You know summer is here when long-awaited fruits emerge. Lately, I’ve been picking up pints of blueberries from our local farmers market, and my own backyard blueberries and blackberries (so easy to grow here!) are ripening like crazy. My kids and I try to head outside early so we can harvest them before the birds beat us to it. It’s a mad rush. Fresh blueberries make their way into lots of different recipes in my kitchen, but one of my favorites is a fast and easy fruit sauce that’s a perfect topper for dessert or a sweet breakfast.
Around Memorial Day weekend and throughout the month of June, summer fruits and veggies explode in South Louisiana. And at no time do these foods taste better than they do during summer. I’m talking about blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, watermelon, figs, peaches and more.
Local farmers markets have recently begun featuring blueberries, and here at my house, our backyard berries are ripening. That means cobbler will soon be emerging from my kitchen.
Mmm….homemade syrup made from fresh local strawberries — how great does that sound drizzled over ice cream or poured over waffles or pancakes? It’s easy to make, is preservative-free and is a super use of fresh Louisiana strawberries.
I’m a huge fan of salsa. I love a green salsa with tangy tomatillos. Gimme fresh tomato salsa, heavy on the cilantro and garlic. And I’ve always loved fruit salsas. Mango is the workhorse and is one of my favorite toppers for cedar-roasted fish. Pineapple salsa also works great on grilled fish, pork and fowl. And now with strawberries in full seasonal swing in Louisiana and elsewhere, it’s a great time for strawberry salsa.
This past weekend, I had a chance to sample fresh strawberry salsa made with local berries at a pop-up event held outside Alexander’s Highland Market, a gourmet grocer here in Baton Rouge. World renowned obesity and nutrition research center, Pennington Biomedical Research Center (PBRC), also located in Baton Rouge, had a booth at the pop-up along with several local food entrepreneurs. I was there signing copies of Hungry for Louisiana. PBRC Communications Director Alisha Prather and respected research pathologist Jennifer Rood were handing out samples of this healthy fruit salsa, which you can also make with fresh blueberries. It’s light, flavorful and versatile and was developed in-house at Pennington.
Louisiana Spring Salsa
Makes 2 cups
1 pint strawberries, washed and diced, or ½ pint blueberries, washed and sliced in half
¼ of 1 medium red onion, finely diced (I used ¼ cup)
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
Juice from ½ lime (about 1 tbsp.)
Combine all ingredients and serve on salads, fish, chicken, chips or cheese and crackers. Use within a day.
Nutrition facts per ½ cup serving
Protein: 0.5 g
Carbohydrates: 8 g
Fat: 0.5 g
Fiber: 2 g
Maggie’s variation with avocado and jalapeño
Being an avocado junkie and a fan of heat, I added the following to Pennington’s recipe.
Half of 1 ripe avocado, diced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh jalapeno pepper
Juice from remaining half lime
For additional healthy recipes developed by Pennington, click here.
This is one of those years in South Louisiana when Cupid haters get some relief since February 14 falls squarely on the final Saturday of Carnival season. No need to sweat the red roses when you can crisscross the state for bawdy floats and bead collecting. But, if a side of you loves a good schmaltzy Valentine’s dinner at home staring doe-eyed across the table at your sweetheart, I have the perfect dessert for you. It’s gorgeous, simple, comes in red and white and, yes, uses local Louisiana strawberries. Plump, juicy berries are now available from regional growers, but if you source them from the farmers market, don’t drag your feet. This past Saturday, vendors at the Red Stick Farmers Market sold out of strawberries before closing time.
The Valentine’s Day dessert I’m recommending is a pretty throwback – Pavlova. It’s a meringue-based dessert named for Russian prima ballerina Anna Pavlova and created in either New Zealand or Australia (still debated between the two). The meringue, we’re led to believe, is a nod to a fluffy white tutu. But more important than this dish’s whimsical elegance is that it tastes great and is easy to pull off.
There are numerous recipes for Pavlova, but this one is reliable. And, it doesn’t insist you draw a circle on a piece of parchment paper to use as a guide as you pour the meringue onto a baking sheet. You are perfectly capable of making the shape of a circle on your own, and, anyway, perfection is overrated.
Not only did the strawberries in my Pavlova come from a Louisiana farmer, but the eggs did as well. You only need the whites. Hang onto the yolks for aioli or to enrich quiche or scrambled eggs.
1 teaspoon cornstarch
4 egg whites
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar (or lemon juice)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups whipping cream
1 teaspoon almond extract
Fresh fruit for garnish
Heat oven to 275 F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, spray it lightly with cooking spray and dust with cornstarch. Beat egg whites in a clean, dry bowl at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add 1 cup sugar gradually, about ¼ cup at a time, until the whites form stiff peaks and begin to look glossy. This takes about 3 minutes. Add vinegar and vanilla extract. Spread mixture onto parchment paper in the shape of a 9-inch diameter circle. As you form spread the meringue, press down slightly in the center, allowing the outer rim to be slightly higher (like you would pizza dough).
Bake for 45 minutes. Carefully remove from baking sheet and cool completely on a rack. Some cracking is normal. When it’s cool, you should be able to slide the meringue off the paper and onto a serving plate.
Beat whipping cream at medium speed until soft peaks begin to form. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and almond extract. Spread over the top of the meringue, leaving the rim. Garnish with fresh fruit. Cut into slices to serve.