Strawberry Fields Forever

The other night at dinner with some friends, we were discussing the Beatles and we asked their incredibly articulate 15-year old daughter if she has ever heard a vinyl record playing on a record player.

She had, and that somehow reminded us all of the "Paul (McCartney) is Dead" rumor of that era, and how, at the end of Strawberry Fields, John Lennon says, in what seems to be a much slower RPM, "I buried Paul."

Years later, according to an interview with Paul McCartney, John actually had said, "Cranberry sauce." So much for that fantasy!

But, of course, that brought me to strawberries and how much I love a strawberry that actually tastes like a strawberry!

In Tucson, our first strawberries of the season come over to us from Oxnard, California. Each weekend from February through March, they are trucked over the mountains and across the desert to our Sunday Market. This year, the first berries arrived in late January while most every other part of the world is either too hot or too cold to grow them.

Thank you, Oxnard, for your amazing strawberries!

I get them every weekend until they disappear, enjoying their delicious, juicy sweetness while I can.

They are good plain, right out of their little pint containers, or dipped in Grand Marnier and then powdered sugar.

Today, I wanted to make a tart, and I found a wonderful basic recipe in a little traditional French cookbook my friend Philip brought back from his last trip to France. (Happy Birthday, Philip!)

As with many traditional recipes, I find that ingredient amounts and baking times should be taken with a grain of salt at least seen more as suggestions than hard-and-fast rules.

With this recipe, I translated the crust procedure to be made in a food processor. I made the filling pretty much as directed, although the required baking time had to be almost doubled to 18 minutes.

Finally, I felt no need to make my own strawberry jelly to used as a glaze; pre-made currant jelly works perfectly. That left me with quite a few fresh strawberries to eat while I was baking!

Other things to note were these: you can make the crust and custard filling a day in advance, but do NOT top the custard with berries or glaze until a couple of hours before serving. If you have the time, this tart is best made and served the same day.

~ David

Tarte aux Fraises

300 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
pinch salt
150 grams chilled butter
1 large egg, beaten

80 grams sugar
2 large eggs
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch salt

2 pints strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup currant jelly

Place flour, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse twice to blend.  Add butter in 10 pieces and pulse 10 times. Add beaten egg, and process until dough is moist and almost ready to clump. Remove from the processor and place on the counter. Bring together into a ball; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough into a 13-inch circle. It will break apart from time to time just keep putting it back together. Slide the removable bottom of an 11-inch fluted tart pan under the crust (this will make it easier to transfer with fewer breaks) and then place it into the fluted ring of the tart pan. Press the dough into the bottom, sides, and corners of the mold, and trim any excess. Make sure all cracks are filled. Prick the bottom 10-15 times with a fork, line with foil, and fill with pie weights (I use dried beans), and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake 5 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Whisk together the 80 grams of sugar, 2 eggs, milk, vanilla, and salt. Pour into the cooled crust and bake for 15-18 minutes until custard is set. (It will be only a thin layer of custard.)

Starting at the outer edge, arrange strawberry halves in concentric circles, points inward, until custard is covered. Melt the currant jelly in a small saucepan until liquid and smooth. Brush the strawberries with the melted jelly and allow it to set for 30 minutes to 2 hours before serving.

Serves 8-10.

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