STRAWBERRIES

Times Staff Writer

Up at the crack of dawn, dressed in layers of clothing to insulate them from sun or cold, cortadores --strawberry pickers at berry farms in Oxnard and other places in California--gather their clippers to bring the world their bright red berry harvest. Bending down toward low-growing patches, the pickers add more color to the sea of green beds dotted with red and green fruit and pretty little white blossoms.

The much-awaited spring fruit came early this year, to the delight of strawberry fans. The day after Christmas, berry workers in some farms were already gathering the Douglas and Chandlers. These are the early berry varieties that are large, sweet and firm. Warm, perfect December weather accounted for the faster growth in the fields of Oxnard, Orange and San Diego counties and other strawberry farms in California.

Although the rains have definitely adversely affected the volume of production and quality of the berries, growers are confident there will be a steady supply of the fruit, according to Jan DeLyser, executive vice president of the Fresh Produce Council.

"Growers don't seem to think they're in trouble," she said. "They are pleasantly pleased with the amount they have produced to continue the supply."

Vince Mastraco, marketing director of the California Strawberry Advisory Board, added, "At this point the fields may have slowed down but we're taking an optimistic outlook because the plants are healthy and they have a way of recovering after a few days."

Perfect berries start from tender loving care in the fields. Pickers get a good start in the morning when it's cool so the berries are firm when picked, not soft from the warmth of the sun. The fruit is carefully selected for proper ripeness because once it's clipped off its plant, it doesn't continue to ripen or sweeten. To protect them from bruising and rotting, the delicate berries are grown on raised beds covered with polyethylene sheets.

Strawberries, one of America's most loved fruits, symbolize luscious taste and beauty. What plain dessert ever failed to brighten up when strawberries were added? According to the strawberry advisory board, consumer surveys showed that the top five ways of eating fresh strawberries are: whole or sliced and sweetened; whole or sliced as a snack; strawberry shortcake; strawberries with cream, and strawberries in salads.

Judging from the more than 100 entries submitted for the California Strawberry Festival contest this April, consumers are being innovative with strawberries. Contest finalists from all over the nation, which are being judged today in the Channel Islands include interesting recipes like strawberry creme brulees, dessert couscous, ravioli, barbecue sauce, zabaglione sauce, fruited curry salad and many others that made it to the top 20 selection. (See related story on Page 10 for more details.)

To highlight the festival, some of the harbor restaurants are making some of their favorite strawberry creations. Included here are just a few of their recipes. One of these is Barbi's Cheesecake, which is being presented by the Whale's Tail. It is truly decadent with its luscious topping of glazed berries spiked with triple sec. Barbi Kurisu, who started as a waitress at the Whale's Tail, contributed the recipe to the restaurant, where it is now regularly served as dessert. The success of this creation grew into Kurisu's own cheesecake bakery, which carries 30 different flavored cheesecakes, the star of which is still strawberry.

Strawberries, prepared French-style with a little tangy vinaigrette, are finding a home in green salads. Cooking instructor Judith Pacht shared one of her favorite uses of berries in the form of Green Salad With Strawberries and Goat Cheese. It turned out to be not just a tasty surprise but beautiful as well.

In trying to come up with more delectable surprises, we also offer a few recipes developed in The Times' Test Kitchen: Donna's Duck With Strawberry Sauce, a wonderful combination enhanced with rosemary and Strawberry Cobbler, a winning old-fashioned treat. BARBI'S STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE

1 cup coarsely ground walnuts

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups sugar

2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers

3 tablespoons butter, melted

4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

5 eggs

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 teaspoons vanilla

Sour Cream Topping

2 to 2 1/2 quarts strawberries

Strawberry Topping

Lightly butter 10-inch spring form pan. Combine walnuts, cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar and wafer crumbs with melted butter. Press into pan and place in 350-degree oven 3 to 5 minutes.

Beat cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, then add eggs, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat well. Pour over crust and bake at 350 degrees 45 to 50 minutes, until top is firm and light golden color. Remove from oven. Let stand at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes.

