The summer growing season is just beginning and it's something I look forward to every year. Certain fruits and vegetables that are seasonal are only available locally for a small window of time. I can't get enough of grapes, cherries, watermelon, cantaloupe, asparagus, peas in the pod, artichokes, zucchini and zucchini flowers, tomatoes from the vine and tender baby lettuce. It's still a bit too early for peaches (my favorite all-time food), but strawberry season is just beginning and they will only get better and sweeter as the summer progresses. The season is towards the end of June and for three weeks they're at their optimum peak of flavor!
There are so many ways to enjoy this juicy, sweet berry, which is chock full of Vitamin C. Of course, I love to eat them plain the same day you buy them, but some of the other ways to enjoy them are:
- Sliced with fresh O.J. and chopped fresh mint*
- With stems intact, then ends dipped in low-fat sour cream and brown sugar
- Dipped in a chocolate ganache
- Served with Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey
- Sliced in your favorite cereal or granola
- Sliced over your favorite ice cream, frozen yogurt or sorbet
- In a fresh garden salad with roasted chopped walnuts and feta
- Made into a coulis to pour over your favorite fruit or sorbet
- Strawberry pie
- Strawberry shortcake (my favorite)
*I call this strawberry soup. Just add one cup of sliced strawberries to a cup of cold, freshly squeezed orange juice, and two to three fresh mint leaves, torn. It's a cool and refreshing breakfast with a dollop of yogurt, or a snack for any time of the day. I'll even serve it for dessert with extra berries such as blueberries and raspberries and a scoop of sorbet (any flavor) and a drizzle of chocolate sauce over the top!
However, the one special strawberry dessert my family and friends look forward to every summer is strawberry pie! This is my favorite pie to make because it's so simple and easy, and takes hardly any time to prepare.
I make the glaze for the strawberries without using any white sugar—I use agave nectar instead. Because summer berries are already sweet you don't need to use much. Agave nectar is a natural sweetener made from blue agave, a type of succulent, cactus-like plant. Although it is sweeter than sugar it doesn't raise your blood sugar level and cause a "sugar rush." (You know the ones I'm talking about, where you're on top of the world for 10 minutes only to crash and burn, have a whopping headache, feel in a bad mood and feel the need to take a nap.) Using agave instead of sugar won't raise your glycemic index. Glycemic index measures how certain carbohydrates affect your blood sugar levels. Keeping it low, you don't suffer from the negative "crash burn" effect. Most supermarkets now carry agave nectar.
So let's enjoy our summer pie! You can use a store-bought piecrust or your favorite recipe for piecrust. I make so many of these pies during the summer that I do cheat and use a store-bought crust. There are so many berries packed into this pie that the crust is secondary to the wonderful burst of flavors you get from the strawberries, glaze and fresh mint!
Whipped Cream Topping
- 1 store-bought or homemade pie crust large enough to roll out a 12" inch crust
- 6 baskets (1 quart each) of strawberries, stems removed, gently rinsed, and patted dry with paper towels
- 2 cups fresh orange juice
- 1/2 cup agave nectar
- 1 1/2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp. water
- 8 mint leaves, chopped coarsely
- 1 Tbsp. lemon rind, chopped finely
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1 Tbsp. agave nectar
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
In a saucepan, mix 2 quarts of strawberries, orange juice and agave nectar and bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 to 8 minutes, until the strawberries are soft. Strain the strawberries in a mesh strainer with holes small enough to catch the seeds into a pot. Use a wooden spoon to squish the strawberries. Discard seeds.
Bring the pot to a gentle boil.
Mix 1 1/2 Tbsp. of cornstarch in 2 Tbsp. of water and stir so no lumps remain. Pour the mixture into the boiling liquid and stir 30 seconds to thicken. Set aside and cool for 20 minutes. Place in the refrigerator to cool for at least one hour. (The glaze can be made up to three days before and kept in an airtight container until ready to use.)
Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 425 degrees. Make sure the pie dough has been chilled at least an hour in the refrigerator in plastic wrap before rolling it out.
Remove chilled dough from refrigerator. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a circle 12" in diameter and 1/8" thick. Roll the dough around the rolling pin and let in unfold on top of the pie pan. Press dough gently into bottom and sides.
Line the unbaked shell with parchment paper. Fill the shell with pie weights, uncooked beans or rice. Make sure the shell is entirely and evenly filled.
Bake the crust 12 to 15 minutes. After 8 to 10 minutes remove the weights by gently lifting the parchment and further brown the crust until golden. Remove from oven and cool completely before filling the shell.
Place the remaining strawberries in the cooled pie shell and arrange them pointy sides up. Pour the glaze evenly all over strawberries. Sprinkle the mint and lemon rind over the pie. Serve at room temperature or chill in the refrigerator.
Whip the heavy whipping cream with the 1 Tbsp. of agave nectar and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Serve alongside the pie for the perfect finishing touch.