Seasonal Chef: Strawberries


The strawberry – it needs no introduction. We’ve all tasted them and love them. Sweet and juicy with just a faintest hint of tartness. Just picked they somehow make us feel like kids, silly and giddy as their lovely sweet flavor bursts as we bite in to them.

It’s definitely strawberry season. I think in the past week I’ve gotten at least 10 emails from the various food sites suggesting recipes for strawberries. I can’t walk past a magazine in the supermarket check-out aisle without seeing some suggestion for a salad or dessert. Admittedly I’ve looked at all of them, and scoured my (many) cookbooks. I really try to create things that have my own twist on them, but love to see what other chefs are dreaming up. I like to take bits and pieces from different places and try to make something new.

I’d been thinking about this beautiful box I picked up on Sunday from Newgate Farm. What could I do with them?  I decided that whatever I was going to write about for you it would have a savory spin on it. When pushed I will make desserts, but it’s not my first love. Except maybe my biscotti which everyone seems to love. But even making them I need to psych myself up. The preciseness of the whole baking business bugs me. I prefer to just add and create. That said, I have two fun dishes I think you will like.

More after the jump

My first dish was actually created last month. I am a long time member and volunteer with the New York Junior League. My friend Mary Cooper  asked me to participate in a friendly “Guacamole Throwdown” competition, as an end of the year event for the Affiliation Committee. How could I say no? (I look pretty intense in this picture as I was in the midst of making my guacamole!)

Other than using the avocado I challenged myself to come up with something completely innovative. (recipe is below.)

Since the competition took place in May, at the height of rhubarb season, I decided to incorporate rhubarb and strawberries. (You can read a little more about rhubarb in my previous post.)

I also had my first crop of lemon balm blooming and used that in place of cilantro. If you’ve never tried lemon balm you simply must. It comes from the mint family but has a bright lemony herbaceous flavor. It’s super easy to grow right in your yard, or even a pot on the patio. You can also find it at the farmers market too.

The result was something completely different bursting with sweet, tart and lemony flavors. I’m happy to report my version won “Fan Favorite” at the competition!

I also wanted to create a fun salad with my strawberries, as well. Taking a look around on Sunday after I picked up them up I spotted yellow beets, scallions and arugula. Those were my starters … at home I pulled out some celery, carrot and parsley (always have fresh in the ‘fridge) and surveyed my ingredients.

I needed something to tie it all together and remembered seeing recipe from Gourmet on-line when I was looking for ideas. It’s just about the easiest way to make an infused vinegar, and the taste is out of this world. I will also say that to accomplish the right texture for this salad you need to slice the vegetables thin. I used my Benriner mandoline which I’ve talked about previously. It’s one of those little gadgets that is a must in the kitchen – you just need to be careful when using it!

Everything is raw for the salad so slicing it up super thin does the trick. Once I got it all together I decided a little creamy cheese and crunch might just set it over the edge … and I was right! I used a little goat cheese which added a nice tang and hazelnuts for additional texture. I will say that the infused vinegar really makes the dish. Even if you just try that recipe I think you will be very pleased!

So what’s on tap for Bella Cucina Maria this week? Many demos and an opportunity to taste this deliciousness! Today (June 20) you can find me at the PepsiCo Farmers Market in Purchase, on Anderson Hill Road. That Market runs from 12:30 to 6:00 every Wednesday and I’ll be doing my demo today from 1:00 until 3:00.

Tomorrow (June 21) I will be at the Sleepy Hollow Farmers Market at Phelps Memorial Hospital in the Rockwood Hall Parking lot. The Phelps Market is brand new and will run every Thursday through November from 11:30 to 5:30. I will be there  from Noon until 2:00.

Then on Saturday (June 23) I will be at the second season opening of the John Jay Homestead Farm Market located right in front of the Homestead at 400 Jay St., in Katonah. That Market runs every Saturday through the fall from 9:00 to 1:00. For that demo I will be making a tasty smoked trout and farro dish I created just for the opening and using the most delicious trout from Cabbage Hill Farm. I will be there from 10:30-1:00.

It’s a busy week for me, but I’m just to excited to be out and about at the Markets. Stop by if you can and say hi! In the meantime, Buon Appetito!


Maria’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Guacamole
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 avocados, halved and pitted
1/2 cup rhubarb, 1/4” dice
3/4 cup strawberry, 1/4” dice
2-3 tablespoons pickled red onion (recipe follows) 2 tablespoons jalapeno, minced
2-3 tablespoons lemon balm, chopped fine or 1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
Queso Fresco, optional

Roughly mash the avocados. Add remaining ingredients and combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.

Serve with tortilla chips and top with queso fresco


Bobby Flay’s Pickled Red Onions (slightly adapted)

1-2 red onions, 1/4” dice
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons superfine sugar 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 small serrano chile, slit down side but kept intact

Combine lime juice, vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook the mixture until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Put the onions and chile in a small glass bowl. Pour the warm vinegar mixture over and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 48 hours, stirring the mixture a few times


Maria’s Strawberry and Golden Beet Salad
Serves 4

1/2 cup strawberry vinegar (recipe follows)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 cups of arugula
4 carrots sliced very thinly
4 celery stalks, sliced very thinly
2 -3 golden beets, sliced paper thin
2 scallions sliced thin, reserving a little of the green top for garnish
1/4 cup loosely packed parsley, roughly chopped
Kosher Salt and Freshly grated black pepper
8 oz plain goat cheese
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, or a nut of choice

In a small bowl combine the strawberry vinegar and olive oil with a whisk. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a large bowl lightly dress the arugula with a little of the vinaigrette and divide between 4 plates. In the same large bowl add the sliced vegetables and parsley. Toss will with the vinaigrette and divide between the 4 plates.

Break up the goat cheese and again add to the large bowl tossing to lightly coat with the dressing. Divide between the salads.

Top with the crushed nuts and reserved scallions and serve immediately.


Strawberry Vinegar (from Gourmet On-Line)
Makes about 2 cups

1 lb strawberries, trimmed (3 cups)
2 tablespoons sugar if berries are not sweet
2 cups white balsamic vinegar

Pulse berries with sugar (if using) in a food processor until finely chopped and very juicy. Transfer to a bowl and add vinegar. Let stand 1 hour. Strain vinegar through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids.

Cooks’ note: Vinegar keeps, covered and chilled, 1 week.

Maria Reina is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Port Chester, NY. In her free time she loves hanging out at local Farmers Markets in Westchester County doing cooking demos with seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog you can follow her  on Facebook and Twitter.






About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmer's markets, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam), Instagram (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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