Yesterday was one of those perfect sunny spring days, and at the Saturday morning market I was too tempted by the strawberries on Jean-Pierre’s stall. The grandfather of a family of market gardeners here in Albi, Jean-Pierre now runs an open-air stall just on Saturdays, when the market expands into the square surrounding the Marché Couverte and the Grand Place de la Cathedrale, while his step-grand-daughter and son run the family vegetable and fruit stall in the Marché Couverte six days a week. He’s so friendly, greeting me with a kiss on the cheeks each time I see him (‘le French bise’). Hard not to buy strawberries from him!
Freshly picked mid-June strawberries that have soaked up the sun demand nothing more than a sprinkling of sugar (if you have a sweet tooth) and possibly a dollop of cream. I love them ‘au nature’ in a bowl of yoghurt for breakfast – but the first strawberries of spring are likely to need a little help, especially if you want to serve them up as a pudding.
“Interesting to note that in the UK growers are now able to produce an early strawberry variety in greenhouses rather than the ubiquitous poly tunnels and heated by biomass boilers. Planted in December they are ready to pick in mid March.” – Judi
Which is where the French twist comes in – for it was here in France that I discovered a wonderful way of serving them in red wine. It’s extremely simple, quick to prepare (but needs time to cool and let the flavours meld). Serving it in individual glasses brings out the wonderful ruby-red colour– I used some old champagne glasses dating from the days when they drank champagne from flat glasses. Perfect for the strawberries!
Strawberries in Red Wine – serves 4, preparation time plus marinating/cooling time approx. 1.5 hrs.
500 grams strawberries (I used Agate)
35cl of red wine (I used a Merlot-Syrah, reasonably light)
125 grams caster sugar
½ a vanilla pod
Gently heat the red wine in a small saucepan then add the sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Cut open the vanilla pod, scrape off the grains and add to the red wine. Reduce the heat so the wine simmers very gently for 10 minutes, giving it an occasional stir.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the wine stand for at least an hour. Depending on your liking for vanilla, you can then strain the wine through a sieve to remove the vanilla grains and pod before putting it in the fridge to chill. I love vanilla so I left it to cool overnight which gave it a stronger vanilla flavour.
When the wine has cooled, wash the strawberries, pat dry with kitchen towel, and then cut into halves/quarters depending on their size. Place in a large bowl and cover with the wine before returning them to the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Make sure you take them out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving so they have a chance to warm up and develop the full flavour.
Serve individually in glass dishes.
The combination of wine and strawberries got me thinking about Elizabeth David’s syllabub which I’ve made many times. It’s an extremely old English recipe and her version uses a sweet white wine but I thought I’d experiment with red instead. So here is my recipe for Red Wine Syllabub which can be served separately, or in the spirit of ‘entente culinaire’, deliciously combined with the Strawberries in Red Wine.
Red wine syllabub – serves 4, preparation time 20 minutes plus overnight soaking time
4 tbsps. red wine (see above)
1 tbsp. brandy (I used Armagnac)
pared rind of ½ a lemon (wafer thin slices of the lemon peel without the white flesh)
30 grams caster sugar
150 ml double cream
Combine the red wine, brandy, and the pared rind of the lemon in a small bowl and leave to marinade overnight.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and stir until it has dissolved, then pour the cream in and start whisking it. I use a large balloon whisk and do it by hand which I prefer as I can ‘feel’ how the cream is responding. It’s harder work but it does avoid over-whisking which can sometimes happen in a split second using an electric whisk.
When the cream has begun to thicken, carry on until you reach ‘soft peak’ stage; it needs to be quite a soft mixture.
Pour into individual glasses and return to the fridge to chill. It can easily be prepared a day in advance as I think syllabub is much better a day later.
For the ‘entente culinaire’ version, I layered strawberries in wine sauce at the bottom of the glass, added syllabub, then more wine-soaked strawberries (without the sauce), finishing with a layer of syllabub. I also think variations of trifle could be made using these two recipes – maybe you can send in your variations on the theme?
“Red wine jelly sounds rather lush!”- Judi