Monday, May 28, 2012

Meatless Monday: A Month of Strawberries

Summer doesn’t begin for nearly a month, but for many Americans, the Memorial Day weekend signifies the beginning of the season. We gather with friends and family, fire up the grills, picnic, and share lots of food, including the first of the summer fruits – the strawberry.

In fact, May has been designated National Strawberry Month for some years now [at least since 1997 which I discovered through a Google search], inspiring festivals, celebrations, and countless articles and sites singing the praises of this delicious fruit. One of the most entertaining strawberry sites I found is one from the U of Illinois Extension Service packed with historical facts, nutritional data, legends and lore, growing tips and recipes. 

Eighty-five percent of the nation’s strawberries come from California, where the fruit is grown year-round. In 2010, over 2 billion pounds of strawberries were harvested in the state, with a value of $2.1 billion. It should be no surprise that the California Strawberry Commission (enacted in 1993) has a comprehensive site promoting the strawberry with details on its economic importance, its health and nutritional benefits, and  its taste and versatility (lots of recipes).

One topic not covered extensively in this site, however, is the use of pesticides in strawberry cultivation. The Environmental Working Group includes strawberries in the Number 3 spot on their “Dirty Dozen” list in their Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, updated in 2011.

The good news is that since I wrote about this topic in 2010, organic strawberries have become easier to find in supermarkets, including the Elm City Market, and their price has come down.

We’ve been enjoying them at my house all through the month of May. Local varieties are still weeks away, but I just can’t resist the seductive strawberry, especially at such an attractive price.

The new way I’ve discovered to enjoy them is — dessert as real food — fresh strawberries with sweet ricotta “cream.” Here is my recipe, tweaked from a couple of things I found on the internet.

Fresh Strawberries with Sweet Ricotta “Cream”

  • 2 cups, sliced, fresh strawberries
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta cheese (I use the local Calabro from East Haven, CT)
  • 1/8 cup low-fat milk
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar 
  • 3/8 teaspoon vanilla (I use Baldwin’s made in W. Stockbridge, MA)

  1. Whisk (or purée) all ingredients  EXCEPT strawberries in a pyrex measuring cup, metal bowl, or other freezer-safe container.
  2. Chill in freezer for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir.
  4. Keep very cold until serving time. 
  5. Place strawberries in two bowls or glasses. Spoon “cream” on top.

This dessert is best if you can have the topping finished as close to serving time as possible. This is a delicious treat without any of the guilt sometimes associated with dessert. By my calculations, based on the nutritional facts for strawberrieslow-fat ricotta, and sugar, each serving provides 160% of your vitamin C, 18% of your calcium,  and 8% of your dietary fiber for a mere 142 calories. 

Go ahead, enjoy! This is a perfect dessert to contribute to your next pot luck.

Have a great holiday.

I often blog on food, food issues, or topics related to growing things on Monday in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

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