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Seasonal Eats: Go Sweet or Savory with Strawberries!

Fresh 3-packs of Strawberries at the Hollywood Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)
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It's April, it's warm, and no doubt, strawberries have popped up all over the Southern California farmers' markets. As one of the most familiar household fruits, I can't tell you much you don't already know, but I'll try to give you some new ideas about how to use them. On the hit parade, we have fruit salads, jams & jellies, juices, milk shakes & smoothies, ice creams & sorbets, tarts & pies. Throw some in your spring sangria, substitute them for stone fruits in spring BBQ and hot sauces, or melt down your favorite chocolate, dip & chill for a delicious treat.

Some interesting facts I read this week, the strawberry "fruit" is actually an aggregate accessory fruit, meaning that it's formed a bit differently than other pollinated flower fruits, with the seeds residing on the outside of the flesh rather than the inside. Many heirloom strawberries are too delicate for commercial sale, so what we find for purchase are hybrids that can stand up to travel and remain fresh more than a few days after picking. Strawberries are a good source of Folate and Potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, Vitamin C and Manganese.

First things first, pick the deepest red specimens from your batch and eat those fresh. Strawberries need no preparation to be a tasty treat. Pick a selection of spring fruits and cut them up for a fresh fruit salad, or add them to a pitcher with 2 bottles of chilled rosé for a spring sangria (once you've finished the wine, throw the fruit in the blender with another splash of wine, puree and pour into popsicle molds). Strawberries also make a great addition to green salads with balsamic dressing.

Strawberries make a great pairing with some savory flavors that are worth trying if you haven't already. Balsamic vinegar is at the top of the list, as in this tomato and strawberry gazpacho. Make your own strawberry vinegar for use in salad dressings and in sauces. A simple strawberry compote can be made by blending up strawberries with a bit of vinegar, lemon juice and honey, for use over grilled meats and fish, or check out the strawberry loquat sauce in this pork tenderloin recipe. Finally, I often say you can make risotto with anything, but I hadn't considered strawberries until i saw this strawberry risotto which seems to be conspicuously missing the addition of parmesan cheese.

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The dessert ideas are literally endless. Start fresh with balsamic strawberries, or dress them up with zabaione. Marinate them with this lemon verbena strawberry fool. Make your own meringues with floating islands with strawberries or pink peppercorn pavlova with strawberries. Something for the stovetop are these crepes with fresh strawberry marmalade and mascarpone.

Some frozen treats include strawberry sorbet, or maybe strawberry frozen yogurt, strawberry ice cream, or strawberry gelato! If you like your frozen desserts a bit tipsy, there is strawberry granita with Beaujolais, pink grapefruit, strawberry and champagne granita, or cava, strawberry and orange sorbet.

If you're ready to bake, try out strawberry tart, or this italian strawberry tart. For a selection of baked meringues, we have strawberry roulade, or this decadent strawberry and hazelnut meringue cake. And if you want to go all out with strawberry shortcake, take a look at strawberry shortcake with Grand Marnier strawberry compote and chantilly cream.

Coming up with a list of drinks could easily be a separate article, but some simple things I liked included a French-style red wine with strawberries or make your own strawberry white wine cooler. This fruity twist on the pimm's cup looks fantastic! There's always sunny strawberry lemonade on it's own or as a cocktail mixer. Bring back the soda fountain with strawberry ice cream sodas

This Italian strawberry liqueur, which I have simplified with much success has been a favorite of mine. This recipe macerates much of the berries into strawberry syrup, eliminating the addition of sugar and creating an amazing strawberry essence. Enjoy it over soda and ice with a bit of lemon.

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Strawberry Liqueur Infusion (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Strawberry Liqueur

1 3-pack of mini-crates of strawberries

2 liter bottles vodka

1 lemon

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2 half-gallon, wide-mouth jars

Cut strawberries in half lengthwise, pare out the stem at the top, then quarter lengthwise again and cross-cut into small pieces for maximum surface area (instructions here). Distribute cut strawberries evenly between the 2 jars.

Zest the lemon, mince the zest, and sprinkle equal amounts into each jar. Toss strawberries and zest to mix evenly. Roll the lemon on the counter to break some of the inner membranes holding juice, then slice the lemon as thinly as possible, and put equal amounts in each jar.

Pour one bottle of vodka into each jar, swirl to mix, cap and store in the pantry 48 - 36 hours, swirling periodically to mix. Test the fruit with a spoon, when it is soft, strain off the vodka and collect the strawberry pulp in cheesecloth and squeeze (twisting the top against the fruit helps) to extract all the macerated strawberry syrup. Bottle and store up to 1 year.