Berry, berry good

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When it comes to eating berries, a seat on the back porch with a market basket tumbling over with those glistening jewels is probably the best way. Let's face it, you can hardly improve on their perfection. Sparkling little bonbons that provide an explosion of nutrition all by themselves! One cup of strawberries is loaded with vitamin C--more than one whole orange! And what about all that fiber? Raspberries and blackberries, in a cup-to-cup ratio, carry as much as that all-time high-fiber great, cooked oatmeal. What a shame to bury such goodness under heavy, butter-laden crusts and mounds of whipped cream! Berries are just plain good enough just plain. You can sit yourself down and eat your fill with gay abandon, since calories are practically nonexistent. Case in point: Compare one cup of blueberries at a mere 81 calories per cup (that's less than I calorie each!) with a piece of rich, gooey blueberry pie at 439. It's a win-win situation!

So save those long, hot hours in the kitchen making elaborate desserts for the fall and winter, when you really need to cozy up to a warm oven. celebrate the freedom summer allows with every frolicsome berry bite.

For the sake of curiosity and diversity, the staff at the Prevention Magazine Food Center has taken these multifaceted morsels just one step further.

Barely cooking them--just enough to burst their succulent flavor buds--our experts have created some of the loveliest, yet simplest desserts under the hot, summer sun.

PHOTO (COLOR): Take a 'C' cruise: A lovely C-packed mound of juicy berries en croute.

PHOTO (COLOR): Sundae best: fruit compote with creamy ice-creamlike sweet cheese.

PHOTO (COLOR): The simplest, most delectable desserts under the summer sun

PHOTO (COLOR): Current favorite: Featherweight and still champ! Currant-Almond Fluff

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by Mary Nagle with Barb Fritz and the Prevention Magazine Food Center.

MORE SIMPLE WAYS WITH BERRIES

* Follow the perfume of ripe, fragrant nectarines or juicy, white peaches. They're in season right now, so grab them and start slicing. You might want to peel the peach, but no need with the nectarine. Drizzle with honey and add red raspberries or red currants (or both!). Allow dish to sit for about 30 minutes to draw out flavors and juices. A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice adds a sparkle.
* Slice sweet, sweet, fleshy strawberries into a bowl. Add a mizzling of honey, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a few grindings of black pepper. Allow to marinate for 30 minutes and spoon over any sweet, plain low-fat cake.

FINDING AND KEEPING

To bring the finest berries to your table, here are a few tips on how to find the real jewels of the pile.

PATIENCE COUNTS If you're out picking your own, the longer berries are left to ripen on the plant, the more flavorful they'll be. They don't get any riper once picked.

SEE SPOT RUN When buying berries, check the bottom of the box: Stains mean bruised, overripe berries.

THE NOSE KNOWS Sniff the box. If there's no aroma, there won't be any flavor, either.

SPEED IS OF THE ESSENCE Use berries quickly and wash just before use. Berries lose their vitamins and wilt quickly if washed and left for long. Rinse delicate raspberries gently and eat within one day of buying; hardy blueberries can keep for five days.

GIVE THEM AIR Store berries in a covered, perforated box to keep air circulating and the fruit from getting moldy.

PREVENTION RECIPE CARDS ICED WATERMELON AND BERRIES WITH MINT

Per serving: 46 calories, no fat, 1.5 grams dietary fiber, 0.9 g. protein, 10.8 g. carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 2.5 milligrams sodium. Also very good source of vitamin C.

Prep time: 10 min. Yields: 3 cups

* 2 cups watermelon pieces, rinds removed 1/2 cup blackberries 1/2 cup red currants 1 tbsp. lime juice 1/2 tsp. granulated fructose 5 mint leaves, bruised
* 1. To create a frosty look, chill a silver or stainless-steel serving bowl in the freezer for about 1 hour and make sure your ice-cube trays have ice in them.
* 2. Combine watermelon, blackberries and currants in a bowl. Sprinkle on the lime juice, fructose and mint leaves and toss very gently. Allow to sit while the fruits release their juices, about 30 minutes.
* 3. Release ice cubes from freezer trays. Remove frosted serving bowl from freezer. Place watermelon in the bowl and intersperse with ice cubes. Add blackberries and currants in between ice cubes and watermelon.
* 4. Pour remaining juice from bowl over fruit. Add more ice cubes. Serve immediately or refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes only (ice cubes will begin to melt).

