I think of dessert as a curtsy to the meal; a nod of thanks; the "peace be with you" of the church that is dinner.
We're honoring that final course of the meal with a site-wide, week-long celebration of dessert at TheKitchn.com.
Earlier I spoke of David Lebovitz's Ready for Dessert. Another new dessert book that stands out is Seasonal Fruit Desserts (Broadway Books) by Deborah Madison, who I consider to be one of a few grand dames of the farm-driven cooking movement. In her usual way, this book celebrates crops; in this case fruit as a four-season way to satisfy a sweet tooth.
It seemed fitting with the first strawberries appearing in my local farmers' market to make Deborah's Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup. The wine is simmered down with crushed peppercorns then tossed with fresh berries. We slurped this one up with a dollop of fresh cream and licked the corners of our mouths. Some licked the bowl.
Deborah's recipes are rich with poetic profiles of each fruit and fruit combination. While she speaks from a place of a regular farmers' market customer, there is nothing in this book that can't be made with fruit from your own backyard or your corner supermarket. Understanding how to select fruit at its peak — and Deborah helps with this — is the key.
Strawberries in Red Wine Syrup
The wine turns these berries an electric shade of red, at least for six hours or so, after which they lose that luster but remain good to eat. They're lovely served with sections of orange as well as plain. Even though I suggest a lighter wine, pretty much whatever wine you choose will become even-tempered by the time the strawberries yield their juice.
1 cup red wine, such as Beaujolais, Valpolicella, or Pinot Noir
1/3 to 1/2 cup organic sugar
1/8 teaspoon toasted peppercorns, lightly crushed
1 heaping pint basket of ripe strawberries (about 2 1/2 cups)
Put the wine, sugar, and peppercorns in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer just until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan, but don't let them cover the entire surface or the syrup will be too thick. This should take 15 minutes.
While the wine is reducing, rinse the berries and set them on a clean dishtowel to wick up the moisture. If they're large, slice them into quarters or eighths; smaller berries can be sliced in half. When the syrup is cooked, pour it through a strainer over the fruit. Cover and let stand for at least an hour so that the strawberries yield their juices. Give them an occasional turn with a soft spatula so that all the berries come in contact with the wine, then divide the berries among small glasses — preferably the little bar glasses from France or Italy — and pour the syrup over them. Serve chilled with orange sections or a spoonful of cream if desired.
Reprinted with permission from Seasonal Fruit Desserts by Deborah Madison, ©2010. Published by Broadway Books.