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Somnambulent Top Chef Quickfire

Thu Apr 10, 2008

Strawberry Preserves

Strawberry Preserves with Black Pepper and Balsamic Vinegar

I can’t find my first sentence. Do you know where it went? I had it wrapped around my brain when I rolled out of bed this morning, but staring at the computer now, I can’t remember what it was. I had been dreaming about Top Chef again and Gordon Ramsey was the judge and Nancy Silverton had replaced Padma. We were getting ready to start the Quick Fire Challenge when G-Ram said…what?! Argh!

If you’ve seen enough episodes of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares you’d know that Gordon tells all his flailing restaurateurs the same thing every time–that the key to success is simple, fresh ingredients prepared well. It’s easy to get seduced by the idea that a complicated dish is the superior one, but like writing, getting rid of the fat usually makes the meat taste better.

To me, Nancy Silverton exemplifies what Gordon Ramsey rails on about. Her entire career has been about elevating the simple: bread, cheese, grilled cheese. Having trouble writing last night, I decided to go visit Nancy and have something to eat over at Osteria Mozza. I only ordered two small dishes, but it was the first that inspired me to come home and write about simplicity. The dish was based on five ingredients: sheep’s milk ricotta, roasted garlic, roasted hazelnuts, fleur de sel and lemon zest. The garlic appeared three ways, as sweet whole cloves mingling with the roasted hazelnuts on the plate, whipped until it was the consistency of creamed honey and spooned onto the dish beneath the ricotta and blended with hazelnuts to create an aillade then spread onto crostini. Its smoky, earthy sweetness was the anchor on the plate, grounding the ethereal texture of the slightly tangy sheep’s milk ricotta. The hazelnuts and crostini were the perfect textural counterpoint adding depth of flavor in addition to crunch. The salt and the lemon zest elevated the whole dish. Nothing was masked, nothing was overwhelmed. Instead, it was like every ingredient had the volume turned up all the way–their dissonance coming together in harmony.

It was an expensive and roundabout way to get me to the simplicity of strawberry preserves, but sometimes you have to stretch the rubberband, you know?

Though it’s only the beginning of April, the strawberries at the farmers market have already been tempting me, beckoning with their ruby clad fingers of perfume. Amazingly, I bought a flat a couple of weeks ago and promptly forgot about them for a week. When I finally remembered, the strawberries were a little soft, but still super-sweet and vibrant. Since their texture was the main thing that suffered, I decided to make strawberry preserves with balsamic and black pepper. Tangy, spicy and sweet, this simple jam is the perfect foil for fresh bread, robiola or braised short ribs. The recipe is the epitome of simple–just five ingredients–and absolutely transcendent.

Strawberry Preserves with Black Pepper and Balsamic Vinegar
from Gourmet, June 1997

2 cups strawberries (about 1 pint), trimmed and quartered
1 ½ cups sugar
3 tbps balsamic vinegar (I like an aceto from Modena)
3 tbsp water
1 tsp cracked black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, occasionally skimming the foam off the top. Cook until thickened and translucent. Remove from pan and cool completely. Preserves keep, covered and chilled for one month.

It’s taken me a couple of times to figure out “thickened” means slightly syrupy, which usually takes about 30-40 minutes. Remember that the preserves will thicken when they cool, too. If you want to make a larger batch, I recommend heating some canning jars and processing them for 15 minutes in boiling water after you remove the preserves from the stove. To read more about canning, read my End of Summer post.

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10 Responses to “Somnambulent Top Chef Quickfire”

 
  1. Neal Says:

    Yummers! 😉

    How did the jam come out?

  2. Spring Says:

    MMM…. I love this recipe, I have made it many times. You absolutely have to try spooning it over a nice piece of chevre and then spreading it on crostini (or some other cracker). I had never thought of the combo before, but it is soooo good I had to recommend it.

  3. Brooke Says:

    Oh, girl! You not only found your sentence but you found a perfect recipe! I can’t wait to try it!
    xxoooxoxo,
    Brooke

  4. Ellie Says:

    This sounds heavenly. Can’t wait till strawberries are out here! (another 2 months at least) Adding this to my “must try soon” list.

  5. RecipeGirl Says:

    Looks wonderful. I made something not too long ago involving similar ingredients but it was a topping for ice cream. YUM!

    Nice blog 🙂

  6. Vegeyum Ganga Says:

    This looks great, and I certainly will make it. I posted a recipe recently for baked strawberries, a long time favourite. Here, it is autumn, but the last of the local strawberries are still available. I think I still have time to make this before winter sets in.

  7. jj Says:

    Now that’s an original strawberry preserves recipe. Thanks!

  8. Tempting! A roundup of Fabulous Food « A Life (Time) of Cooking Says:

    […] I included some in a previous Tempting! post, but here are some more. Spicy Salty Sweet creates a jam with black pepper and balsamic vinegar. Wow! We know from that previous Tempting! post that strawberries and balsamic march hand in hand […]

  9. steamy kitchen Says:

    bookmarking this to try!

  10. Leah Greenstein Says:

    Let me know how it turns out, Steamy Kitchen!

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