When I buy a basket of strawberries, I put my nose in them and inhale deeply. I smell sun, spring then summer, long days and warm weather. As a child in Italy, strawberry season always felt painfully short and therefore precious. In late March and early April, strawberries broke the monotony of winter fruit — apples, oranges, and mandarins — and heralded the arrival of my favorites: strawberries, cherries, figs, peaches and apricots. I still experience the same enthusiasm, even after 20 years in California, where we enjoy a long strawberry season.
When I see a child hugging a basket of strawberries with ruby-smeared fingers like his or her life depended on it, oblivious to the drop of juice slowly making its way down from chin to shirt, I remember what it was like.
I have eagerly adapted to months of strawberries and have developed a number of recipes to go along with my childhood favorite, which is eating them like the aforementioned child. My mother often turned strawberries into the classic Italian dessert fragole con la panna by lightly sweetening quartered strawberries, letting them rest for a short while and then crowning each portion with freshly whipped heavy cream.
A few years ago, after reading about oven-roasted strawberries in a blog, I upgraded my go-to recipe for strawberry ice cream flavored with balsamic vinegar by roasting the strawberries before using them. The delicious outcome put me on a path of further exploration. Not having a sweet tooth meant that I moved the experiments in the savory department. My first attempt, a pairing with roasted new potatoes, was unsuccessful, but the strawberries were not wasted: eating them convinced me even more of their potential as ingredient in a savory dish. Next came roasted strawberry frittata.
You read correctly and I am well aware that it sounds strange. It sounded strange to me, too, when the idea formed. In fact, I resisted it, but the strange idea turned into an excellent dish.
I have offered my roasted strawberry frittata to many guests and raised a number of eyebrows. But the frittata charms the palate from the first sweet and savory bite. It has everything: the sweetness of strawberries, the savoriness of cheese, the silkiness of eggs. Don't be shy, give it a try.
Roasted Strawberry Frittata
Select a cheese that has a little sweetness to it, such as Gouda, colby, comte or Havarti. Serves 4-6.
10 ounces strawberries
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon strawberry juice
2 ½ tablespoons water
Fine sea salt
1 ounce cheese
Wash the whole strawberries and carve out their stems. Place the strawberries in a bowl, sprinkle the balsamic vinegar on them and toss gently.
Heat the oven to 350 F. Line a cookie sheet with a silicone baking mat that is wider and longer than the sheet. Place the strawberries on the sheet in a single layer.
Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the berries from the oven and let them cool slightly, then transfer them into a shallow bowl.
Measure ½ tablespoon of the juice released into the bowl as the berries rest, place it in a ramekin and add the water. (If there is more juice, let it cool and use it as condiment at the table.) Quarter the strawberries.
Coat the bottom of a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with the oil and warm it. Break the eggs in a bowl and lightly whisk until just blended. Add a couple of pinches of salt and whisk briefly. Add the prepared liquid and whisk lightly to incorporate it.
Pour the eggs slowly into the skillet. Gently slide the strawberries into the pan and distribute them evenly. Cook over low heat until the eggs are set.
In the meantime, turn on the broiler. Use the "low" setting if your oven has one, otherwise put the rack on the lowest position.
Grate the cheese. When the edge of the frittata is set run a thin spatula under it and shake the pan gently to ensure the bottom does not stick to the pan. Evenly distribute the cheese on the surface.
When the eggs are set, place the skillet in the oven for about 2 minutes, leaving the door ajar. (To counter fateful distraction, I recommend setting a timer.) The frittata will puff up slightly and complete cooking.
Take the skillet out of the oven (don't forget that the handle is hot) and let the frittata rest for a few minutes before sliding it onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve.
You can store leftovers in the refrigerator and enjoy them the following day at room temperature.
Simona Carini also writes about her adventures in the kitchen on her blog www.pulcetta.com