“The Healthy Gourmet”

 March 24, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever?

Strawberries are a sure sign of spring’s arrival – they are in the markets, on restaurant menus, and they are starting to flower in local gardens and patio pots all around Rome.  I planted a strawberry plant in one of those cute strawberry pots last year and enjoyed a few tasty homegrown strawberries in the spring plus had a very nice looking plant for the rest of the summer.  And this year I have several plants because that one strawberry plant grew runners than “ran” into the pots next to the strawberry pot.  I hope to at least double the crop this year – which would mean maybe 50 strawberries!  I am a true home gardener who is easily rewarded by anything edible!

I did some research on strawberries (actually, I asked my botanist husband) and found they are unique fruit from a botanical perspective.   All flower parts, from which fruits are produced, are attached to the base of the flower, or the “receptacle”.  The flower part from which true fruits are produced is the ovary, and there can be one or more ovaries in a single flower.  Technically, the term “fruit” refers to a mature ovary with seeds inside it; think of a tomato or a blueberry which grow from a single ovary of a flower to produce the red or blue fleshy parts that have seeds inside – that is the “fruit”.  But in the case of a strawberry, the red fleshy part is NOT the true fruit (mature ovary); that is the receptacle.   The strawberry fruits are actually the little speck-like things on the outside of the red fleshy part and inside each of those specks are a single seed.  So the red part that we eat is the swollen fleshy receptacle and the true fruits are actually each of those tiny speck-like things – and on average, there are about 200 fruits per strawberry.  That means that each strawberry flower had at least that many ovaries!

Strawberries are associated with romance in history probably due to their lovely red color and general heart shape.  The strawberry was a symbol for Venus, the goddess of love, due to its appearance.  I personally like the romantic association of strawberries dipped in chocolate for a Valentine’s celebration!

It is believed that the American Indians were eating and enjoying strawberries when the colonists arrived.  They mixed crushed strawberries with cornmeal and baked it into strawberry bread.  After trying and obviously liking this strawberry bread the colonists altered the recipe a bit and Strawberry Shortcake was created.  Now there’s an American food, through and through!

One more fun story and then we’ll move on:  in parts of Bavaria, country folk still practice the annual rite each spring of tying small baskets of wild strawberries to the horns of their cattle as an offering to elves. They believe that the elves (who are passionately fond of strawberries) will help to produce healthy calves and abundance of milk in return.

Strawberries have more Vitamin C ounce per ounce than citrus fruit.  One cup of sliced strawberries has 50 calories and about 3.3 grams of fiber, so they are a delicious way to get that “full” feeling without a lot of calories.  And a cup of sliced strawberries has a respectable 35 micrograms of folate, the powerful B vitamin that creates normal red blood cells and is crucial for prenatal development.  So eat up (your receptacles)!

Arugula and Strawberry Salad   

Serves 4

Per Serving :  204 calories, 16 g fat (3 g sat fat), 3 g fiber, 251 mg sodium

 

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 4 cups baby arugula, or torn arugula leaves
  • 2 cups sliced strawberries, (about 10 ounces)
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved and crumbled into small pieces (1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons reduced balsamic vinegar (see  note)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Toast walnuts in a small dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned and aromatic, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a salad bowl; let cool for 5 minutes.
  2. Add arugula, strawberries, Parmesan, pepper and salt. Sprinkle vinegar and oil over the salad; toss gently and serve at once.

Tips & Notes

  • Note:  To reduce balsamic vinegar, bring 1/2 cup regular balsamic vinegar to a boil over high heat in a small skillet. Cook until the vinegar begins to thicken and become syrupy, 2 to 3 minutes.

Grilled Duck with Strawberry Fig Sauce

Serves 4

Per Serving:  298 calories, 16 g fat (5 g sat fat), 26 g protein, 1 g fiber, 519 mg sodium

  •  1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced
  • 1/3 cup port
  • 2 tablespoons chopped dried figs
  • 2 1/2 cups halved fresh strawberries , (about 12 ounces), divided
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 4 boneless duck breasts, each about 6 ounces, trimmed, skin removed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 1 minute. Add port and figs and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups strawberries, 1 cup broth, 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are very soft and broken down and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 15 minutes.
  2. Strain the sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-cup glass measuring cup or bowl (discard the solids). You should have about 1 cup liquid. (If you have more than that, return the sauce to the pan and continue reducing until you have about 1 cup.) Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons broth and cornstarch in a small bowl. Return the strained sauce to the pan along with the cornstarch mixture; cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and has reduced by half, 5 to 7 minutes. Combine 1 tablespoon of the sauce with the remaining 1 teaspoon vinegar in a small bowl to use as a basting sauce. Cover the remaining sauce to keep warm.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat grill to medium.
  4. Season duck breasts with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Oil the grill rack (see Tip). Grill the duck, basting twice, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 150°F for medium, 4 to 8 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Transfer to a clean cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.
  5. While the duck is resting, chop the remaining 1 cup strawberries. Slice the duck and serve with the sauce, garnished with the chopped strawberries and basil.

Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate the sauce (Steps 1-2) for up to 2 days, then reheat when ready to grill the duck

 

Strawberry Salsa

Serves 4

This delicious salsa is great with blue tortilla chips, over grilled salmon, or served over wedges of avocado.  Make the salsa at least 3 hours before serving, or even the night before, refrigerate and serve chilled.

  • 1 fresh serrano or jalapeño chili, seeded, ribs removed and finely chopped
  • 1 cup finely chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar if desired

Stir all ingredients together in a bowl – be sure to use a bowl big enough to handle the liquid so you don’t have the liquid all over the ‘fridge.


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