It is strawberry season in our part of the world. The supermarkets and open air markets are displaying piles of luscious red strawberries, sweet and ripe, ready for eating. Before we moved here, our home was in Denmark, which would be considered (very) northern Europe. Summer is brief, and sunshine is not guaranteed. At this time, strawberries would be available, but were imported from France or Spain, as the Danish spring would still be in its early stages. Danish strawberry season is fleeting – primarily for the month of June – and for that one month we would gorge ourselves on strawberries. We would pick our own at the nearby organic farm, or stop at roadside rest areas where people would sell their garden harvests from backs of pick-up trucks and car trunks. While driving on country backroads, at the end of long rural driveways, we would find lone tables perched under tilted garden umbrellas shielding cardboard boxes of just-picked strawberries from the fickle Danish sun. We would select our strawberries and pay our money into an unmanned cash box – all transactions done on the honor system, of course.
For this one month (if we were lucky, and it wasn’t a rainy season) we would stuff ourselves with strawberries. We would eat them plain and with cream, in trifles and pavlovas, in fruit soups and salads. When we gave up because we couldn’t eat them as fast as they arrived, we would freeze them for later in the year, as a tease and a whisper of our summer past. And, finally, when we began to think that we couldn’t possibly eat another strawberry, the season would be finished. Another fruit would replace it as the star of the show, strawberries would shift to the background and fade to a memory of summertime. Until the next year.
This is a dessert I’ve prepared for dinner parties. It is more Italian in inspiration, easy to prepare and always a success, especially when prepared for my Danish family and friends who were weary of their more traditional Danish recipes:
Strawberry and Mascarpone Cream Parfaits with Balsamic Syrup and Mint
1/2 cup (80 ml.) balsamic vinegar
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
8 oz. (250 g.) chilled mascarpone cheese
2 cups (500 ml.) whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 lbs. (1 kg.) strawberries, hulled and halved
6-8 whole strawberries
Fresh mint leaves
Prepare the Balsamic Syrup:
Combine vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and lemon juice in small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until syrup is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool completely. (Syrup can be made one day in advance. Cover and refrigerate.)
Prepare the Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
In a mixing bowl combine mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla. Beat until soft peaks form. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours.
30 minutes before serving, combine strawberries and balsamic syrup in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon sugar. Toss gently to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Divide half the strawberries among 8 glass goblets. Spoon half the cream mixture over the strawberries. Top cream mixture with remaining strawberries. Top with cream mixture. Drizzle with any remaining syrup.
Garnish with whole strawberries, grated lemon zest and mint leaves.