Packed with vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin B6, manganese and fiber, blueberries have been labeled a “Super Food” by doctors and nutritionists because of the their many nutritional benefits. Low in calories (a cup of blueberries is just 84 calories, with no fat and 4 grams of fiber) and noted for its very low glycemic index score, the blueberry is in fact, a tiny powerhouse for the body and even the brain.
Research has shown that the same phytonutrients and antioxidants that give a ripe blueberry such an interesting blue color may also play a significant role in reducing the risk of diseases such as inflammation, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Recent research has indicated that the phytochemicals in blueberries may also help to improve memory and reduce symptoms of depression.
While I am an advocate of eating for health and balance, I enjoy blueberries not only for their substantial nutritional benefits, but most especially because they are a powerhouse of flavor. Sometimes sweet, sometimes tart, always beautifully blue, blueberries are a quintessential taste of summer.
Each June, as the weather turns from mild to definitively Mid Atlantic, my family chooses the hottest-most-humid-day-of-the-year-so-far to head to Larriland Farms in Woodbine, Maryland for our annual foraging of fresh high bush blueberries. Larriland has seemingly unending rows of tall blueberry bushes, planted over rolling hills in a bucolic setting west of Baltimore, about 45 minutes from Annapolis. (In fact, the rows do end, at some really fantastic patches of raspberry bushes which my children cannot resist). We spend an hour or two picking, not mindful at all of the heat, the sweat or our aching aged backs as the kids stain their little faces and all of their clothes with berries that were never meant for the picking bag anyway. We try to stay in the shade of the berry bushes, which works out well since the largest, sweetest and best berries are hidden on the bottom of the bush, overlooked by other, less experienced pickers. Traditionally, on the way home we commend my husband for the awe-inspiring amount of perfect berries he picked, while the entire family provides me a list of all the wonderful ways a blueberry should be used.
My favorite way to eat a berry (or really any food) is fresh and simple. The flavor of a berry is best revealed when it isn’t coated in sugar or covered by pastry flour. I enjoy plain Greek Yogurt with maybe some roasted walnuts or salted almonds and a splash of agave nectar. Spinach salad, gently splashed with a light vinaigrette, served with a scattering of salty Greek feta and sweet berries all around. Whole grain crackers slathered with herbed goat cheese and berries on the side.
My family however, definitely loves their berries sweet and baked. Pancakes, muffins, pies, tarts, panna cottas, custards, jams and jellies are their preferred vehicles from bush to belly. And so after our latest jaunt to Larriland, just last week (yep, we waited for the heat wave to hit), here are a few ways I’ve found to keep everyone in our family blissfully full of berries. I am looking forward to serving a couple of these recipes at 4th of July celebrations- blueberries are perfect for celebrating the red, white and blue!
Very Basic Blueberry Compote Perfect for countless recipes and applications.
In a small pan, combine 1 cup fresh blueberries and 1/4 cup maple syrup, agave nectar or demerara sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, cooking just until the first berry pops. Reduce heat to low and simmer, until the berries release their juice. In a cup, combine 2 tablespoons water and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Stir mixture into blueberries; cook and stir until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 1 teaspoon vanilla.
Blueberry Hand Tarts We don’t serve processed foods in our house, but when my children come home from school demanding the breakfast tarts and hand pies their friends have, I oblige with these simple treats. In fact, the kids like to make these on their own. We use whole wheat or spelt dough, but any pastry crust will do.
- 1 recipe pie crust, or 1 purchased pie crust, room temperature
- Blueberry jam (not jelly)
- 1 egg white, whisked with a 1 ts of water
- Cinnamon sugar
Heat oven to 350°
Flour a clean work surface and roll the pie crust very thinly. Cut the edges of the rolled crust into a large square, discarding any leftover edges. Score the dough horizontally into strips about 3 inches high (alternatively, you can use large cookie cutters). Spread one side of each rectangle with a heaping teaspoon or so of jam—just enough to cover the dough lightly, leaving a clean edge all around. Fold over the other side of the strip of dough, matching the edges so that the sides are even, ensuring that no jam squeezes out. Press along each side of the tart with the tongs of a fork (dip the fork in flour to keep it from sticking to the dough). Brush with the egg white. Dust with cinnamon sugar if you prefer. Bake at 350° for ten minutes or until slightly puffed and golden.
Blueberry-Watermelon Frosty When my kids want a slushy, we don’t head to the neighborhood convenience store. Instead we make this perfectly refreshing treat that my entire family loves.
- 1 container frozen organic lemonade or limeade concentrate
- 3 cups fresh blueberries
- 3 cups watermelon cubes, seeds removed
- 2 cups small or chopped ice cubes
In a blender, combine concentrate, blueberries and watermelon. Purée until very smooth. Add ice cubes; blend until mixture is slushy. My kids like to float flavored ice cubes from specialty molds in these slushies, which they then try to sell back to me to earn their own money!!
Burrata with Blueberry Compote Burrata is an artisanal Italian cheese-within-a cheese. A soft shell of fresh mozzarella encompasses a filling of ritagli-shavings of more fresh mozzarella- and cream. The cheese is soft and mild and creamy and buttery and utterly delicious served with pasta, salad, crusty bread or in this case, a blueberry compote. This compote is not overly sweet or lemony. If sweet is what you prefer, substitute 1/3 cup sugar for the agave nectar. If you like the sweet/tart combination, add the zest of one lemon and increase the lemon juice to 1 TB.
