This dessert had two inspirations. One was Instagram – specifically, a photo taken at Paris restaurant Cheval d’Or, which showed a scattering of strawberries on a stoneware plate, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with ground Sichuan pepper. It sounds outlandish, but it actually makes sense that Sichuan pepper works with the fruit; strawberries and black pepper are a tried-and-true combination, and Sichuan peppercorns, both tinglingly electric and fruity in flavour, add just that little extra kick.
The other inspiration was my all-time favourite, desert-island dessert, which I had at London’s P Franco a few years back. It was just a pistachio ice cream, but somehow better than every other pistachio ice cream that has ever came before it. It was also drizzled in fine olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.
As you have likely gleaned by now, I prefer my desserts with a savoury edge – enough to counterbalance the sweetness and prevent them from being cloying. This dish, with its olive oil and pepper, plus meringue and strawberry and gelato, is the ideal blend of both.
You could very well pair this dessert with a wine with some residual sweetness – in fact, that might be the more popular choice. Me, I quite like this bone-dry pet nat alongside. It has that classic Chenin Blanc nose – mingled notes of pear and apple, honey and lemon – which conjures whispers of sweetness, though on the palate it’s all fizz and zesty acidity. I think this dessert is just savoury enough to support it. Like the pleasingly tart strawberries, this bubbly adds its own refreshing, contrasting piquancy.
Strawberries and Meringue with Pistachio Gelato, Olive Oil & Sichuan Pepper Meringue
Adapted from Delicious
For the meringue:
Three large eggs, room temperature
175g (6oz) caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla-bean paste (or vanilla extract)
For the dessert:
½ tub pistachio gelato (available at specialist retailers and good supermarkets)
200g (7oz) strawberries of various sizes (large ones hulled and halved)
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (the best quality you can get)
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (or black pepper)
1. First, make the meringue. Preheat your oven to 120° Celsius. Ensure your large mixing bowl and electric whisk are completely clean (any traces of grease or fat will prevent the meringue from properly forming). Wipe both the bowl and beaters with a lemon half; the acid helps the meringue form and stabilise.
2. Crack the eggs and separate the whites and the yolks (discard the yolks, or save for another project). Add the whites to the bowl, ensuring there are no traces of yolk or shell. Beat on high speed, using your electric whisk, until the whites form soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat well in between. Beat for a total of 5-6 minutes, or until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla bean paste and beat until just incorporated.
3. Dollop the meringue on a large baking sheet, lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Using a spatula, spread the meringue into a thin, even layer; it should be no more than half an inch thick.
4. Bake the meringue for approximately 1 ¼ hours, or until it is completely set and no longer tacky, but has not darkened in colour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray completely. Once cool, break into jagged, misshapen pieces (you will likely have extra meringue left over; store it in an airtight container and enjoy as a bonus dessert).
5. Arrange the strawberries between two plates or bowls. Add several small scoops of gelato to each serving. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle the berries with the Sichuan pepper. Add several meringue pieces per plate. Serve immediately.
Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound, wine buff and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.