Healthy Eating: It’s strawberry season — just in time to celebrate July 4th

I absolutely love it when local fresh strawberries are in season. It means summer is really here (even if the weather feels like “Juneary”).  Strawberries mean the 4th of July is near. Although the usual holiday festivities like city fireworks and parades won’t be happening, you can still celebrate our freedom with fresh strawberries.

I know these are challenging times for everyone. I’ve tried to make the best of all the strangeness by nesting at home, which means I have been cooking, baking, canning, freezing and preserving whatever I can from my garden or the farmer’s markets. I’ve been picking luscious red ripe strawberries from a neighbor’s yard as well as harvesting some from our tiny patch. Once you have tasted a fresh, local strawberry it’s hard to go back to the cottony ginormous berries that are sold in the supermarket. Pick up your berries at the local farmer’s market while they are in season.  Buy extras. Freeze them in one-pound bags. You won’t regret it.

These small, ruby-hued fruits pack a wealth of health-boosting benefits. The heart-shaped silhouette of the strawberry is the first clue that this fruit is good for you. These potent little packages protect your heart, increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower your blood pressure, and guard against cancer. Packed with vitamins, fiber, and particularly high levels of antioxidants known as polyphenols, strawberries are a sodium-free, fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie food. They are among the top 20 fruits in antioxidant capacity and are a good source of manganese and potassium. Just one serving — about eight strawberries — provides more Vitamin C than an orange.

I am highlighting my joy of strawberries with a simple and delicious cake. The recipe appears to be harder than it really is. Just read through it first and get your berries in the oven to roast! It’s a fantastic way to use strawberries because roasting brings out the “jamminess” of the berries. You can substitute roasted rhubarb, plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines or other stone fruits if you don’t like strawberries.  Roasting the fruit with vanilla seeds is important.  Using vanilla extract is doable but not as effective. I highly recommend that you pick up a vanilla bean or use the powdered vanilla seeds sold in a jar.  It’s worth the extra step and investment. Although most of us are social distancing and not having our usual 4th of July gatherings, this is a cake you can bake for your family or bring to a neighbor to wish them a very happy holiday.

ROASTED STRAWBERRY CAKE
Makes one 8-inch cake, to serve 8


INGREDIENTS
For the roasted strawberries:
1 pound ripe LOCAL strawberries
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For the cake:
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon
3/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
Seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 cup sliced and chopped almonds
2 tablespoons butter, softened
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream or plain Greek yogurt and fresh strawberries, for garnish (optional)


INSTRUCTIONS
1. Roast the strawberries: Heat the oven to 400°F. Trim the stems off the strawberries and arrange them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice and toss. Roast for 15 minutes, until they are softened and have given off some liquid. Drain and reserve the fruit and syrupy liquid separately (the syrup good on yogurt or drizzled over the finished cake).

2. Make the cake: Reduce the oven heat to 375°F. Lightly oil an 8-inch round spring-form pan.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, thoroughly blend together the oil, egg, milk, lemon zest and juice, 1 cup sugar, and the vanilla bean seeds. Pour this into the flour mixture and whisk gently until combined (do not over-mix).

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes. While the cake is baking, mix together the almonds, 2 tablespoons butter, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Remove the pan from the oven and quickly but gently drop small clumps of the roasted strawberries all over the surface of the cake. Dot the cake with the almond mixture, and return the cake to the oven.

5. Bake the cake for another 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown on top and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the ring form the pan and let the cake another 20 to 30 minutes. Invert the cake, remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment. Re-invert and let it cool completely.
 
To serve, transfer the cake to a plate and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
 
Option: Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and a fresh strawberry on top. This is also delicious with plain unsweetened Greek yogurt.

Enjoy and happy holiday

—  By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in Edmonds with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share her experiments with her family and friends. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and freelances around town for local chefs. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at jaideborah@yahoo.com.

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