This is a VERY simple, and light, but delicious dressing-up for the season’s best berries. Having grown up in Ventura County, California — the Strawberry Capital of the World, we all knew well — I was at first perplexed to find that this part of Louisiana considers itself the Strawberry Capital of the Universe. I’m not going to compare; this is one of those “when faced with a choice, pick both” moments. When you pick up a pound of berries as beautiful, pungently ripe and still warm from the sun as these, minimalism rules. But this recipe is a twist that can distinguish your breakfast berries from your dessert berries.
The focal point of Louisiana strawberries is Pontchatoula, and so of course the town throws a Strawberry Festival each spring. This is where you get those perfect berries and some good jazz to go with it. And because it’s Louisiana you can also have a Beignet Berry — a strawberry dipped in beignet batter, deep fried, and dusted with powdered sugar. Overkill? Perhaps, but you just have to give it a try.
Basil and Pepper Steeped Strawberries
1 pound really good, fresh, ripe strawberries of any size
3 big sprigs fresh basil, or about a dozen medium-to-large leaves and 1/3 cup smaller leaves
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Zest of one lemon
A dozen or so peppercorns
Fresh whipped cream to serve
Yes, I’m going to show you a big bowl of beautiful strawberries again. It’s hard to get too much. And the riot of herbs is from our garden — the basil was a secondary inspiration for today’s post. Oh right…instruction: wash your berries. You can certainly cap them and even cut them in half if that’s your thing, but I like to leave them whole for dipping.
Pull the larger leaves off your basil and stack them together on a cutting board. Now whack them a few times with the dull edge of a large knife to bruise them. Or just take them out for a 20 knot sail in a rolling chop and have them do bow work…that’s how I usually get bruised. This will release more basil flavor more quickly into the syrup.
Combine water, sugar, bruised basil, lemon zest, and peppercorns in a small saucepan. Bring almost to a boil and let simmer for about a minute to fully dissolve the sugar and let the flavors release.
Strain the hot syrup over the strawberries, pressing the solids to get all the liquid you can.
Chop the remaining smaller basil leaves finely, and stir into the berries. Let these sit and steep over on the chart table for at least an hour, stirring every time you think about it. The strawberries will soften a bit.
Serve with freshly whipped cream — I like to add a bit of vanilla to mine, but no sugar (if you do want it sweeter, a couple teaspoons of powdered sugar to a pint of cream should do). The sweetness of the cream is so good by itself, though, and it’s even better as a foil to these pungent, herby berries. Galley Swab Eddy the Spaniel seems…interested.
There is nothing quite like Spaniel-focus. Happy spring, sailors!