Remove cake from pan. Arrange berries, pointed side up on top of cake. Spoon topping over berries. Chill until serving time. Makes about 12 servings. Strawberry Topping

1 (12-ounce) jar seedless raspberry jam

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup cold water

1/2 cup triple sec

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Place jam in saucepan over low heat. Combine cornstarch with cold water in measuring cup to make 1/4 cup liquid. Stir until lump-free. Mix with jam. Add triple sec and lemon juice while stirring constantly over low heat, until mixture is clear and thickened. Cool in refrigerator about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. JUDITH PACHT'S GREEN SALAD WITH STRAWBERRIES AND GOAT CHEESE

1 head butter lettuce

2 sprigs arugula or watercress

24 strawberries, hulled

8 slices goat cheese (Montrachet)

3 tablespoons hazelnut oil

1 cup bread crumbs

Vinaigrette Dressing

1 cup toasted hazelnut pieces

Wash, dry and tear greens into bite-size pieces. (Greens may be prepared day in advance, wrapped in dry dish towels and refrigerated.) Wash strawberries and dry immediately on paper towels. Select 12 strawberries of similar size and slice lengthwise. Set aside. Cut remaining 12 berries into chunks. Set aside.

Slice cheese into 1/2-inch slices. Brush cheese with hazelnut oil, then roll in bread crumbs. Arrange coated cheese slices in non-stick pan and bake at 350 degrees 12 minutes.

While cheese bakes, place greens and strawberry chunks in salad bowl. Add Vinaigrette Dressing and toss. Arrange salad on serving plates. Slip hot goat cheese slice half under 1 lettuce leaf on each plate. Arrange 3 strawberry halves per plate, flat side down, point out, as border garnish. Sprinkle each serving with hazelnuts. Makes 8 servings. Vinaigrette Dressing

1/2 cup hazelnut oil

1 1/2 tablespoons wine vinegar

Dash salt

Dash sugar

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Combine hazelnut oil, wine vinegar, salt, sugar, mustard and pepper. Stir or shake well in jar. STRAWBERRY COBBLER

4 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Dumpling Batter

1/2 tablespoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

Combine strawberries, lemon juice, sugar and cornstarch in saucepan. Heat and stir until boiling and thickened. Pour into 8-inch square baking dish. Drop Dumpling Batter by tablespoons onto hot bubbling mixture. Combine sugar and cardamom and sprinkle over top of dumplings. Bake at 400 degrees about 25 minutes or until dumplings are done. Makes 6 servings. Dumpling Batter

2 cups buttermilk biscuit mix

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons butter or margarine

1/2 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine biscuit mix, sugar, butter, milk and vanilla. DONNA'S DUCK WITH STRAWBERRY SAUCE

1 (4 1/2-pound) duck

1 clove garlic, cut in half

Salt

2 teaspoons minced rosemary

Juice of 1 orange

Giblets

Peppercorns

1 pint strawberries, hulled and crushed

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup plus 1 teaspoon water

2 tablespoons creme de cassis

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon arrowroot

Rosemary sprigs

Whole strawberries

Rinse duck and remove giblets. Pat dry. Rub 1 cut garlic clove over outside of bird. Season cavity and outside with salt to taste and minced rosemary. Place bird, breast side up, on rack in shallow roasting pan. Pierce skin of duck. Pour off excess fat during roasting. Roast at 350 degrees or until meat thermometer registers 185 degrees. Brush duck with orange juice during last 45 minutes of roasting.

Place giblets in saucepan. Add water to cover. Season to taste with salt and peppercorns. Simmer until giblets are tender. Remove giblets. Reduce stock to 1/2 cup. Strain and set aside for strawberry sauce.

For sauce, combine crushed strawberries, sugar and 1 cup water in saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Strain. Stir in cassis, reduced duck stock, minced garlic and lemon juice. Reduce to 1 cup. Combine arrowroot and remaining 1 teaspoon water. Stir into strawberry sauce. Heat and stir until boiling and slightly thickened.

Serve sauce with duck. Garnish platter with sprigs of rosemary and whole strawberries with stems, if available. Makes 4 servings. GREEK STRAWBERRY PIE WITH FILO

6 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

6 sheets filo dough (about 16x12 inches)

1 (8-ounce) cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1 pint strawberries, stemmed

Powdered sugar

Brush 9-inch pie plate with melted butter. Working quickly to prevent drying, brush 1 filo sheet with butter. Place in pie plate, allowing ends to extend over sides. Repeat with remaining sheets, crisscrossing them alternately. Gently press down so that layers of filo conform to sides of pie plate. Gather up overhanging filo and press together gently to form edge crust. Brush lightly with butter. Place in center of oven and bake at 350 degrees 15 minutes until evenly browned and crisp. Cool completely on rack.

