The strawberries I set before my friend were making him nervous. "What," he wondered, "did they put in the soil?" His question was a comment on the size of the berries, which were huge. Big enough to sink a cheesecake or collapse a shortcake.
The novel size inspired me to invert that season stand-by, strawberries and cream, putting something creamy on the inside. Carved with a paring knife--and a degree of concentration proportional to the sharpness of the knife--these big berries make a perfect receptacle for rich vanilla custard.
CUSTARD FILLED STRAWBERRIES
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
12 large strawberries
Dissolve cornstarch in 1/4 cup milk. Heat remaining milk in top of double boiler. Stir dissolved cornstarch into hot milk and cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
Beat egg yolks with maple syrup. Stir 2 to 4 tablespoons hot milk into egg mixture, then stir back into remaining hot milk. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Chill well.
Wash berries and drain until thoroughly dry. Using small paring knife, carve off top, including stem. Slice off pointed bottom so berry will stand on plate. Using paring knife, scoop out fruit from center, carefully leaving walls intact. Gently fill with custard, using teaspoon or flat end of butter knife. Freeze 30 minutes before serving. Do not let berries freeze through. Makes 4 servings.
1 pound chocolate Neufchatel cheese, creamed in blender or food processor.
2 bananas, pureed with 2 tablespoons pineapple-coconut juice. Sprinkle filled berries with toasted shredded coconut and toasted slivered almonds.
Lemon yogurt cheese made by draining 1 pound lemon yogurt through coffee filter or cheese cloth-lined colander in refrigerator 6 to 8 hours. Top filled strawberries with chopped walnuts or pecans.