In the year or so since I started The Salty Spoon (oof, has it been a year? a blogoversary celebration is surely in order here, too!), I have had the wonderful fortune to interact with a talented and enthusiastic bunch of like-minded cooks, readers, eaters, and otherwise interesting people. Some have blogs, some don’t. Among the food blogs I’ve discovered in the past year, Megan Fizell’s Feasting On Art is one of my favorites. If you aren’t familiar with this wonderful site, go immerse yourself in the archives for a bit and come back once your socks have been thoroughly knocked off. The concept is so delightful, I continually kick myself for not having thought of it. Megan begins with a still life painting, adds a narrative about the style and the artist, then follows with her own recipes and photographs. The dialogue she creates between the food and the images is simply brilliant.
It just so happens that I, too, have a degree in art history and a soft spot for the still life genre. When Megan announced a recipe contest to celebrate her blog’s upcoming one-year anniversary, I was giddy. We begin with a Renoir, which presents the contest’s required ingredients: strawberries and lemons.
Ripe strawberries are typically used in ways that showcase their exuberant sweetness. I wanted my recipe to feature more of their depth, their essential berry-ness. I turned to my trusty Flavor Bible and pondered the combination of strawberries, wine, and black pepper. Gnarly Head Zinfandel is a bit of a ubiquity in my kitchen right now, and I knew its own berry notes would complement the strawberries while its dryness would temper their sugar. The pepper was a gamble, but I think it works. It brings a bite and sizzle to the dish without being overly precious in its contrast. The bit of maple syrup at the end counters any lingering bitterness from the wine without upping the sweetness too much.
The pound cake is simple as simple can be. Buttery, tender, and gently flavored with lemon, it ably balances the compote’s wild side. For my non-sweet-loving dessert-eaters, this dish will not disappoint. We enjoyed generous helpings beneath the glow of newly installed tiki torches, in our little backyard with friends. The crisp night air surrounded us as we sat by the garden smelling the freshly turned dirt, and our dessert was intriguing enough to make me forget that my arms felt like they were about to fall off (the result of having planted 26 flowers and shrubs in said freshly turned dirt the day before). I’m not going to go so far as to say this dessert has the power to relieve pain, just that you’d be amazed what a few peppercorns can do to keep your mind occupied.
If the idea of about eating whole peppercorns causes you stress, tie them in a bit of cheesecloth and discard at the end. I happen to think it’s rather fun to find one amidst my cake-eating frenzy (because I can’t do anything but gobble this stuff down) but your mileage may vary on this one.