Last week, we kicked off the first installment of our Feed Your Brain series, a collaborative effort with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (Mass Hort) and the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) focusing on four of our favorite garden items and why they truly deserve the spotlight. First up: The Strawberry!
Master Gardener Susan Hammond shared her wealth of garden expertise (and even gave each student a strawberry plant to take home!), and Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale, PhD–Neuroscience and Aging Lab gave us a million reasons why we should 100% make sure to eat plenty of juicy strawberries. Our very own BCAE Chef Instructor Leah Dickerson was there to help us do just that, preparing a light, fresh, summery strawberry feast.
Susan Hammond started off by going over the anatomy of a strawberry plant, then dove into the different varietals. She gave all the need-to-knows about picking berries (both how to pull from a plant and how to select the perfect berry), and about planting your own. For the city-dweller with limited ability for growing, she spoke about the fantastic "pick your own (PYO)" option available at many local Massachuetts farms. She even had handy tips on how to store and preserve strawberies for maximum freshness (and flavor, of course!). Did you know you can use an ice cube tray to freeze individual berries?!
If we weren't already sold, Dr. Barbara Shukitt-Hale gave us hard evidence for the overwhelming health benefits of strawberries, and why we should eat lots of them. Among many other reasons, they have proven memory benefits, and can help balance your diet when eaten alongside other less healthy foods.
We got reason after reason to eat as many strawberries as we can, and thankfully Chef Leah Dickerson was there to demonstrate and cook us some tasty fruity treats.
To kick things off, Leah poured us a delicious fresh strawberry bellini to sip on while some strawberries went into the oven to roast. Check out all of Leah's recipes below...
1 Bottle of Prosecco (we used Ruffino)
1 Lemon, zested and juiced
1 pint of strawberries, hulled and very roughly chopped, reserving a few to use as garnish, if desired.
Sugar, to taste
Toss strawberries with scant ¼ cup of sugar or to taste (Note: I usually don’t measure the sugar, I sprinkle to taste based on the sweetness of the strawberries that are being used). Set aside to let the strawberries masticate. In the meantime, zest the lemon using a microplane. Juice the lemon, watching and removing seeds. Add all of the lemon juice and a small sprinkle of the zest to the strawberries. Place in a blender (or food processor) and puree until smooth. If desired, strain the puree through a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth to remove the strawberry seeds. Pour the strawberry puree into a large pitcher and top with Prosecco right before serving (Note: the ratio will be about 1:3 strawberry to Prosecco). Stir gently to combine and serve immediately in champagne flutes. Optional garnishes include quartered strawberries, lemon peel, mint, or edible flowers.
Strawberry Bruschetta wiith Lemon Ricotta
1 really good baguette, sliced on a diagonal (Iggy’s is Leah's favorite)
½ pint of strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
Full fat ricotta cheese, bout 8 ounces (try to find one without added gums or stabilizers)
Preheat oven to 400 or put on broil. Spread sliced baguette in a single layer on a baking sheet, using two as needed. Toast until golden, watching carefully t prevent browning. While the bread is toasting, add the lemon zest, salt, and pepper to the ricotta cheese. Stir to combine and taste for flavor. Pull the bread out and allow to cool slightly. Spread a layer of ricotta on the toast and top with a few strawberry slices, as desired. Drizzle lightly with olive oil (if desired) and sprinkle with salt and pepper (if desired). Serve immediately.
Lemon Feta Orzo with Roasted Strawberries and Toasted Pecans
1 package orzo
1 Pint strawberries, hulled, and spilt into two equal amounts
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Finely chopped pecans, lightly toasted in a dry hot pan (raw and unsalted, if available)
Full fat Feta, for crumbling
Chiffonade of mint or lemon balm (if available)
Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil. Salt the water generously and add the orzo. Reduce the heat and simmer until al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain pasta and toss liberally with olive oil, tossing to coat the pasta. Place in a large bowl and add lemon juice while the pasta is still warm, to add as much flavor as possible. While pasta is cooling, roast the strawberries. Preheat the oven to 400. Slice about half of the strawberries and toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake until roasted, about 35 minutes, tossing halfway through to prevent browning. While the strawberries are roasting, roughly chop the rest of the strawberries. To combine: toss the orzo with the raw and roasted strawberries, pecans, feta, lemon zest to taste, feta to taste, and pecans. Add more olive oil, salt, and pepper, if desired. Top with herbs before serving. Best when served immediately at room temperature.
Thank you to Susan, Barbara, Leah, and all of our students for a fun, engaging, and tasty evening! We hope you can join us for the remaining installments of the Feed Your Brain Series. Registration for "The Tomato" will begin later this summer, so stay tuned.