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After a particularly hard winter, we deserve the many joys of spring in central Virginia: Glorious azaleas, balmy nights, and a bountiful crop of local strawberries. Naturally sweet and low in calories, strawberries are a delicious treasure which also provide healthy amounts of vitamins A and C and fiber.

Strawberries can be enjoyed as-is for a simple dessert, enhanced by wine or liqueur, or combined with low-fat dairy products. And if you want to pull out all the stops, strawberries form the basis for many sensational desserts. Here are some favorite recipes that highlight the fat and skinny side of strawberries.

The English trifle is a fruit and custard concoction to use up stale cake. In this version, strawberries are the centerpiece of an impressive dessert that holds its shape better than traditional shortcakes.

Set aside a few of the prettiest berries for garnish. Slice the remaining berries and toss with 1/8 of the sugar in a medium bowl. Heat the jam in a small saucepan until melted. Combine the remaining sugar with the cream cheese. In a large bowl, whip the cream with the mixer on high until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the cream cheese mixture into the whipped cream. To assemble the trifle, place half the cake slices in a large glass bowl, and brush them on top with some of the melted jam. Top with half the sliced berries and half of the whipped cream mixture. Repeat the layers. Garnish with the whole berries and refrigerate until serving. Serves 8 to 10.

This unique, fat-free soup can be served either as a prelude or a finale to a special dinner.

Slice the ½ cup of berries, and set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining berries, and place in the container of a food processor. Puree until smooth. With motor running, gradually add the next 3 ingredients, and process until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, and chill until serving. Just before serving, stir in the club soda and sliced berries. To serve, spoon into wine goblets or champagne glasses, and garnish with mint leaves. Serves 4 to 6,

Classic Strawberries Romanoff, made with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, is quite a high-calorie affair. But, thanks to low-fat yogurt and ricotta cheese in this version, everyone can indulge guilt-free.

Set aside 6 of the prettiest berries for garnish. Slice the remaining berries and toss with sugar and orange liqueur in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate a few hours to let flavors develop. In the container of a food processor, combine the next 4 ingredients and process until smooth and creamy. Fold in the yogurt by hand. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl, and chill well. To serve, divide the berries and their juices between 6 parfait or wine glasses. Top with the ricotta mixture, and garnish each serving with a whole berry. Serves 6.

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