Strawberries are so delicious without the fuss of pairing them with other ingredients that I wondered if culinary faculty and students at Johnson & Wales University could do them justice in their culinary creations. There was no need to wonder. Chef Mark Allison, dean of culinary education at the Charlotte campus, created some absolutely delicious strawberry recipes that will make you look at (and taste) strawberries in a new way. His students also got in on the action by creating strawberry dishes in a number of cook-offs sponsored by the N.C. Strawberry Project, a partnership between N.C. State University and Johnson & Wales University, sponsored by the Golden LEAF Foundation.
That project introduced culinary students to local farmers and agricultural research, specifically to the work of Dr. Jeremy Pattison, N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus. Dr. Pattison is a strawberry breeder who is working to breed a better North Carolina berry with a longer growing season. While it takes time to breed a new strawberry — Dr. Pattison’s work is ongoing — we can certainly enjoy fresh, local strawberries that will soon be available at farmers markets and roadside stands. (Due to the weather, the 2013 strawberry season is starting later this year.)
The April issue of The Produce Lady program’s e-newsletter focuses on strawberries. If you haven’t already, please sign up to receive our monthly e-newsletter, which focuses on a different fruit or vegetable each month. You can provide your contact information at this link.
Among other helpful information, you’ll find a recipe for Strawberry Sunset Slaw in the April issue. This particular recipe was one of Chef Mark’s surprises to those of us working on the N.C. Strawberry Project. Who would have thought strawberries would pair so well with jicama, red and yellow peppers, a red chili pepper and black olives? With Cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes, cumin seed, lime zest and juice, and cilantro, this dish is one to savor and enjoy during the short time you find fresh North Carolina berries at your local market. Another favorite of mine was the Strawberry Shrimp Cocktail. I had never thought to pair fresh strawberries with shrimp but they are the perfect complement to one another.
In fact, as I consider all the other strawberry dishes that Johnson & Wales created, it really is hard to name a favorite. The N.C. Strawberries and Fresh Mozzarella with Fresh Mint Drizzle is a new twist on the traditional Caprese salad that uses tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. The strawberry version pairs strawberries with mozzarella and mint. It’s a perfect springtime dish! To find the strawberry recipes created by Johnson & Wales as part of the N.C. Strawberry Project, go to www.theproducelady.org and look for the N.C. Strawberry Project logo next to the recipe.
One of my favorite entertaining ideas is to have a theme party around a fresh fruit or vegetable. Fresh, local strawberries give you the perfect excuse to invite a few friends over to enjoy one or more of these tasty recipes. I did that last year, and hope to make it a tradition!
Writer: Leah Chester-Davis, Coordinator, The Produce Lady Program