Cooking and StrawberriesSweet strawberries and tangy balsamic?  Strawberry ice cream flecked with basil? Rosemary- and strawberry infused vodka? America’s top chefs swear that the much-loved strawberry can only be improved by these more smoky and tangy flavors. Who would have known strawberries could have so many dance partners? Never get bored with strawberries again after scanning the flavors that enhance them below.

Balsamic Vinegar:  Recipes incorporating both balsamic vinegar and strawberries abound, and they don’t meet up exclusively in salads either. World class chefs serve balsamic strawberries combined with a little sugar and pepper as a side dish when an abundance of extra-sweet berries has come in. Particularly with the rise of the local foods movement, chefs know when to let nature take center stage. Basically, the vinegar (especially when nuanced with a little black pepper), steps into the background, making the strawberries even sweeter.

Strawberries and balsamic vinegar also mix well in toasted breads, flatbread, scones and more. And let’s not forget desserts—the role strawberries were born for. Ina Garten, a.k.a.“The Barefoot Contessa,” created a very popular panna cotta balancing sweet custard with tangy balsamic strawberries.

Rosemary:  Often families pass by the huge box of strawberries fearing moldy mush resulting from unused portions. Even when using the very best way to store strawberries, cooks get frustrated when the fruit deteriorates so quickly.

Introduce the smoky flavor of rosemary, however, and strawberries take on a new, unique spirit, giving cooks lots of ways to use them up. A rosemary sprig makes homemade strawberry iced tea, jams and ice cream more three-dimensional. Celebrity chef Giarda deLaurentis even created a recipe for rosemary and strawberry scones.

Still have too many strawberries? Cutting lots of them into a glass jar and adding rosemary sprigs and vodka creates a long-lasting, strawberry-infused spirit for martinis and other mixed drinks. Without the rosemary, your cocktail runs the risk of tasting like a Shirley Temple or soda pop. The rosemary adds a hint of sophistication.

Basil:  Imagine: the season’s juiciest strawberries pureed and mixed into the fresh cream, sugar and vanilla beans that becomes ice cream. Turned and frozen, drop that into dishes for the kids. Let the ice cream soften a bit, and then mix in fresh basil for the adults. The flecks of basil round out the strawberry flavor, add visual appeal and turn you into the most unique chef on your block.

A basil chiffonade blends well with salads, adding surprising flavor particularly when paired with a white balsamic and candied almonds.

Basil lovers can even add a chiffonade of basil to the balsamic strawberry recipe above. To make it extra special, throw the balsamic berries over shortcake or vanilla ice cream, and sprinkle basil to add some color to this white and red dish. Make the presentation as delicious as the dish itself!

spinach leaves

Spinach:  A spoonful of strawberries helps the spinach go down (and who needs to tell the kids it’s spinach anyway?) Sliced strawberries blend beautifully with spinach, red onions, feta and walnuts. Strawberries and spinach go together so well, in fact, almost every celebrity chef has created or showcased a salad with both.

But spinach and strawberries shouldn’t always be laid out on a plate. Blending spinach with strawberries, yogurt, bananas and more creates one of the highest nutrient-per-calorie smoothies one can make. Cornell University researchers spotlighted spinach as one vegetable we should eat more often because of its high concentration of cancer-fighting phytonutrients: potassium, folate 11, magnesium, vitamins A and E. And of course strawberries have consistently made the “super foods” lists of many nutritionists for decades now.

And get this, moms and dads! Research at the USDA’s Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging has revealed that spinach looks promising for slowing age-related cognitive decline. While the kids may not go for the green smoothie you’ve whipped up, they can’t resist strawberries in all their other forms, and in particular . . .

Chocolate (of course!) Just a half cup of chocolate dipped strawberries delivers all the vitamin C a child needs for one day. Put a little Nutella or chocolate sauce on a plate with the strawberries and watch it all disappear. Candy makers even dry strawberries, blend them into powder and roll chocolate truffles in the resulting coating.

The Versatile Strawberry

When paired with complementary flavors, strawberries add incentives to salads, natural sweeteners to desserts, texture to breads and flavor to vodka. Hoist that flat of strawberries up on your shoulder and haul it home. Don’t let peak of the season berries pass you by.