One of the best things about Spring (aside from the profusion of flowers and warm weather) is the arrival of strawberries. Not those horrid red blobs with white interiors you find in supermarkets masquerading as strawberries. But the kind in the picture below, that you pick yourself or buy at local farmers’ markets. They’re an entirely different fruit – red throughout, and bursting with flavor and juice in every bite.
I’ve eaten my share of them straight out of the box (washed first of course) but when I needed a dessert to bring to the annual picnic of “le matte” earlier this week, I knew it had to be something using strawberries. I also wanted to play around with the recipe for lemon tiramisu I’ve made in the past, but adapt it to strawberries. It was also a good excuse to use some “Fragolino,” a strawberry liqueur I brought back from Italy many years ago, when you could still take bottles into carry-on luggage. I think this liqueur is also available in the states now. This bottle must be at least 10 years old, and look how little we’ve used. Time to remedy that situation.
I started out with the same basic mixture of ricotta and mascarpone as I used in the lemon tiramisu. But since I was adding some strained strawberries and some alcohol, I was concerned that the extra liquid might cause it to fall like a pink blob on the plate, rather than hold its shape when sliced. So I added a little gelatin for insurance. It did the trick and allowed me to slice small wedges that held their shape nicely on the plate.
2 quarts strawberries
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup Fragolino or other liqueur
Trim 1 quart of the strawberries, cut into chunks and put in a saucepan. (Use the remaining quart of strawberries to slice for the middle and for the top.) Add the water, sugar and lemon juice and cook over medium heat, stirring when the mixture comes to a boil and mashing down the strawberries. Continue stirring and cooking for about five minutes. Remove from heat and put through a strainer, squeezing with a wooden spoon. If you don’t mind strawberry seeds, you can omit this step, but I prefer it without the seeds. Let it cool, then add the liqueur.
15 oz. container ricotta cheese (drain overnight in cheesecloth, if possible)
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 package of Knox gelatin
1 package of savoiardi biscuits (firm, sugar-coated ladyfingers – not the soft kind)
Mix the ricotta cheese, mascarpone, sugar and lemon in a bowl. Set aside. Mix a package of gelatin with 1/2 cup lukewarm water. Take out 2 T. of the gelatin mixture and add to the mascarpone mixture. Mix well. Add about 1/2 cup of the cooled strawberry/liqueur mixture and mix well.
Cut the savoiardi to fit the height of an 8 1/2 inch springform pan that has been lined with wax paper or parchment paper. This may not be a necessary step, but I wanted to avoid any possibility of the savoiardi sticking to the pan.
Dip each savoiardi into the remaining strawberry mixture, coating lightly only on one side. Place the side that has been moistened with this mixture on the inside of the pan, leaving the sugar-coated, plain side facing outwards. Layer the bottom with the trimmings from what you cut, adding savoiardi if necessary, cutting them to fit the bottom layer of the pan. Spread a bit of the strawberry/liqueur mixture on the bottom layer.
Slice some strawberries and place over the savoiardi. Pour half of the prepared mascarpone/ricotta mixture on top. Add a second layer of savoiardi, spread with the remaining strawberry/liqueur mixture, then add more sliced strawberries and the rest of the mascarpone/ricotta mixture.
Top it with freshly cut strawberries. Glaze it with some currant or apricot jelly that has been slightly heated and cooled. Caveat: Don’t do what I did and put the glaze on the night before serving or it will soften and/or discolor the berries. (There was a last minute run to the store for more strawberries.) Wait until shortly before serving to add the glaze.