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It’s berry heaven at dessert festival

By Lisa Zwirn
Globe Correspondent / June 9, 2010

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June brings local strawberries, one of summer’s most delectable fruits. You’ll find them ready to pluck at pick-your-own farms (see Page 14), nestled in their green or wood boxes at farmers markets, and starting this weekend, in delectable desserts at restaurants participating in the third annual Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival.

For berry lovers, can there be two finer words strung together than strawberry desserts? That means berries in cakes and pies, ice cream and gelato, sauces and fruit compotes, and served simply, smothered in clouds of whipped cream.

Beginning Friday and lasting through July 4, almost three dozen restaurants, cafes, and bakeries will be creating specially made treats and donating a percentage of proceeds to Mass Farmers Markets, a nonprofit organization that supports the 200 farmers’ markets statewide.

The fund-raiser has wide appeal, says Hannah Thomas Freedberg, development and outreach director for MFM. “It’s the beginning of market season and one of our tastiest local products.’’

Most chefs can’t wait to get their hands on the juicy red jewels, which bear little resemblance to the behemoths shipped from California. “I try not to go overboard,’’ says Lineage’s pastry chef and co-owner Lisa Sewall, who prefers to “let the berry’s flavor come through.’’ For the dessert festival, the Brookline restaurant is offering individual strawberry mousse almond cakes, in which a layer of mousse sits on a disk of almond cake, with fresh berries as garnish.

Highland Kitchen chef and owner Mark Romano also likes to leave well enough alone. In his Somerville kitchen, he’s fixing cornmeal shortcakes with whipped cream and berries. “Local strawberries are so nice, we want them to be the star of the show,’’ he says.

The berry’s flavor is accentuated when gently cooked as Beacon Hill Bistro’s pastry chef Lynn Warnesky demonstrates in her dessert of slow-roasted strawberries with brown butter financiers (small French almond cakes) and frozen sabayon. At Tomasso Trattoria & Enoteca in Southborough, chefs are also swinging the temperature pendulum, serving white chocolate strawberry gelato in puff pastry with warm strawberry sauce.

Craving a sweet-and-savory combo? Jim Solomon, chef and owner of the Fireplace in Brookline, is grilling a date-nut bread sandwich spread with whipped herb-flavored goat cheese, serving it over strawberry-rhubarb compote. Also in Brookline, Tatte Fine Cookies & Cakes owner Tzurit Or is preparing her signature fruit box: a buttery tart crust filled with white chocolate ganache and fresh berries.

Sliced, mashed, pureed, heated, or served fresh from the field, local strawberries are a much-awaited treat. Pick your own, take your harvest into the kitchen, and bake to your heart’s delight. You’ll make local growers happy and your guests too.

For a list of Mass Farmers Markets Strawberry Dessert Festival restaurants, go to www.strawberrydessertfestival.org.

Lisa Zwirn can be reached at lisa@lisazwirn.com.