The Sweet (Fleeting) Life of Strawberries

For me strawberries signal the start of summer. They remind me of twin popsicles and water sprinklers. For a split second I am eleven again, just finished with school for the year and ready for a strawberry shortcake kind of summer, light and filled with whipped cream clouds of hope. As adults, we don’t always get those kinds of summers. Sometimes we get summers when biscuits taste almost arid and it rains a lot, or at least enough to make dry biscuits simply intolerable.

This summer I am fully committed to a carefree existence, one with tan lines and little deuce coupes. That said (and as good as Brian Wilson may be), I still have adult-type problems from time to time and on this particular Tuesday, I was feeling a little vulnerable for biscuit making. I couldn’t take a biscuit calamity. You have to know your limits, especially when in proximity to knives.

Despite my fragile state, I still wanted to enjoy some strawberries. Their season comes and goes so quickly, if you aren’t careful you’ll miss it. So I racked my brain for a light dessert that would honor the strawberry, without sending me searching for xanax. I thought about making a pavlova with fresh strawberries on top, but who wants to eat a dessert named after a ballerina when you are in a bit of a mood. Also, I knew I didn’t have the patience for egg whites and so I went with something I knew I could handle: vinegar.

Flashback eight years: I was living in Rome for the summer and my roommates and I were each in charge of making a dish for a special lunch. I decided to attempt homemade pasta in our sweltering, bare bones kitchen. My roommate went out and bought a great bottle of balsamic vinegar di Modena to drizzle over berries she had picked up in the market that day. Brilliant. I am not sure what she did the rest of the day while I cut pasta in our kitchen sauna, perhaps took a carefree dip in the Trevi Fountain La Dolce Vita style. The pasta was fairly good, but the berries were complex; sweet, tart, addictive and spot-on summery.

And so I went “the sweet life” route this time around. I simply mixed the strawberries with a reduction of balsamic vinegar, black pepper and vanilla bean: a very adult dessert. (Almost the anti-strawberry shortcake.) The berries were good and would have been even better if I had some homemade vanilla ice cream, but I didn’t have any and wasn’t going to succumb to Haagen-Dazs. So I settled for a sprinkling of pistachios and ate dessert first that night. While it is really wonderful being an adult, it helps to be a kid every now and again, especially during the summertime.

Vanilla Black Pepper Balsamic Strawberries

1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
Black pepper, to preference

Heat balsamic vinegar with vanilla bean seeds and pod on low until reduced by a little more than half. Discard pod.

Makes about 1/2 cup or so, depending on how far you reduce.


The slower you reduce the better. If you reduce the vinegar too quickly it will remain fairly sharp. It took me about 30 minutes or so to do this. Chef Thomas Keller has a recipe that calls for 2 cups balsamic to be reduced over 2-3 hours. I am sure the result is glorious, but I have yet to make it this far and find it unlikely, at least in the summertime, that I will get there anytime soon.

Be sure to look at the balsamic vinegar you are buying to ensure it doesn't contain any additives or caramel coloring. A cheap vinegar is a good indication there are things sneaking in that aren't supposed to be there.

If you can afford aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena it is worth the money. It's aged for at least 12 years and has passed a taste test indicating a higher quality balsamic. (Many balsamic vinegars are watered down and mixed with boiled red wine vinegar.) For a real treat, look for the extravecchio variety, meaning it has been aged for at least 25 years. Its syrupy and sweet and would be lovely on berries and ice cream. No reducing necessary.

1 comment:

  1. This recipe looks awesome! I would have never thought to combine vinegar and fruit but I think it would make a suprisingly good combination! I encourage you to add your low allergen recipes to the contest on my blog. I am giving away a free 1 1/2 hour nutrition appointment for the best recipes!

    You can post them here: http://naturalmedicineandnutrition.com/2010/04/30/recipe-competition-free-nutrition-appointment-for-recipes/

    Keep up the good work! These recipes are awesome! :)