John Thiel Shares a Strawberry Recipe

The zabaglione mousse with organic strawberries and amaretti at Pappo is a great way to show off strawberries.


Strawberries are the star of John Thiel’s zabaglione mousse dessert at Pappo.

Photo by Lori Eanes

Rose-red and plush with natural sweetness, peak-season local strawberries rank among the most pleasurable of farm-to-market produce. Pickable, packable, bite-sized and bright, the sun-warmed fruit is almost impossible to pass up; come summer, most local lips are strawberry stained, and even the finickiest of Northern California kids will have inadvertently enjoyed copious amounts of vitamin C.

Our strawberry fields really do seem to go on forever. California’s coastal climate is ideal for the fruit, and the state’s strawberry growers produce more than 80 percent of the country’s crop. Beginning this year, the phasing out of once-ubiquitous fumigant methyl bromide will mean even more focus on alternative farming methods—a plus for buyers who have always sought out organic, forward-thinking producers.

In parts south (from Ventura to San Diego counties), strawberries are harvested beginning as early as January to be processed and shipped out all over the world. Here in Northern California, abundant fruit from Santa Cruz and Monterey on up to Sonoma County peaks in May and June, with much of it—lucky us—delivered fresh to local markets.

Once those baskets start arriving, “don’t be afraid to taste,” said John Thiel, chef-owner of 11-year-old standout Pappo restaurant in Alameda.

“There are some really beautiful strawberries being produced that may appear less than perfect but that have so much more flavor and fragrance than bigger, showier types.”

Tasting around is also a way to discover the differences in strawberries’ many varieties—from meaty Chandlers to smaller, sweeter Seascapes. Look for a nice, deep-red color and minimal blemishes, said Thiel, who then takes a simple approach in his ingredient-driven, California-Mediterranean cooking: Find the best local strawberries and let them shine.


Zabaglione Mousse with Strawberries and Amaretti

8 large egg yolks, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup warmed Marsala wine
Ground nutmeg to taste; start with pinch
Zest of 2 lemons
2 cups heavy cream
2 pints of organic strawberries, stems removed and cut into quarters
1 cup roughly chopped amaretti cookies

In a food processor fitted with metal blade, process the egg yolks and sugar until lemon-colored. Add the warmed Marsala very slowly through the feed tube while the machine is running. Add the nutmeg and lemon zest and briefly process. Transfer to the top of a double-boiler set over simmering water and whisk until completely thickened. Transfer to a bowl and chill in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Whip the cream until it holds soft peaks, and fold into the chilled mixture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Place the strawberries in a large bowl. Add a pinch or two of sugar and a splash of Marsala. Stir gently and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes or until ready to serve.

Serve zabaglione in stem glasses. Fill half way, then sprinkle (approximately 1/2 tablespoon) of the chopped amaretti cookies and then spoon (approximately 1 tablespoon) of the strawberries on the top.

Makes 6-10 servings, depending on preferred serving size. The recipe can be made in the morning for dinner service.

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