It’s not quite strawberry season in my garden yet but I when I saw the first local berries appear at the market this week I couldn’t resist. There are a few things that I refuse to buy when they are out of season and strawberries are at the top of the list. Eating with the seasons makes the anticipation of their arrival all that more exciting. Strawberries that haven’t been produced to be shipped across the continent tend to be more fragile and you need to eat them within a day or two of purchase but their vibrant perfumed sweetness blows their bland, tasteless supermarket counterparts away. I have always loved the combination of berries and cream but wanted to lighten it up a bit so this is my take on a traditional English fool or Eton mess.
Traditional fools are usually a combination of pureed fruit, whipped cream and sugar layered together. This is more a combination of a fool and an Eton Mess, a mixture of meringue, softly whipped cream and fresh fruit. I wanted an alternative to heavy cream and decided to use Greek yogurt instead, it lends a tangy bite to the dish and the addition of the balsamic and black pepper adds a nice little contrast to the sweetness of the berries. If you don’t want to take the time to make your own meringues you could easily pick up a package of meringue cookies at the grocery store. The cookies couldn’t be easier to make, any they’ll keep for a long time so it’s easy to bake them a few days before you want to serve them. The next time you are looking for a quick, easy dessert to impress your company give this dish a try!
For the meringue:
2 large egg whites
2/3 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
½ teaspoon almond extract
For the berries:
2 cups strawberries
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup greek yogurt
For the meringues:
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites on medium-high speed in a medium bowl until white and foamy. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar by tablesoonfuls, beating until meringue is stiff and glossy. Scrape in seeds from vanilla bean. Add almond extract and continue to beat until vanilla is evenly dispersed. Drop meringues by the tablespoon onto prepared baking sheet. Alternatively you can pipe the meringues
Bake until dry and slightly golden about 90 minutes. Let meringues cool on sheet (they will crisp as they cool)
For the berries:
Heat 1 cup strawberries, sugar and the vanilla extract or the vanilla bean seeds if using. Cook the strawberries until berries just begin to soften and release their juices. Remove from heat, stir in remaining berries and let cool completely.
Layer ¼ cup yogurt, ¼ cup berry mixture and crumble 2 or 3 meringue cookies. Garnish with the almonds and some roughly torn basil and serve.