It's week two of my half-share CSA distribution. The local weather's been alternating between gorgeous sunny days and violent thunderstorms recently. That has to be affecting the local veggies.
The first shipment was heavy on lettuces. So what's in the box this week?
Alas, asparagus season is over. Goodbye, local asparagus!
Everything looked great except for the radishes, a few of which had burst open (I assume that's the result of our irregular rain this season) and the strawberries, which were clearly soft and on their way out.
The radishes were just a cosmetic issue, but I knew the berries wouldn't last the night. So as I piled my pint in a zip-top bag and pedaled home, I thought of one magic word: compote
Yes, a simple compote is the fruit buyer's best friend. Mushed, soft berries, excess rhubarb, bruised peaches... clean 'em off, chop 'em up and throw 'em in a saucepan with a little sugar.
Whack! Pow! Twenty minutes later, you've got yourself a compote that's ready to mix into plain yogurt for a snack that's tastier than any grocery-store fruit-on-the-bottom blend you'll ever meet.
A good compote is so simple, you hardly need a formal recipe, but I'm going to give you one anyway, because I had a kitchen inspiration I wanted to share.
A while back J & I took tea at the sweet little Podunk teashop in the West Village. One of the things we remembered with greatest fondness was Ms. Espeth's strawberry jam, which was spiced with a peppery kick that hit in the back of the throat. A delight!
As I lopped the tops off the strawberries last night (off with their heads!) I thought with fondness of that strawberry jam. So why not make a peppery strawberry compote?
Herein, dear readers, is your ticket to that very confection. And, hurrah! you probably have just about everything but the strawberries already hanging around in your kitchen.
Some strawberries are sweeter or more tart than others, so I usually start with less sugar and add in more, to taste, as I go. So feel free to mess with the sugar : acid : spice ratios. A compote is only perfect when you, the cook, say so.
Kapow! Strawberry Compote (Makes about 1 cup)
1 pint strawberries (trimmed of their tops & bruises)
1/8-1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp finely ground black pepper
1/8 tsp ground mace or ground cardamom (optional)
1 dash salt (optional)
1. In a small-to-medium saucepan, combine the trimmed strawberries, sugar and water, and heat over medium flame.
2. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don't let the mixture boil; It'll just froth up a storm and make a big, sticky mess on your stovetop.
3. Turn down the heat, taste the mixture and stir in the lemon juice, spices and salt, if using. The compote will thicken and develop in flavor as it cools, so don't over-spice it at this point.
4. Use warm, or chill it down and keep it for up to a week in the refrigerator.
I love this compote with yogurt, but it's also superb on ice cream or used on biscuits or as a way to give strawberry shortcakes a little kick.