Long before the Europeans arrived in the New World, the native people of North America gathered a variety of wild blueberries; these berries were called "star berries" because of the star-shaped calyx on top. Today we know them as blueberries.
Fresh blueberries are so naturally sweet and flavorful that elaborate preparations somehow seem inappropriate. Simple approaches using a limited amount of ingredients and little preparation time make good culinary sense.
At 80 calories a cup, delicious fresh blueberries can be eaten out of hand or sprinkled on hot or cold cereal. Or heap them on a bowl of ice cream or yogurt.
For a fancier presentation, layer them between scoops of ice cream in a tall parfait glass, placing a mound of fresh berries on the top. Or layer fresh berries and either ice cream, frozen yogurt or sherbet in a crunchy ice cream cone.
Here are other ways to use fresh blueberries:
* Add fresh blueberries to tossed green salads.
* Pile blueberries in half a cantaloupe and add a dollop of yogurt and a sprig of fresh mint.
* Combine with fresh strawberries for a colorful fruit salad. Add a little orange liqueur and fresh mint to the strawberry-blueberry mixture and you've got a fruit compote.
* Drop a few fresh (or frozen) berries in a large glass of iced sparkling water to create a refreshing alternative to soft drinks.
* Prepare a make-ahead version of zabaglione to serve with fresh blueberries. Zabaglione is an ethereal dessert made by whisking egg yolks, Marsala and sugar over simmering water so that the yolks cook as they thicken into a light, foamy custard. For this version, cool the sauce and fold it with whipped cream and store up to two days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
When cooked, fresh blueberries sometimes change color. Berries often turn red when combined with acids such as lemon juice or vinegar. In batters containing large amounts of baking soda, blueberries may turn a greenish-blue. These color changes do not affect their flavor.
For pancakes or waffles, blueberries should be added as soon as the batter is poured on the griddle or iron. If frozen berries are used, make sure they are heated through before serving. Using hard frozen berries in batters will reduce color streaking.
My favorite blueberry dessert is Blueberry Betty. An easy crumble topping made with sugar, flour and butter is baked over a mixture of blueberries seasoned with a little lemon juice and ground cinnamon.
As it bakes, the topping becomes crisp and brown; the blueberries bubble up around the edges of the topping creating a symphony of flavor and color. Simple and uncomplicated.
Best when served warm, this mouth-watering dessert is served with either vanilla ice cream or whipped cream. I like to assemble the mixture in advance and place it in the oven just as company arrives for dinner. Requiring 45 minutes of baking, it's still nice and warm at serving time.
Besides Blueberry Betty, here are other delicious ways to use these fruits of summer:
Makes 6 servings
1 quart blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter or margarine, cut into 6 pieces
vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt or sweetened whipped cream
sprigs of fresh mint, optional garnish
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Place blueberries in a colander and rinse with cold water. Remove any stems and discard.
Place berries in a 1 1/2 -quart casserole. Sprinkle on lemon juice and ground cinnamon.
Place flour, sugar and butter in food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process using on-and-off pulsing technique until mixture is the consistency of coarse meal and crumbly. Sprinkle over berries.
Bake in 375-degree oven for 45 minutes. Topping should be golden brown. If you would like it a little browner, turn on broiler and broil for about 1 minute. Watch carefully, because crust can burn quickly under the broiler.
Blueberry Betty can be assembled and refrigerated for up to 10 hours (unbaked and covered). Uncover and bake, adding about 5 minutes to baking time.
Serve warm with ice cream, frozen yogurt or sweetened whipped cream. Top with springs of mint.
This recipe is from the North American Blueberry Council.
Blueberry Green Salad
Makes 4 servings
2 quarts torn young mixed salad greens
1 cup fresh blueberries
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces crumbled blue cheese
1/4 cup additional blueberries and 4 basil leaves, for garnish
In a large bowl, toss greens and 1 cup fresh blueberries. In a non-metal bowl, combine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, basil, sugar, lemon peel (colored part only), salt and pepper; stir to blend. Pour just enough of the dressing on the salad to lightly coat the leaves. Taste and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
Divide salad among four plates. Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese on top. Place a small group of three fresh berries and a leaf of basil on the side of each salad for garnish. Serve.
For make-ahead preparation: Lettuce can be washed, drained and wrapped in a towel and stored in the crisper of the refrigerator. Dressing can be prepared a day in advance and stored airtight in the refrigerator up to two days in advance. To save time, you can buy the crumbled-style blue cheese. Toss just before serving.
Traditional zabaglione is made with sweet Marsala (a fortified Sicilian wine) and doesn't have the final addition of whipped cream. This recipe is from Kuleto's Italian Restaurant in San Francisco.
Although it takes time and energy to prepare, it can be made two days in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Serve this delicious zabaglione with blueberries or a mixture of blueberries and other fresh berries, such as strawberries or raspberries.
Kuleto's Zabaglione With Fresh Berries
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 cup heavy whipping cream
5 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup Marsala (see cook's notes)
about 2 cups fresh blueberries
other fresh berries, such as trimmed strawberries or raspberries, optional
sprigs of fresh mint, optional garnish
Set a large bowl of water with ice (water and ice should be about 4 inches deep) next to the stove.
In a large bowl of an electric mixer, whip the cream until stiff; refrigerate.
Combine egg yolks, sugar and wine of choice (see cook's notes) in a large stainless steel or heatproof glass bowl. Set bowl over a saucepan with simmering water (bottom of bowl that contains the yolk mixture shouldn't touch the water). Vigorously beat with a wire whisk until mixture is thick and foamy and has doubled in volume (8 to 10 minutes). Be sure to whisk all parts of the bottom and sides of the bowl regularly to avoid curdling.
Strain mixture into a mixing bowl and place bowl in ice water. Beat with a hand-held electric mixer or whisk; beat until cool.
Slowly beat whipped cream into cool zabaglione. Chill until ready to serve.
Spoon zabaglione on one side of plate. Arrange berries adjacent to it. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. Add 1 or 2 cookies or biscotti, if desired.
This zabaglione will keep up to two days in the refrigerator; if it begins to thin out, you can whip it again and add a little more whipped cream for additional stability.
Cook's notes: If you prefer, substitute a Quady Essencia (a lightly fortified Orange Muscat wine from California) or champagne for the Marsala.