With the advent of springtime, few pleasures shadow the guilty one derived by plunging one's face in a bowl of freshly picked strawberries. In Italy we call them fragole.
Fragrant strawberries are a typical Italian dessert item. How sensual and healthy! When my son’s toddler posse takes over the apartment and 4 boys feels like 600 barbarians pillaging my living room, I usually manage to simmer down the energy levels for a few minutes by feeding them fragole e panna for their "merenda" (traditional Italian mid-afternoon snack).
I rid the berries of the calyx and leaves, and rinse them in cold water. I cut them in quarters and marinate them in lemon juice and brown sugar for 15 minutes. Whip up some cream and watch the kids giddily devour the week’s vitamin C intake.
Trivia Note: Did you know that Madam Tallien, a great figure of the French Revolution, who was nicknamed Our Lady of Thermidor, used to take baths full of strawberries to keep the full radiance of her skin? And that Fontenelle, centenarian writer and 18th century gourmet, believed his longevity was due to eating strawberries?
Cosmetically, they are apparently used for whitening teeth. They can likewise be crushed and made into an excellent skin exfoliant that can afterwards be dutifully licked off skin by lover.
The peanut-sized wild fragoline strawberries that grow on the volcanic rim of Lake Nemi in the outskirts of Rome, are a rare and exquisite seasonal treat. Their flavor and fragrance are so strong that at times the aroma of the fruit can be picked up as soon as the car turns off the main road approaching the town. Roll down the window and inhale Nature's own Chanel n°5.
Contrary to the larger, common or garden strawberry, that can be made into sauces, coulis, granita and marmalade, these tiny delicate and highly perishable fruits are best eaten raw, possibly hand picked right off the shrub. No need to rinse them as their growth is purely spontaneous, biodynamic and therefore fortunately not sprayed with chemicals or pesticides. Best served unseasoned in a large glass goblet with an optional dollop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Or a few drops of limoncello.