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Springtime brings us one of my favorite faux fruits: the strawberry.  This “accessory fruit”–or vegetable, depending on how you define it–is, in fact, the swollen tip of the stamen, or the base where the flower grows.  The seeds, or more accurately, the achenes, that attach themselves to this swollen bit are more than just annoying specks that get caught in our teeth–they are, in fact, the ovaries that house the real seeds of the plant.  So, just as the avocado is a delectable undercover fruit that is commonly treated as a culinary vegetable, the strawberry is a tasty summer vegetable that is almost always considered as a culinary fruit.  For more information than you ever wanted to know about the strawberry, click here.

So.  Maybe I went a little bit overboard by buying one kilo when I live alone.  But, in any case, I had this kilo of fresh, delicious, real–and I believe wild–strawberries (the multiple sized kind filled with juice and not genetic copies of some aesthetically “perfect” model).  And I was determined to eat them all.  So… I began by grabbing some and eating them simply, first by themselves, then with creme fraiche, then with regular cream.  If regular cream is difficult to find where you are, just use heavy whipping cream.

Preparing Strawberries:  To prepare strawberries for these simple dishes, as a general rule I cut off the caps, then quarter the strawberries, then sprinkle about a teaspoon of sugar over them and mix it in.  (This amount of sugar can be adjusted depending on the natural sweetness of the particular strawberry.)  A very light syrup should start to form from the juice of the berry and the sugar.  Then mix with the cream or creme fraiche, if desired.

These were small and sweet enough that I didn't have to quarter and sugar them; but it's generally a good idea if you're getting the larger, "American" variety of farmed strawberry. With creme fraiche.

With regular cream

And after all that eating… I still had at least half a kilo left. So I began to search through my fridge and pantry, trying to come up with ideas to use the rest of the strawberries.  There was a bottle of cava (Spanish champagne) staring back at me, having been bought a week before and seemingly upset that it was sitting there, still unopened.  And I thought… wouldn’t a cheesecake that had both the strawberries and the champagne in it be simply divine?

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The slightly burnt crust didn't stop us

One of the easiest things I’ve ever made.  Can be made into a 9″ pie or 6 individual ramekin mini-pies.

Skill Level:  EASY
Preparation time:  About 10 minutes.
Cooking time:  10-15 minutes to cook, plus about 20 minutes to cool to room temperature.
Servings: 6-8.

4 eggs, separated and yolks beaten
Juice of 2 lemons
Grated rind of 1 lemon (see below for alternative)
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp. corn flour
2 1/2 cups of graham crackers, or digestive cookies (half a box is usually the right amount)
another tablespoon or so of sugar to match with the cookies
1/2 stick of butter or so
whipped cream (optional)

If you don’t have a grater (like me), just slice the rind of one lemon as thinly as possible.  Boil the water, sugar, juice, and rind for a few minutes.  If you have bits of rind because you couldn’t grate it, run it through the strainer to recollect the rind and pour the rest of the mixture back into the pot.  Add the corn flour slowly, trying to minimize any clumping.  Once the corn flour is blended in, remove from heat and stir in egg yolks.

Take the graham crackers or digestives and place in a ziploc bag.  Beat the living daylights out of it until you get nice even flour-like crumbs (some slightly larger crumbs are okay).  I like to use a large spoon or even a mallot to help me along.  Pour the pulverized cookies into a mixing bowl, and add the 1 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in slowly, to taste, so that you sweeten it but not too much.  Melt the half stick of butter and pour into the mixture.  You’re basically trying to achieve a moistness that will allow you to press the crumbs down into the pan (or mini-pans).  It will not become a dough, however.  If you are using an aluminum pie pan, you may want to lightly butter the pan before laying down the crumbs.  In any case, cover the rim of the crust with aluminum to prevent burning.

Take the egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form.  Then mix in two teaspoons or so of sugar.  If you don’t like merengue, skip this step and store the egg whites for breakfast tomorrow.  Pour the lemon mixture into the pressed crust.  Bake at 450˚F (we did 250˚C, which is 482˚F) for 10-15 minutes or until either the merengue is slightly browned or, if there is no merengue, until the top of the pie filling has formed a skin and gives a little resistance.  You can, of course, lower the temperature to say 350˚F (150˚C) and cook a bit longer.  The important thing is to keep your eye on the top of the pie.

Remove and let cool.  If you did not add merengue, you can add whipped cream to the top of the pie, especially if it’s been chilled.  However, we enjoyed the pie without anything at all on top.  In fact, it was gone by the next day!

I love how easy, quick, and minimalist this pie is.  I plan on playing with some variations in the near future and will post them!

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