Fresh ideas for your berry booty

Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

It's been a good summer here, and the berries are out to prove it. I spent most of last weekend in a state of primordial bliss, picking salmonberries and blueberries to my heart's content. Arriving home with a full berry pail, one question demands to be answered: now what?

Courtesy Of Ginny Mahar
Courtesy Of Ginny Mahar

In an effort to try something new, here's what I came up with: two unique berry desserts made with the same berry puree. You can de-worm your berries first, by soaking in cool, well-salted (about one tablespoon per pint) water for one hour. For more berry ideas, tips, photos and recipes, stop by my blog (www.ginnymahar.blogspot.com).

Wild Berry Muscat Granita

Makes 2 cups (4 servings)

This easy Italian "ice" is a fantastic way to show off the flavor and color of wild berries. Muscat dessert wine brings a fruity depth to this recipe, but feel free to experiment with other types of sweet or sparkling white wine, or fruit juice.

½ cup berry puree (recipe below)

2 tablespoons Muscat dessert wine

2 tablespoons water

1. Combine ingredients in a 1-quart glass, ceramic, or stainless steel baking dish, sized so that the liquid is not more than an inch deep. Stir to combine, cover, and place in freezer for 30 minutes.

2. Remove from freezer and stir with a fork, being sure to scrape any ice crystals from the bottom and sides of the dish. Cover and return to freezer, stirring every 30 minutes until the mixture reaches a texture of grainy ice crystals, 3 to 5 hours. Serve in chilled wine glasses or ice cream dishes. May be made up to two days in advance.

Wild Berry Basil Panna Cotta

Makes about 4 cups (6-8 servings)

The basil is optional here, but you won't believe what its sweet perfume adds to this luscious and creamy dessert. Panna Cotta firms as it chills, so pour it into whatever kind of molds, glasses, or serving container you wish to serve it from.

1½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin

2 tablespoons milk

2 cups heavy cream, divided

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large basil leaves, torn into large pieces (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup berry puree (recipe below)

½ cup sour cream

1. In a small bowl, use a fork to mix milk and gelatin, and set aside. In a small sauce pan combine 1⅓ cups heavy cream, vanilla, basil leaves, sugar, and salt. Heat mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved and liquid is steaming, about 7 minutes. Add gelatin mixture, and stir. Cook until gelatin is dissolved and mixture is smooth, about 3 minutes. Stir in berry puree and remove from heat. Cool the mixture in fridge or ice bath, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.

2. Place remaining ⅔ cup heavy cream in a stainless steel mixing bowl and mix on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

3. Remove basil leaves from berry mixture and discard. Add sour cream and stir until smooth. Add whipped cream and stir until smooth. Pour into serving dish(es) of choice, cover, and refrigerate at least 4 hours.

Optional: Garnish with dollops of sour cream, a few fresh berries, and a small basil leaf.

Versatile Berry Puree

Yields about 1 cup of puree

Adjust the sugar content in this recipe by taste, depending on the type(s) and sweetness of your berries. Recommended berry varieties include blueberries, salmonberries, strawberries, cloudberries, thimbleberries, raspberries, blackberries, and/or currants.

2 cups wild berries

½ cup water

¼ cup sugar (plus more to taste)

1. Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Mash berries with a potato masher and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and let bubble lightly for 5 minutes. Taste and adjust sweetness while cooking, aiming for a natural sweetened berry flavor versus sticky sweet pancake syrup.

2. Pour the mixture through a wire mesh strainer set over a mixing bowl. Work the berries through using the back of a soup spoon or a rubber spatula, until as much liquid as possible has been extracted from the pulp (use patience here for a greater yield). Discard pulp. Cover and refrigerate puree for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to a month.

• Ginny Mahar is a trained chef and food writer who works at Rainbow Foods. She writes about all things "food" in Juneau, from cooking with local ingredients to restaurant news and food events. View more of her food writing at ginnymahar.blogspot.com.



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