(A transmission from a past life in Portland, Oregon)
The strawberries in our garden are in full swing now. We’re picking about a pint of ripe ones a day. All year long I wait for these little gems, the pleasure of plucking them right from our own backyard.
“They taste kind of weird,” says Joe, and he’s right. They’re a tad too acidic, or a tad too ripe, or just wan and watery. I blame the late-season rain, because it’s handy to blame things on the rain here. They’re not terrible berries, just not as mind-blowing as I’d like. I can go to the farmer’s market and get a flat of Oregon-grown Hood strawberries that will blow some minds. Our backyard strawberries are convenient and passable.
But they’re ours, and we’re kind of a weird family, so it’s fitting they taste weird. I still think they are miraculous in their way. I planted them three years ago after my brother and I walked past a house in our neighborhood with a bunch of strawberry starts laid out in the front yard next to a FREE sign. I get to ignore them all year long, and then for about a month they give me fruit.
A friend growing strawberries in her Portland yard shared that she feels so blessed in numbers that she spits out any offending berries that aren’t up to flavor spec. A luxury, yes, and one we could adopt here as well, but I love our underwhelming strawberry children, and I can’t bring myself to write them off.
So I’ve been blasting them in the oven a bit to intensify their flavors. Roasting fruit is de rigueur, so I’m not blazing any culinary trails here. I think some people roast strawberres on a parchment-lined sheet pan, but I want some syrup to go with it, so I put them in a small gratin dish that collects their gooey liquid. It’s almost like making jam in the oven, and it’s a jillion times easier, and I don’t have enough ripe backyard strawberries at a time to make jam, anyway. The vanilla bean is really what makes this amazing. It fills in that gap of exquisiteness my berries suffer from.
Roasted Strawberries, a.k.a. Oven-Baked Strawberry Compote
Makes about one cup
- One pound (about a pint) strawberries, washed and hulled
- 2-3 tablespoons turbinado sugar (though you could use any kind of sugar you had on hand; I like the fruitiness of turbinado)
- ¼ vanilla bean
- Position a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- If the strawberries are those big honking ones, you may want to cut them in half, but you don’t have to. Put them in a medium-sized shallow baking dish, preferably non-reactive (ceramic, enameled, or Pyrex vessels are good choices). Add the sugar. Split the vanilla bean vertically and scrape out the seeds; add the seeds and the scraped-out vanilla bean hull to the berries. Toss it all together a bit, but don’t worry about it too much. It’ll all even out in the oven.
- Place the dish, uncovered, in the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring a little bit midway though if you remember. You want to see the berries collapse and lots of juice rapidly bubbling all around them. The whole mess will thicken and become jammy as it cools.
- Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to five days. Leave the vanilla bean hull in there so that the flavors both deepen and mellow as it all sits.
Here’s what you should do with this stuff:
- Spoon it over nice, thick plain Greek yogurt (full fat!)
- After scraping the warm mixture into a container, there will be a bunch of syrup clinging to the spoon. Lick this off because you don’t want to waste it. It’s so sweet and a little wine-y and it might make you feel a bit sick, but it’s worth it. Wipe off your face when you are done; you will have ruby streaks all around your mouth. You can also share this spoon-licking part with your kid.