This just in from Montavilla's Resident Chef Kathryn Yeomans...
Summer’s bounty of berries has arrived! It’s nearly impossible to miss the impressive market displays of berries at every turn of the market – being sold in neatly lined-up pints, muddled into lemonade, and smeared across the smiles of market kids. Here are a handful of ways to make use of any excess you don’t eat right out of the container – and don’t forget to stow some away for winter at the height of the season when they are plentiful, and subsequently a more economical purchase.
White, billowy, cloud-like meringues. Bite down and surprise! – a crisp, airy texture that melts in your mouth. Top them with fresh summer berries in a sauce made from the same fruit, and sweetened whipped cream and you have a dessert that, while sophisticated, brings out feelings of the bliss of childhood.
1 cup egg whites
1 tsp. cream of tartar
2 cups sugar, plus more for the berries and whipped cream, if desired
2 pints of assorted summer berries
a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired
3 oz. melted bittersweet chocolate, optional
Using the whisk attachment of your mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to whip the whites until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is incorporated, and the whites are stiffly peaked, shiny and glossy.
Pre-heat an oven to 200° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a piping bag with a round tip, begin at the center and pipe a spiral, moving in circles outward to the desired size, directly on the parchment. Alternatively, spoon some meringue onto the parchment and, using a spoon, gently smooth out the meringue to a circular shape, about a third to a half-inch thick. Repeat either process until you have used all of the meringue, spacing them about an inch apart. Place the meringues in the oven and bake for an hour, turning the baking sheet half way through. Turn off the oven and let the meringues sit in the oven until the oven has cooled. Repeat this process as many times as needed to completely dry out your meringues (they should not be tacky at all, especially in the center, and should be crisp and cookie like). Keep in mind that after baking the second time, the meringue may begin to take on some color. Consider reducing the heat or using shorter cooking times.
Allow the meringues to cool completely, then, if desired, brush the bottom or top with melted chocolate.
Using a third of the berries, make a puree, adding a squeeze of lemon juice and sugar to taste, as desired. Strain the puree if you wish to remove seeds or skin. Stir the puree into the remaining berries. If you’d like, add a splash of orange liquor, such as Grand Marnier.
Just before serving, place a meringue on a plate and top the with the berries in their sauce and a dollop of whipped cream. Serve immediately.
Note: The meringues can be stored in an air-tight container, but any humidity will soften them. To re-crisp, try placing them in a very low oven for 15 minutes, then allowing them to cool in the oven.
makes 1 pint
Raspberry vinegar may seem an extravagance, but it can be made in 2 simple steps with 2 ingredients. This is an ideal use for very ripe, extra soft or slightly squashed berries, but perfect berries will work, too.
1 pint white wine or champagne vinegar
In a glass jar with a non-reactive lid, combine the berries and the vinegar. Seal the jar and let the mixture stand for 3 weeks, preferably in the sunlight, which will help to draw out the fruit juices.
After 3 weeks, strain the vinegar into a large saucepan through a double layer of dampened cheesecloth. Boil over high heat until it is reduced by one-fourth.
Ladle vinegar into warm, sterilized jars and seal.
This very adult jam can be prepared in minutes and enjoyed for months. Technically not a jam, but rather brandy-soused sweetened fruit, this preserve will delight none the less. It is based on the recipe from Roger Verge’s Entertaining in the French Style. I love the sensibility of Roger as he states, “Obviously I wouldn’t recommend (serving bachelor’s jam) for breakfast, unless you want to start the day on a particularly euphoric note.”
2 pints of fruit – may include any amount of any combination of the following:
currants (red, black or white)
cherries (sour or sweet)
stone fruits (peeled, pitted and cut into pieces)
1 ¾ pounds sugar cubes
1 cinnamon stick
1 vanilla bean
2 cups Armagnac, Cognac, eau de vie, brandy or whisky
Wash, then hull (or remove the stems from) the strawberries. De-stem the currants. Pick over the raspberries and blackberries. It is preferable that you not wash the raspberries or blackberries as they are very fragile and tend to become soggy if rinsed. Pit the cherries if desired (or leave pits in and remember to warn your guests).
In a large bowl, combine and gently toss the fruit.
Alternately spoon the fruit and sugar cubes into a large earthenware crock or wide-mouthed jar, beginning with a layer of fruit, followed by a layer of sugar cubes, then another layer of fruit and so on, finishing with a layer of sugar cubes.
Insert the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean into the center of the fruit. Pour the alcohol over (there should be enough to completely cover the fruit). If necessary, place a small saucer on top of the fruit to keep it submerged in the alcohol. Cover tightly and place in a cool place (do not refrigerate) for 5-7 days. At the end of this time, uncover the fruit and stir with a wooden spoon. Cover the jam and let sit for at least 10 more days before serving.
This recipe must be prepared at least 15 days before serving. The longer it sits, the better it becomes. It keeps for several months.
Serve on it’s own in a pretty little bowl as a dessert with coffee, add to cocktails, have with cake, or for a truly decadent brunch, serve over French toast.
Why sugar cubes instead of granulated sugar? Roger doesn’t say, but my thought is that sugar cubes will dissolve slowly into the fruit, allowing the fruit to absorb as much as possible before it sinks to the bottom of the crock. The granulated sugar, because it has less surface area, will quickly sink and sit at the bottom rather than dissolving into the jam.