If I were to have stood in yesterday’s election (and believe me, absolutely nothing would be further from my mind), my platform would have been a simple one.
I would have campaigned to ban strawberries from September until May.
Whilst it’s more than likely I would have lost my deposit in spectacular fashion, it’s a credo I’m incredibly passionate about.
There is nothing quite so depressing than seeing shelves full of Chilean or Mexican-grown strawberries in the run-up to Christmas.
Of course, the supermarkets will say it’s down to the demands of the customers. Well, in this circumstance, the customers are thick as bricks.
Taste a summer strawberry, grown and picked in Kent or the Vale of Evesham perhaps, better still out of your own patch, bursting with juice and vivid in colour, and think then of the watery, hard, seedy things we insist on having access to out of season, and you should weep.
The British strawberry season used to be incredibly short, barely a couple of months, but thanks to agricultural improvements (and perhaps a little helpful climate change) we can now find home-grown strawbs from the beginning of May all the way up until late September. That’s quite long enough, surely?
Do we really need the second-rate replacements for the rest of the year? I say no.
So let’s make the most of the British fruit while it’s here in abundance, and make an unashamedly vulgar little dessert, a strawberry and Prosecco trifle.
Strawberries have often been paired with sparkling wine in various recipes over the years. It’s also a standard movie shortcut to demonstrate an affluent lifestyle by giving our protagonist a glass of fizz and a little silver salver with a pyramid of beautiful strawbs.
In the famous film ‘Pretty Woman’, the millionaire character portrayed by Richard Gere orders Julia Roberts’ wide-eyed streetwalker some champagne and strawberries, telling her that the fruit brings out the flavours of the wine.
I’m not convinced myself, but hey, if it’s good enough for Gere, it’s good enough for me.
And there is a lovely combination at work in this dessert – the sweet sugary biscuits, the gentle buzz of sweet, grape-y Prosecco, the cool, smooth creamy mascarpone and those beautiful British strawbs.
We’re making our own Savoiardi or Lady’s Finger Biscuits, because they’re fun to do, and very easy, but by all means skip this stage and but a packet if you’re short of time or inclination.
You could also use sliced Swiss roll (hello, Mum!), or chunks of Madeira cake.
I also went as far as making my own strawberry jelly, because the flavour is so intense.
It’s a good way of using up frozen strawberries, but fresh ones will do just as well. Again, if time is pressing, just make up a packet jelly.
This is a brilliant, fresh dish, ideal for a post-barbecue dessert, and a great way of making the very most of our wonderful British strawberries.
For the jelly:
1 kilo frozen strawberries
The juice of a lemon
5 sheets of gelatine
For the Savoiardi biscuits:
350g plain flour
9 medium eggs
450g caster sugar
Icing sugar, to dust
For the trifle:
400g fresh British strawberries, plus extra for garnishing
1/2 tbsp unrefined golden caster sugar
A couple of glasses of Prosecco
450g mascarpone cheese
60ml double cream
20g icing sugar
The seeds of 2 vanilla pods
48 Savoiardi biscuits (see recipe above)
A suitable container for the trifle (a deep dish or an attractive glass bowl)
First, let’s make up the jelly. Set a bowl over a pan of simmering water, and add the strawberries, the lemon juice and the water. Cover with clingfilm and leave for about an hour.
The juice should be deep red and the fruit quite pale. Strain carefully through a non-reactive (plastic) sieve or sheet of muslin, and taste, adding sugar if required. I like mine quite sharp.
Soak the gelatine in cold water and when it’s completely soft, squeeze dry and stir into the warm strawberry juice.
Set aside to cool as you go on to make the Savoiardi biscuits; heat the oven to 180ºC / Gas 4.
Line a couple of baking trays with baking parchment. Mix together the flour and semolina in a bowl. Separate the eggs, putting the whites in a large bowl and the yolks into a smaller one. Beat the whites to a thick foam, then gradually add 100g of the caster sugar and whisk until the mixture forms a thick, glossy meringue.
Beat the egg yolks with the remaining sugar until pale and fluffy. Carefully fold the yolk mixture into the meringue, then gently sift in the flour and semolina mixture, and fold through with care.
Spoon into a piping bag with a plain nozzle and pipe 10cm fingers spaced 3cm apart on each tray.
Dust with icing sugar, then bake for about 20 minutes until pale gold and set. Allow to cool.
To make up the trifle, reserve about a third of the strawberries to use as garnish for the top, then slice the remaining fruit thinly.
Beat the mascarpone with the cream and icing sugar, along with the vanilla seeds and transfer to a piping bag. Cover the base of the dish with biscuits and drizzle with a little Prosecco.
Pour over enough jelly to cover the biscuits and carefully move to the fridge to set . When the jelly has set, pipe on a single layer of mascarpone, smooth to the edges with a palette knife, and cover with sliced strawberries.
Layer up with more biscuits drizzled with Prosecco, more mascarpone and more strawberries, finishing with a layer of mascarpone. Add a jelly layer and chill if you fancy, though I usually just leave it at the base.
Top with whole or halved strawberries and chill until required.