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Every food lover remembers that time in the second grade when they blew a friend’s mind by explaining that a tomato, botanically, is a fruit, not a vegetable.  But it’s a reasonable misconception, given that tomatoes are almost always used culinarily as vegetables, imparting a tempered acidity to savory dishes like ratatouille or spaghetti with marinara.

Gastronomy pushes the envelope, though, and using the tomato as a fruit is becoming evermore common.  So can’t we push the envelope just a smidge more and use conventional fruits in dishes that use conventional vegetables?

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I spent the weekend tinkering with this idea, having scored a deal on strawberry flats at my favorite farm stand.  I hit the mark when I swapped strawberries for tomatoes in a simple marinara-style pasta sauce.  The berries subbed in seamlessly as a canvas for the garlic, onion, balsamic, and fresh herbs.  Compared to a conventional tomato-based marinara, this sauce has a meatier flavor and a gentler tartness.

This strawberry marinara works well with fettuccine or spaghetti, topped with fresh-grated Parmesan.  I also really enjoy the leftovers cold, so it would also make for a unique summer picnic pasta salad with farfalle or radiatore.

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Strawberry Marinara Sauce

Yield:  4-6 servings as a side dish, generous 2 as the main course

  • 3 and 1/2 C diced strawberries
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • olive oil
  • up to 1/2 C dry white wine
  • up to 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt + pepper
  • handful of fresh oregano, chopped
  • handful of fresh basil, chopped

Combine the strawberries, onion, bell pepper, garlic, and olive oil in a saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes — use white wine to deglaze the pan as needed.  Use a potato masher to break up the strawberries.  Add additional white wine, balsamic, and salt and pepper, all to taste.  Continue to cook over medium heat until liquid is well incorporated into the sauce, about 5-10 minutes.  Add chopped oregano and basil, stir well to incorporate, and cook until softened, only about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and toss with al dente pasta.  Top with freshly-grated parmesan.

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