumble, right, is a great example of a match made in heaven. It can be made earlier in the day and just popped into the oven from the fridge when you’re ready for it.
The delicious strawberry popsicles that you see in the photo, above right, are as popular with adults as they are with little ones. Serve as a treat on a hot day and you’ll have them eating out of your hand!
My friend and cousin-in-law Ivan Whelan gave me this recipe for strawberries in red Burgundy syrup, above right; it’s a deliciously grown-up way to end a meal.
Meanwhile, the almond tart with strawberries, right, is one that we make at the cookery school at this time of year. It takes its inspiration from an old River Cafe recipe that never fails to stun.
I promise that if you make this tart, you will not regret it. It is, in my opinion, one of the very best ways to showcase succulent, sweet strawberries in the summer time.
If you’re making the dough in a food processor, add in the sifted flour, the sifted icing sugar and the chilled cubes of butter and whizz everything briefly until the butter is in small lumps. Add half the beaten egg and continue to whizz for just another few seconds until the mixture looks as though it may come together when pressed (prolonged processing will only toughen the pastry, so don’t whizz it up until it is a ball of dough). You might need to add a little more beaten egg, but don’t add too much, as the mixture should be just moist enough to come together.
If you’re making the pastry by hand, rub the chilled cubes of butter into the sifted plain flour and sifted icing sugar until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Then, using your hands, add just enough beaten egg to bring it together. Set the left-over beaten egg aside. With your hands, flatten out the ball of dough until it is about 2cm (less than 1in) thick, then wrap it in cling film or put it in a plastic bag and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
After half an hour, remove the pastry from the fridge and place it between two sheets of cling film (make sure they are larger in size than your tart tin). Using a rolling pin, roll out the pastry to no thicker than ½ cm (less than ¼ in). If the tin is round, make sure to keep the pastry in a round shape, and large enough to line the tin’s base and sides.
Remove the top layer of cling film from the rolled-out pastry. Place your hand, palm facing up, under the cling film underneath, then flip the pastry over into the tart tin. The cling-film side will now be facing up. Press the pastry into the edges of the tin and, using your thumb, ‘cut’ the pastry along the edge of the tin for a neat finish. Remove the cling film, and, using a fork, prick over the base of the tart. Chill the pastry in the fridge for another 30 minutes, or the freezer for 10 minutes — it can keep for weeks like this in the freezer.
Once the pastry has chilled, line it with parchment paper, leaving plenty to come up the sides and over the top. Fill the parchment-lined pastry case with baking beans or dried pulses (which can be reused again and again) and put it in the preheated oven. Bake it blind for about 25 minutes until the pastry feels just dry on the base. Remove it from the oven, take out the baking beans or dried pulses, whichever you’re using, and remove the parchment paper. Brush the base of the pastry with the left-over beaten egg, then cook it in the oven for another 3 minutes — this will ‘seal’ the pastry, preventing any moisture from the almond filling soaking in. When the pastry has been completely baked blind, take it out of the oven and set aside.
Reduce the oven heat to 160°C, 325°F, Gas 3.
Now, make the almond filling. In a bowl, beat the soft butter and the caster sugar together until they are soft and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the ground almonds and the Amaretto, if you’re using it, until both are incorporated. Pour the almond filling into the pastry case and put the tart in the oven. Bake it for about 40 minutes until it is set in the centre. Allow the tart to cool, then carefully remove the sides of the tin. Place the tart on a serving plate, and slide the tart off the base of the tin. Arrange the strawberries on the tart to cover the top, or serve them on the side. Serve with softly whipped cream.