The thing about seasonal food, is you have to eat it while you can – again and again. Those sweet, succulent strawberries? In a month or two, they will be gone. Their star will have waned, and the fresher, more petite raspberries or yellow nectarines will take center stage. Those clean, crisp asparagus spears? They will be bumped aside by a Provençal-style invasion of summer vegetables whose sauces and salads will pointedly exclude the upright astringent asparagus. The obscure, frizzy coils of fiddleheads that we’re finally managing to get to know? Never mind, it’s time to tackle another dark horse of a vegetable, and let the idea of an edible fern fade to a fuzzy dream.
All fruits and vegetables reign supreme at the markets during their seasonal heyday, and while they last, they are the life of the party. We should gorge on them while we can, but too much of a good thing can become tiresome – especially after the tenth consecutive serving. This is where our duty as chefs comes in. It is up to us, like gracious hosts, to showcase our seasonal gifts, highlighting their qualities in appealing and flattering ways, so that they always look and taste great.
So, with yet another recipe including strawberries, I introduce a little phyllo dough to shake things up a bit. Unlike a parfait or a trifle, the phyllo adds a crispy texture and linear orderliness in a dramatic stacked presentation. The outcome is a light and luscious dessert, elegant yet simple, and mighty pretty to look at, too.
(But, let’s be honest. Is it really possible to tire of fresh strawberries?)
1 package frozen phyllo sheets, defrosted overnight in refrigerator
1/4 cup (60 g.) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (115 g.) granulated/caster sugar
8 ounces (250 g.) mascarpone cheese
1 cup (250 ml.) heavy cream
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (500 g.) strawberries, hulled, sliced lengthwise no more than 1/4″ thick, plus 6 large strawberries, stems intact, halved lengthwise.
Additional confectioners sugar for dusting
Prepare Phyllo Squares:
Preheat oven to 350 F. (180 C.) Line 2 rectangular baking sheets with parchment paper. Unroll phyllo dough. Place one sheet on work surface. (Cover remaining dough with plastic wrap and damp kitchen towel to prevent drying.)
Lightly brush phyllo sheet with butter. Sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar. Place second phyllo sheet on buttered phyllo dough. Brush with butter and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with 2 more sheets.
With a sharp chef’s knife cut stacked phyllo sheets into 12 squares (4 across the sheets’ long side x 3 across the short side). With a spatula, transfer the squares to prepared baking sheets. Bake in oven until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely on racks.
Repeat this process 2 more times, so you will have a total of 36 squares. If you are serving 10 there will be a few extra squares which can be used as back up if there is breakage.
(Phyllo squares may be prepared one day in advance. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Separate layers of phyllo dough with parchement paper.)
Beat mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, confectioners sugar and vanilla in bowl of electric mixer until stiff peaks form. (Cream may be prepared up to 6 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until use.)
Arrange one phyllo square on plate or platter. Spread one tablespoon cream over. Arrange 2-3 strawberry slices in one layer over cream. Top strawberries with 1-2 teaspoons cream. Place another phyllo square on top, pressing gently. Spread one tablespoon cream over. Arrange 2-3 strawberry slices in one layer over cream. Top strawberries with 1-2 teaspoons cream. Place third phyllo square on top, pressing gently. Place one teaspoon cream in center of phyllo square. Place one strawberry half, cut-side down, on cream. Dust lightly with confectioners sugar. Repeat with remaining ingredients.