Oregon's beloved Hood strawberries are in, and they are lovely. But, as much as I'd love to get all puffy with regional pride, there are probably lovely strawberries coming in all over the country. Tinier than the supermarket behemoths, red and juicy throughout, begging to be eaten out of hand (or, if we must, with shortcake).
But even in the height of this ruby-red season, we get some not-so-great berries. Maybe they've gotten so waterlogged as to become flavorless (last week's rainstorms, I'm looking at you), or they're a bit dulled and shriveled after you, say, forgot that last pint in the back of the fridge (umm... no comment). But in times like these, we've always got roasted strawberries.
Roasting concentrates strawberries' juices, turning even lackluster berries into flavor punches. And it also dries them out a bit, so they don't sog up your baked goods. I gave a recent watery batch of berries a good turn in the oven, then decided to fold them into some muffins (and yes, I do still have leftover sour cream — this is what happens when things are on sale). A little sprinkle of fresh basil gave them a bright herbal edge, keeping them from one-dimensional sweetness (I imagine many other herbs — mint, tarragon — could do a similar job). It's like springtime, but intensified a bit. And served up for breakfast.
1 1/2 pints strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 stick butter, melted and slightly cooled (if you fancy, brown the butter in a small saucepan, melting it until it takes on a toasty color, for an even more delicious depth of flavor)
1/2 cup sugar, plus additional for topping
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
a few sprigs fresh basil leaves, cut into strips
Preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit. Wash the strawberries, and halve any large ones (or quarter them if they're truly mammoth). Toss with the tablespoon of sugar, transfer to a rimmed baking sheet or casserole dish, and roast until the berries shrink and the juices come out and thicken, ~45 minutes (you can use a large sheet tray, or a smaller square baking dish, which will take a bit longer). Set aside and let cool slightly, but leave the oven on. Grease 10 muffin cups, and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugar, egg, sour cream, milk, and vanilla until well combined. Add the wet ingredients to the dries, give a turn or two, until just barely combined (better to under- than over-mix), then sprinkle in the strawberries and basil leaves, and give an additional turn or two until barely combined.
Quickly divide the mixture into muffin cups, coming just a bit below the lip of the cup. Sprinkle a dusting of sugar over the batter (you should need just a few spoonfuls for the whole tray). Bake until lightly golden and a tester comes out clean, ~15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then pop out of the muffin tin, and enjoy.