One of the most versatile things I tend to make in the summer goes as well with cheesecake or ice cream as it does with grilled or roasted meat like lamb or chicken or turkey.
The warm syrup macerates the berries which then infuse the liquid after it sits a while. Fresh mint punches it up and balances the sweetness.
When I made it bring to our friends’ place in Lawrenceville this weekend, I added a little twist — a jalapeño. Hadn’t done it that way before, but it seemed right.
I write for a living, and with more practice and experience, the words just come together in my head. As ideas, as phrases, as paragraphs. It’s not even that I have to work to organize information or structure or the individual words. Often it kind of happens on its own. The right way to begin, then how to progress from there, with some idea of where ultimately I want readers to arrive.
But to do that requires that I know what story I’m telling.
The more I cook, the more that happens with food. With flavors. I’ve sort of mentioned this before. But it happens with greater frequency now. The more I taste, the more I cook, the more I smell things together, the more improvisational I get. As long as I have in my head how the flavors are supposed to work and what I want it to be when I’m done, the organizing and experimenting comes somewhat easily.
The finished food is the story I’m trying to tell. Something like that, anyway.
On Saturday, that meant jalapeño. The sweet syrup, the cool mint, the tart berries — they needed a little heat.
I’d never made it this way before and didn’t want to serve anything I hadn’t tasted and gotten a second opinion on. I made the syrup as usual, using a dry, light vinho verde for the wine in it, tore up a little mint and chopped part of a jalapeño, then sacrificed a few berries by combining everything together and setting it aside for a few minutes to come together.
I tasted it. Good. Better than I expected, even. Sweet up front, then a melding of the mint and the heat. Not overpowering with either. Just a balance.
Then for the real test: AmyJo. She’s my bestest taste-tester, in part because we like a lot of the same things but have rather different palates and preferences at times.
Once I saw the look on her face, I didn’t have to wait for the verbal confirmation. We had a winner.
— Four pints berries; I like a mix, but blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries — they all work fine on their own, too.
— One cup sugar
— Two cups white wine; I prefer a vinho verde, young and dry and light and a little bubbly
— Handful of mint leaves, torn
— One jalapeño, halved and sliced. I left in the seeds and ribs, but if you want less heat, remove them.
Make the syrup. In a saucepan, combine sugar and wine and stir, kicking the heat to medium. Stir occasionally until the sugar dissolves fully into the wine and it just comes to a boil. Let it simmer a minute or two, or longer to let it reduce, still stirring every minute or two. Kill the heat and set aside.
Drop the berries into a large bowl with the mint and jalapeño. Pour over the syrup and stir. Set aside. This can be chilled or left at room temperature — depends on what you like. Good both ways.