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French Fridays with Dorie: mozzarella, tomato and strawberry salad

Another week has flown by, so fortunately, the recipe this week for French Fridays with Dorie is another super simple one: mozzarella, tomato and strawberry salad. The shopping was the hardest part of this recipe. Salad Caprese (tomato and mozzarella salad without strawberry) is a summer staple at my house once the local tomatoes are in, so I have to admit that I was a little skeptical of adding strawberries into an already beloved dish. You never know until you try, so I was game to try Dorie’s version from Around My French Table.

This recipe was so simple that the ingredients are key. Where I live in Massachusetts, tomatoes aren’t truly in season yet. Dorie said to use the best you could get, so I opted for an off-season stand-in, greenhouse-grown tomatoes from Backyard Tomatoes in Maine. Their cocktail tomatoes are a little bigger than cherry tomatoes and have a similar concentrated flavor. While not as good as a late July tomato grown in the sunshine would be, they worked pretty well. And, strawberry season is over in late July. This was the moment for this salad.

Visually, I’d say this salad is gorgeous. The color of the strawberries and tomatoes together was intensely vibrant, and especially striking with the very white cheese. I didn’t have pink peppercorns, but found some pink Hawaiian salt in the pantry, so used that for a sprinkle of extra color. My basil plants are still more like seedlings, but I have other plentiful herbs growing outside the door. I used a sprig of lemon balm (melissa officinalis) which lent a citrusy, floral flavor. A little drizzle of extra virgin olive and balsamic vinegar, and it was salad.

How did it taste? It was definitely interesting. I liked the surprise of the strawberries as I ate. I couldn’t really get my head around the idea of fruit in a savory salad, and even though I was the cook and knew they were there, I just didn’t expect to taste strawberries with the tomatoes.

The star of this dish was the cheese. Dorie mentioned that this would be really good with burrata. Have you ever had burrata? I first had it on a trip to California about three years ago, shortly after seeing it mentioned in a glossy food magazine (Bon Appetit?) and having no idea what it was. It looks like a ball of fresh mozzarella, but when you cut it open, the outer mozzarella shell is filled with creamy, buttery, very soft and rich curds. If you’ve never tried it, you should seek it out.

Burrata doesn’t seem to be widely available commercially in my area, but wanted more! The search was on. I knew of one local cheesemaker who made burrata, but I don’t actually care for the texture of their mozzarella. The past two summers, I have found containers of Bel Gioiosio Wisconsin-made burrata at Costco. It’s not bad, but not as good as my first taste in California. A week or two ago, I was happy to read about a new source, a local small-scale cheesemaker around Boston. The summer issue of Edible Boston has a lengthy article about Mozzarella House and mentioned that their cheese was for sale at a local market in my town (Wilson Farm). I knew I wanted to find this new burrata and try it in this salad.

Honestly, I can’t say enough about the cheese. It was such a treat! It lived up to my first California taste! It totally made this salad sing!

Overall, I thought this salad was interesting to eat and gorgeous to look at. It’s a true seasonal dish. The ingredients are so important that, with strawberries, this is more of once-a-year treat where I live. My husband won’t eat fruit in his savory food, so he didn’t try it, but I think it would be fun to serve to company because of its uniqueness. There’s also no reason not make this with other fruits that complement the creaminess of the cheese. I’m certainly glad that I tried it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the other FFwD bloggers thought of the salad. With bloggers around the world, it’s not the peak of strawberry season everywhere, so it will be interesting to see what creative twists they’ve come up with. You can check out their links at French Fridays with Dorie. We don’t post the recipes, but do encourage you to buy Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table, and think about joining us on Fridays as we cook through the book together.

The Fruits of Our Labor

I love when it’s time for strawberry picking. We were in Maine this weekend, where strawberries came in season two and a half weeks early this year.

Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. We went to our favorite local picking fields at Chipman Farm in Poland, Maine. It was Day 8 of their season. The berries were gorgeous. It was so easy to pick perfect berries. We went wild! We picked 23 pounds (two large trays).

We made jam with about half of our harvest. Several years ago, we met an older woman while picking raspberries. She introduced me to concept of making the no-cook version of jam on the pectin box insert. On the downside, the jam isn’t shelf stable and needs to be stored in the freezer. However, there are enough benefits to make it worthwhile to clear out the needed freezer space.

First, after all the blazing hot summer afternoons or evenings I’ve spent standing over a pot of boiling water to sterilize the jars and process the final product, the no-cook recipe lets you “put up” the fruit without any sweat. Secondly, and most important, is the superior taste. The berries aren’t actually cooked, so even in the dead of winter, they will taste just like summer.

First, you mash the berries in a bowl. Then, you combine the sugar and pectin with some water and bring it a rolling boil for one minute. Off heat, you stir in the fruit for one minute. Ta-da! It’s ready to pour into those little Ziploc or Glad (or supermarket brand) plastic containers.

I’ve had excellent luck with the low sugar version, which does require the Low Sugar pectin, not regular. The one thing I noticed is that, once you move the jam from the freezer to the refrigerator, you need to use the jam within a week or two, or it starts to get moldy. With the regular sugar recipe, it lasts in the fridge much longer. However, the low sugar recipe uses 3 cups of sugar to 4 cups of mashed berries per batch where the regular sugar version uses 4 cups of sugar to 2 cups of mashed berries. Because it’s the fruit I want to taste, I’d rather reduce the sugar.

In the end, we made 3 batches of strawberry jam, about 19 containers. We set aside enough strawberries to enjoy fresh for the rest of the week. The remaining berries go into the freezer, where they will be enjoyed in frozen drinks, like daiquiris and margaritas, over the summer.

Strawberry Freezer Jam
Makes 6 cups of jam

4 cups crushed strawberries (start with about 2 quarts ripe strawberries)
3 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell Pectin For Less or No Sugar Needed
1 cup water

I store my jam in 1-cup sized plastic containers. If you buy them new, be sure to wash them and dry them first.

In a bowl, crush the strawberries, about 1 cup at a time. I use an old-fashioned potato masher, the kind that looks like a grid. I find this works best. You will need exactly 4 cups of crushed berries.

In a large pot, mix the sugar and pectin. Stir in the water. Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils, keep stirring for 1 minute, then remove from the heat. Add the berries and stir for 1 minute. The mixture should be well blended.

Immediately fill the containers to within ½ inch of the top. Wipe off the top edges of the containers and cover immediately. Let the jam stand at room temperature for about 24 hours. You can eat it right away, or freeze for up to one year. If frozen, thaw in the refrigerator before using. The jam can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.