Beat cream cheese, 3 tablespoons honey and lemon juice in medium bowl until thoroughly blended. Mix in walnuts. Cover and chill. Spread filling mixture evenly over bottom of crust. Arrange strawberries on top, pressing in lightly. Drizzle with remaining honey and dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges to serve. (Crust and filling can be prepared several hours in advance. Assemble no more than 1 hour before serving.) Makes 6 servings.

Note: If using frozen filo dough, thaw as package directs. Securely rewrap and store unused portion in refrigerator or freezer for another use. CHEF LOUIS HUBNER'S STRAWBERRY BOAT (Left Bank Restaurant)

2 whole ripe papayas

Leaf lettuce

Strawberry Cream Cheese Mousse

Peel and seed papayas. Arrange on platter and decorate with leaf lettuce. Make boat out of papayas and fill papayas with Strawberry Cream Cheese Mousse. Decorate with whipped cream and strawberries. Makes 2 to 4 servings. Strawberry Cream Cheese Mousse

1 pound cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup strawberry preserves

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 drops lemon juice

Strawberry slices

Beat cream cheese in blender until fluffy. Fold in strawberry preserves, brown sugar, lemon juice and strawberry slices. Cool and spoon into papaya boats.

ANDRE MARQUER'S BERRY AND BIRD ROULADE (Port Royal)

1 lahvosh (Armenian flatbread)

4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 ounces strawberry preserves

8 ounces strawberries, sliced 3/16 inch thick

8 ounces cooked turkey breast, julienned 1/8 inch thick

2 ounces toasted slivered almonds

Treat bread according to package directions. Place softened cream cheese in bowl. Fold in cinnamon and preserves just to blend. Spread on side of bread. Then spread in alternating rows strawberries and turkey. Top entire creation with light sprinkling of toasted almonds. Roll up jellyroll fashion. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill 1 hour. Unwrap and slice into any desired thickness. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Corrected Strawberry Cheesecake Recipe Los Angeles Times Thursday March 27, 1986 Home Edition Food Part 8 Page 34 Column 1 Food Desk 8 inches; 262 words Type of Material: Recipe; Correction The Sour Cream Topping was omitted from Barbi's Strawberry Cheesecake recipe printed in the March 20 Food Section. The complete recipe follows. BARBI'S STRAWBERRY CHEESECAKE 1 cup coarsely ground walnuts 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 cups sugar 2 cups finely crushed vanilla wafers 3 tablespoons butter, melted 4 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature 5 eggs 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 teaspoons vanilla Sour Cream Topping 2 to 2 1/2 quarts whole strawberries Strawberry Topping Lightly butter 10-inch spring form pan. Combine walnuts, cinnamon, 1/2 cup sugar and wafer crumbs with melted butter. Press into pan and place in 350-degree oven 3 to 5 minutes. Beat cream cheese until smooth. Slowly add remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, then add eggs, lemon juice and vanilla. Beat well. Pour over crust and bake at 350 degrees 45 to 50 minutes, until top is firm and light golden color. Remove from oven. Let stand at room temperature 15 to 20 minutes. Spoon Sour Cream Topping over cooled cake. Return cake to 350 degree oven 5 minutes. Cool at room temperature and refrigerate several hours or until chilled. Remove cake from pan. Arrange whole strawberries, pointed side up on top of cake. Spoon Strawberry Topping over berries. Chill until serving time. Makes about 12 servings. Sour Cream Topping 2 cups sour cream 1/2 cup sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla Combine sour cream, sugar and vanilla. Strawberry Topping 1 (12-ounce) jar seedless raspberry jam 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/4 cup cold water 1/2 cup triple sec 1 tablespoon lemon juice Place jam in saucepan over low heat. Combine cornstarch with cold water in measuring cup to make 1/4 cup liquid. Stir until lump-free. Mix with jam. Add triple sec and lemon juice while stirring constantly over low heat, until mixture is clear and thickened. Cool in refrigerator about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
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