Fragole e Vino (Strawberries and Wine)
Simplicity. It's such an underrated thing in the kitchen, especially by avid home cooks like myself. I certainly complicate things when it comes to cooking at times. Long, multi-step preparations. Laborious cookery techniques. Trying to procure unusual and/or obscure ingredients. When I have the means, time and space available, wonderful things can be made. Sometimes though, I need reminding that the simplest foods are often the best.
Recently, after bringing home two punnets of locally grown strawberries from my usual morning market haul, I suddenly remembered the way my Sicilian nonnaoften served these. Now, these were a lesson in simplicity if there ever was one. As a long and lazy lunch or dinner came to an end, she would cut the strawberries she had on hand, place them in a large bowl, coat them in a heaped spoonful of sugar and then, the final, glorious act, pour just enough Marsala- the fortified wine typical of the sun-drenched isle she came from – on top. We were then all invited to help ourselves. Tempted though I was to help myself to a couple of mid-morning strawberries as I looked back to nonna's beloved after-meal treat, I made a quick mental note to leave the washing and prepping till later that day. I wanted to make this treasured dessert from my childhood, or at least some variant of it, for my family and I after dinner that evening.
This template of strawberries, sugar and wine exists in many households in Italy. It is common, after all, in the country to conclude a meal with fresh, seasonal fruit. When wine abounds at the table, and it often does here, combining the two to make a dessert of sorts is a no-brainer. What varies, however, is the vino of choice. Some, like my Piedmontese husband, opt for accentuating the sweetness of these fruits by using dessert wines such as sparkling Moscato d'Asti or, its ideal colour pairing, the sublime, rose-tinted and perfumed Bracchetto d'Acqui. Others prefer to keep things light and fresh by using a dry white or rosé. I personally, have come to love using the darker, mature hues of local reds such as Barberaor Freisa when preparing this simple yet refined dessert. And then, there's my mother-in-law, who actually goes to the trouble of washing her strawberries in the above-mentioned Freisa (no, not water!) and then serves them macerated in sugar and sweet Moscato d'Asti.
Feel free to serve your strawberries with whichever type of wine you prefer, as I've suggested in the recipe below. Just remember that a white, rosé or dessert wine generally require chilling in your fridge beforehand. If using a dessert wine, you may also want to decrease the quantity of sugar indicated in the ingredients list, especially if your strawberries are very sweet. Finally, there are people who make this dessert in advance and leave the fruit to macerate in the wine and sugar. I prefer, however, to prep and serve my wine and strawberries right away, so the fruit remains firm and retains its vibrant colour. If you do opt to do the former though, I recommend leaving it for no longer than half an hour in the fridge.
Ingredients (serves 4 as a dessert)
Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Cut in half (larger ones may need to be quartered, smaller specimens may not require any cutting) and add to serving bowl. Add sugar and wine of choice and toss gently. Serve immediately.