CURRANT-ALMOND FLUFF

Per serving: 147 calories, 3.9 grams fat (24% of calories), 2.6 g. dietary fiber 5.4 g, protein, 24.5 g. carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 54.9 milligrams sodium. Also a very good source of riboflavin, vitamin C.

Prep time: 10 min. Cooking time: 35-45 min. Serves: 8

1. 1/2-2 pounds red currants (4 1/2-5 cups) 1 1/2 cups granulated fructose 2 ounces blanched ground almonds (1/4 cup) * grated rind of 1/2 lemon 6 egg whites
2. Preheat oven to 350 degree.
3. In a medium bowl, very gently toss together the currants, fructose, almonds and lemon rind.
4. Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold in the fruit mixture.
5. Turn out into a 2-quart baking dish, very lightly sprayed with nonstick spray. Smooth the surface. Bake at 350 degree for 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.

LAZY SUMMER PUDDING

Per serving: 142 calories, 1.5 grams fat (10% of calories), 2.9 g. dietary fiber, 3.3 g. protein, 29.8 carbohydrates, no cholesterol, 169 milligrams sodium. Also a very good source of vitamin C.

Prep time: 15 rain. (overnight refrigeration required) Cooking time: 3-5 min. Serves: 8

* 2 cups currants 1 cup blueberries 1 cup raspberries 1 cup strawberries 1/4 cup granulated fructose 10-12 slices day-old white bread, crusts removed
* 1. In a saucepan, stew berries with fructose, on medium heat, without water, for about 3 minutes, until just heated and beginning to release juices. Remove from heat; allow to cool.
* 2. Line a deep 2-quart bowl with bread. (Slices should be sandwich thickness.) The bowl must be completely lined rather than piecing the bread together, so that juices cannot escape.
* 3. Fill bread "crust" with cooled fruit. Reserve some of the juice for later use. Cover fruit with more bread to encase it totally.
* 4. Place a plate on top of the bread mound and weight with 2- or 3-pound weights. Refrigerate 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
* 5. To serve, remove weighted plate and carefully turn pudding out onto a shallow-sided dish. Juices will collect along the sides of the dish. Pudding should slide out easily with a little tapping on bottom and sides. Pour reserved juice over pudding.

COMPOTE WITH SWEET CHEESE

Per serving: 296 calories, 8.2 grams fat (25% of calories), 5.4 g. dietary fiber, 18.1 g. protein, 39.2 g. carbohydrates, 30.5 milligrams cholesterol, 205 mg. sodium. Also a very good source of folate, vitamin B12, vitamin V, potassium, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

Prep time: 8-10 min. (8-hr. refrigeration required) Cooking time: 3-5 min. Serves: 4

SWEET CHEESE

1 1/2 cups low-fat ricotta cheese 2 cups nonfat yogurt 1 tsp. cardamom

COMPOTE

* 4 cups mixed berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries) 2 tbsp. honey 2 tsp. lime zest 1/2 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise * honey for drizzling * lime wedges (garnish)
* 1. Cheese: In a medium bowl, whisk together ricotta, yogurt and cardamom. Pour into a cheesecloth-lined colander, return colander to bowl, cover and drain 8 hours in the refrigerator.
* 2. Compote: Combine berries, honey, lime zest and vanilla bean in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. On medium-high heat, heat berries just until hot and juices are released, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and set aside for 30 minutes to cool.
* 3. To serve, scoop sweet cheese onto four plates. Top with a generous topping of fruit and juices. Drizzle cheese with honey; serve with lime wedges. WHERE'S THE SALT? We don't add salt to Prevention recipes because there's too much evidence that salt can cause problems like high blood pressure in certain people. We do, however, make an exception to this rule when salt is absolutely essential in a recipe, such as in certain soups and breads.

PHOTOS (COLOR): Frosty pleasure: Ice watermelon triangles and berries piled high with nutrition.

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