- 2 ½ cup fresh blueberries
- 4-5 whole lemon thyme, lemon verbena or lemon basil sprigs
- 1 ts fresh lemon juice
- ½ cup agave nectar
- ¼ cup water
- Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste
- High quality olive oil to drizzle
Add 1 ½ cups blueberries to a medium heavy bottomed pot with the lemon juice, water, agave nectar or sugar and herbs. Stir over medium heat until the berries begin to pop open. Add the remaining berries, then lower the heat and cook until the juices begin to thicken. Add in the salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat, discarding the herb sprigs and cool completely. The compote will thicken slightly as it cools.
To serve, place the Burrata on a plate or platter carefully, as it is very delicate. Gently break open the Burrata, allowing the creamy center to ooze out. Spoon the compote over the Burrata. Drizzle lightly with some very good olive oil and serve with crusty bread…or skip the oil and eat it with a spoon for dessert.
Note: ifyou don’t like Burrata, bring very good quality goat cheese or stilton to room temperature. Drizzle with the compote. Garnish with berries. Serve with toasted pitas or good crackers.
King Salmon with Savory Blueberry Sauce This dish is perfect for a more refined 4th of July celebration, served with white asparagus. You need a nice salmon fillet or steak for this recipe so the color and flavor will stand out. Any salmon will do, but nice red wild Alaskan King salmon, Copper River salmon or (in a pinch) very fresh sockeye are vastly preferred to farmed or Atlantic salmon. Finish your meal with either of the red, white and blue desserts below.
- 2 TB butter
- 2 TB flour
- 2 TB agave nectar or pure maple syrup
- 4-5 thyme, lemon thyme or rosemary sprigs OR
- ½ ts dried thyme or ¼ ts dried rosemary
- 1/3 cup shallot, minced and/or red onion, very thinly sliced
- 2 cups blueberries, plus ½ cup reserved
- ½ cup dry red wine or 2 TB red wine vinegar
- ½ cup water
- Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper
For the sauce
In a skillet, sauté the shallots in the butter. Cook, stirring until the shallots are tender but not browned. Add the flour, stir to combine and thicken. Add 1 cup of the blueberries, agave nectar or syrup, herbs and 1/2 cup water. Cook over high heat just until the berries begin to pop. Stir in the wine or red wine vinegar and remaining blueberries; turn the heat down to simmer. Cook until the mixture has a saucy consistency that coats the back of a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, keep warm.
For the salmon
Heat the gas or charcoal grill to high; use a paper towel to lightly wipe the grates with vegetable oil. Lightly season salmon steaks or fillet with a bit of freshly ground sea salt and black pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Place on grill (skin side up if you are preparing fillet), close the lid and cook on high heat, turning after 4-5 minutes. Do not turn the salmon early—wait until it releases from the grates fairly easily with a spatula, then flip, cooking the remaining side about another 3 minutes, depending on thickness. The salmon is done just when the salmon fat begins to appear and the meat begins to flake and separate. Don’t overcook the salmon! It’s expensive and each salmon is unique: let it be a juicy and flavorful treat!
Serve the salmon with cooked quinoa and the Savory Blueberry Sauce.
Perfect Red White and Blue Dessert: White Panna Cotta with Red and Blue Berry Sauce. Based on a recipe by Cooks Illustrated
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 ¾ ts unflavored gelatin
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 vanilla bean, or 2 ts vanilla extract
- ½ cup sugar
- Pinch of fine sea salt
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan; sprinkle the gelatin over and let stand 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath and set out a bowl that will fit down into the bath. Set out 8 ramekins on a baking sheet.
Measure out the cream. Whisk in the vanilla seeds or extract (seeds are vastly preferred but more expensive) and set aside.
Heat the milk and gelatin over high heat, stirring constantly so the milk does not scorch, until the gelatin dissolves, about 1 ½ minutes. Off heat add the sugar and salt, stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Slowly pour the cream into the saucepan, whisk to combine, then transfer to a bowl and set over the water bath. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens and chills. Pour equal amounts into the ramekins; cover with plastic wrap being careful not to touch the surface of the cream. Refrigerate until just set, about 4 hours.
- 6 cups fresh or frozen raspberries, strawberries and blueberries
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 ts lemon juice
- Pinch salt
Heat the berries in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium high heat until simmering, stirring occasionally for 10 or 12 minutes. Add the sugar and raise the heat to high, boiling for 2 minutes.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer. Stir in the lemon juice and salt. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
To serve, spoon a bit of berry coulis into a serving plate. Dip the bottom of the ramekin into very hot water for a couple of seconds. With your fingertip, gently press the edge of the panna cotta away from the ramekin to loosen. Dip the ramekin into the water again for a couple of seconds. Turn the ramekin over and gently nudge the panna cotta out onto the platter. Garnish with just a few fresh raspberries, strawberries and blueberries.
Red, White and Blue Ice Cream (Gelato de Panna with Blueberry Sauce) This recipe is based on a Marcella Hazan recipe from Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1987). Her version does not call for vanilla or blueberry sauce, but we can’t resist either one.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 4 TB sugar
- 1 vanilla bean pod, seeds scraped and reserved or 2 TB pure vanilla extract
Put all the ingredients, including the vanilla bean pod and seeds or extract into a medium saucepan. Bring to a very low boil over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly so that the cream does not scorch on the bottom of the pan, for 10 minutes.
Strain into a clean bowl, discard the vanilla bean pod and place over an ice bath, stirring to cool completely.
Place in the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Serve with warm sweet blueberry compote spooned over.Feel free to share...