Mid to late spring is an amazing time of year at farmers’ markets. Short lived greens that thrive with frost and appear at the first rays of sunshine – asparagus, broad beans and fresh peas – are about to disappear for another nine months. It’s definitely a now or never opportunity to consume these with abandon. I adore asparagus and have been eating it in everything – green curry, steamed with pats of butter, grilled, on pizza, you name it.
But we are not here for asparagus, we are here for strawberries! These too start petering out at the mere whiff of hot weather. At the farmers’ markets you can get boxes on the cheap, fresh, squeaky and just plucked from the plant. In fact they were so cheap, I couldn’t resist buying a $12 box. And by box, I mean a box that normally holds wholesale peaches and in this case some six to eight kilos of strawberries. I managed to share out most of them but was left with quite a lot…
And this is what happened to them. A timeless combo of meringue, cream and berries. With a few drops of food colouring and rosewater, the meringues become scented ball gown skirts, swirled with ivory and pink (so pretty!). The cream is practically mandatory, a pillow that sinks into the meringue’s marshmallow heart. And the strawberries are diced and macerated in sugar with a few drops of reduced balsamic to bring out jammy colour, sweetness and soft berry-ness.
Pink pashmak really would add a wow factor to this dessert. (Just thought of it, dammit!) The meringues themselves can be baked the day before, making these a good alternative to the often monstrous Christmas Day pavlova. Could also be a nice end to a romantic dinner… I think these look particularly romantic, don’t you?
Makes 2 meringues
2 egg whites
pinch of salt
120 grams caster sugar
pinch of corn flour
1 teaspoon rosewater
few drops of pillar box red food colouring
single cream (or double cream)
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
punnet of strawberries
few drops of reduced balsamic, or balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 140°C. Line a baking sheet.
In a bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk, add the egg whites and salt. Start whisking on slow speed and gradually work the speed up to medium. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and cornflour. With the mixer going, add the sugar mixture gradually by the tablespoonful. When all the sugar has been added, turn the mixer up to maximum speed. When the meringue becomes glossy and starts clumping into the whisk, add the rosewater. Allow to whisk for a further 30 seconds. Turn the mixer off.
Add the food colouring, two drops at a time until you like the look of it. With a spatula, fold the colouring through gently, creating swirls of vibrant colour. With two metal or slotted spoons, make two mounds of meringue on the baking sheet. Drag the spoon around the bottom of each meringue and taper the top to a point. Slide the baking sheet in the oven. Leave to bake undisturbed for 1 hour, then leave to cool with the oven door cracked open.
Whip the cream (if using single cream) and fold in the vanilla paste. Set aside in the fridge.
Wash, hull and dice the strawberries. In a non reactive bowl, sprinkle the strawberries with caster sugar – how much will depend on how sweet or sour the berries are, I usually add a scant tablespoon. Add two to three drops of balsamic and toss together – you want to make sure the balsamic is dissolved. Leave the strawberries to macerate for at least 15 minutes, or up to 1 hour. Drain the extra strawberry juices before using.
Once the meringues are done, they can be assembled (and eaten!). They can assembled a few hours ahead of time and left in the fridge. If lucky enough to be using pashmak, add it at the last second.
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