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Throw a Strawberry Party!

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
May 9, 2014

YES. It’s what we say to things that are awesome. Yes.

Photo credit: Jennifer Causey for DesignSponge

Arguably the most charming of all spring’s glories is the humble strawberry. What is more wonderful than a fat, ruby-red one, ripe and sweet and piled into a square green basket at the market?

For years I’ve been throwing strawberry parties, and the menu is always very simple: Bourbon strawberry mint lemonade, strawberry balsamic panna cotta, one savory strawberry dish, and red-and-white decor as far as the eye can see.

It’s one of the easiest shindigs to pull off in the middle of a sunny May or June afternoon, and no one ever declines the invitation. Because everybody loves strawberries, from babies to the elderly, hipsters to hotshots. All you need is red napkins or plates, maybe some red-and-white swirled straws, one big punch brimming with berries, and a couple of snacks. Pick from the ones we feature here, or bring your own knockout recipe to the table. Do you make a stunning strawberry shortcake? Make it the centerpiece.

Leave a little bit of time for chopping strawberries, ask people to bring rosé (of course!), put on your best red dress or tie, and prepare to be 2000 percent more popular than you already are.

If that’s even possible.

Strawberry Bourbon Mint Lemonade Punch

Photo credit: Alex Van Buren

Sweet, tart, and very springy indeed, this punch can be made with however much bourbon you think your guests can handle. Bonus: Doesn’t it look amazing?

Bourbon Strawberry Mint Lemonade Punch
Serves 6-8

375ml good-quality bourbon, or to taste
10-15 cups store-bought lemonade (we like Newman’s Own), or to taste
1/4 cup fresh mint, plus 2 Tbsp for garnish
1/2 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
Ice ring

Combine bourbon, lemonade, mint, and strawberries a large punch bowl. Stir well to mix. Adjust bourbon and lemonade to taste. Carefully add ice ring to bowl. Garnish with fresh mint. Serve.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries and Mint

Photo credit: Jennifer Causey for DesignSponge

Although it needs to be made one night in advance, this panna cotta is well worth the advanced planning. Strawberries, black pepper, and balsamic vinegar are straight-up magical together, and are the ideal foil for silky panna cotta. A touch of mint adds brightness and beauty.

Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries and Mint
Adapted from Mario Batali and Epicurious
Makes 6
Make one night in advance.

2 tablespoons water
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 cups whipping cream
1 1/4 cups plain whole-milk or Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Eight large sprigs of mint (with 3 to 5 leaves on each), stems left intact, plus six tiny sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup sugar

2 1-pint baskets strawberries, hulled, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For panna cotta:
Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over water. Let stand until softened, about 15 minutes. Whisk 1 cup cream, yogurt and vanilla in large bowl to blend. Mash mint, including stems, for 1 minute in mortar and pestle or in large bowl using spoon. Heat remaining 1 cup cream, mint and 1/2 cup sugar in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves and cream comes to simmer. Allow to simmer for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add gelatin to cream mixture, stirring to dissolve gelatin. Cool for thirty seconds. Remove mint sprigs using slotted spoon or pour through small strainer or colander. Mix hot cream-gelatin mixture into yogurt mixture in bowl. Divide mixture among six 3/4-cup ramekins, using about 1/2 cup for each. Refrigerate desserts, uncovered until cold, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

For strawberries:
Toss strawberries, vinegar, sugar and pepper in large bowl to combine. Let stand 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. Unmold each panna cotta from its ramekin: Run a paring knife around the top inner edge of ramekin, then dip bottom of ramekin in a bowl of boiling water for 10 seconds. Invert ramekin onto serving plate. Holding ramekin tightly to plate, shake firmly to release panna cotta. Spoon strawberries over or alongside panna cotta. Place each sprig of mint in palm of hand; slap with other hand to release bouquet. Garnish each dessert, and serve.

Strawberry Focaccia with Maple-Balsamic Onions

Photo credit: Leah Koenig

Caramelized onions, believe it or not, are absolutely divine with strawberries. With ricotta acting as a gentle broker between the two, this focaccia contributes a welcome savory note to balance out all the sweets on the party menu.

Strawberry Tartines with Ricotta and Basil Oil

Photo credit: Jennifer Causey for DesignSponge

Basil is yet another ingredient that plays nice with strawberries, and since this recipe also uses balsamic, it fits smartly on to a menu with that panna cotta.

From Strawberries, by Susan Spungen, Short Stack Editions
Serves 4

For the basil oil:
1 1⁄2 cups basil leaves
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the tartines:
1 baguette
1 1⁄2 cups ricotta
2 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise (about 1⁄2 pound whole)
1 teaspoon aged balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 basil leaves, thinly sliced into ribbons, for garnish

Make the basil oil: Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the basil for 10 seconds, then transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water. Squeeze the leaves dry, then transfer them to a blender and add the olive oil. Puree, then strain the oil through a fine-mesh sieve. (The oil can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.)

Make the tartines: Cut the baguette on a bias into 6-inch-long slices. Toast (about 12 minutes in a 375° oven) or grill until golden brown. Spread each slice with ricotta and top with a heaping spoonful of sliced strawberries. Drizzle with some of the vinegar and basil oil. Top with salt, pepper and some of the basil leaves and serve.