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Food: Blackberries are the berries of summer

Angela Shelf Medearis and Gina Harlow
THE KITCHEN DIVA

GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICHES WITH BLACKBERRY-BASIL SPREAD

Ingredients:

12 ounces fresh blackberries

12-15 fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 loaf multigrain bread, Italian ciabatta, sourdough or a French boule, cut into 8 thick slices

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter or mayonnaise

3-4 ounces Kraft Deli Deluxe American Singles

3-4 ounces of Fontina cheese, sliced

Directions:

1. In a large, deep bowl, gently mash the blackberries with a potato masher or a fork, and stir in the chopped basil. Heat an electric griddle or large, heavy non-stick or cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat for at least 5 minutes.

2. Brush 4 slices of the bread with half of the olive oil and the butter or mayonnaise. On the remaining 4 slices of bread, place a single slice each of the American and the Fontina cheese. Top with a few spoonfuls of smashed blackberries. Place the oiled and buttered slices of the bread on top of the blackberries and press the slices together gently.

3. Carefully turn the sandwiches over so that the oiled and buttered side is in contact with the bottom of the griddle or skillet. Carefully brush the top of sandwiches with the remaining oil and butter. Turn heat down to medium low, and let each side cook for about 4-5 minutes to let the cheeses melt and the bread toast. Remove from the heat and serve immediately. Makes 4 sandwiches.

BLACKBERRY AND SPINACH SALAD

Ingredients:

2 cups baby spinach leaves

1/4 cup blackberries

3 strawberries, sliced

1-2 thin slices of red onion

3 ounces chunk light tuna packed in oil

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 heaping teaspoons of grainy mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice or rice wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar, honey or agave syrup

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon torn, basil or mint leaves plus more for garnish

Directions:

Place spinach, blackberries, strawberries, red onion and tuna in a bowl. In a small bowl or a jar with a lid, mix extra-virgin olive oil and grainy mustard together. Add lemon juice or rice wine vinegar, sugar, honey or agave syrup, salt and pepper and the basil or mint leaves and mix well until emulsified. Dress salad and garnish with more whole herb leaves if desired.

Of all the berries of summer, blackberries are the ones that arrive early and stay late into the season. In warm climates, this strikingly beautiful fruit begins producing in late spring, and if the weather is not too hot, will continue throughout the summer. If you’ve grown tired of strawberries and can’t find fresh raspberries or blueberries at the market, there most likely will still be baskets of blackberries.

Many of us, with other choices of summer fruit, might pass over blackberries. Maybe you remember a blackberry with a tart, sugarless taste. This unfortunate berry simply didn’t have what it needed to grow to its full potential. It would be a shame to shun blackberries without tasting them. They’re one of the most delicious and healthy treats that summer could possibly bring us. Today’s farmers know just how to keep their plants happy and producing sweet, tart fruit.

Blackberries, like blueberries and raspberries, are a super food. They are rich in vitamin C and fiber, but their most desirable healthy trait comes from their dark-blue color, which is linked to high antioxidant levels. Antioxidants are considered a natural deterrent to many cancers and other diseases, and there is a long list of wonderful heath effects associated with eating fresh blackberries regularly.

In summer, depending on your part of the country, there are many pick-your-own farms. This is a fun way to get the tastiest fruit. When selecting blackberries, look for ones that have a plump, dark color. Remember the brand or farm that gives you your first delicious berries, because you likely can depend on it throughout the season.

Blackberries are highly perishable. When you get them home, unpack them and look for any that might have mold, and discard them. Then store the berries, unwashed, in a single layer on a plate or in another container, and place it in the refrigerator. The blackberries should keep for up to a week.

You can use blackberries in both sweet and savory dishes. My recipes for Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Blackberry-Basil Spread and Blackberry and Spinach Salad are the perfect way to showcase the sweet perfection of blackberries.

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook.” Her website is http://www.divapro.com. To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow’s blog about food and gardening at http://www.peachesandprosciutto.com. Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.


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