Thursday, June 01, 2006

Some Old Friends Get Together

Take some things you really love to eat. At the height of their seasonal flavor and ripeness. Add a few more things you really love to eat. Combine them all into a visually exciting taste explosion. Eat. Enjoy. Repeat.

There, now. How hard was all that?



Seems so easy, doesn’t it? It’s funny how a perfect combination seems so obvious once it’s there. So natural. As if it were always that way. How did people get by before it existed? Shudder!!

It’s even more interesting to find some things that seem initially to be completely incompatible that turn out to be the perfect companions. Complementing. Filling in the voids. Meshing into a harmonious new flavor.

It was only in the last few years that we heard non-stop about strawberries and balsamic. With cracked black pepper, of course.

The balsamic craze was reaching its apex here. Bottles of aged dark sauce could be had for hundreds of dollars for a tiny bottle. Exquisitely delicate and intricate bottles, with hand written labels. Of course, all from Modena. As if we could somehow check that claim. And decades old. Another suspicious claim. The city of Modena must be bursting with huge storage tanks of old balsamic, waiting the dozen or more years till it can be sold at a premium. I’m sure they’ve cleared out the houses, schools, stadiums, just to make room for it all.

We make due with the less precious but affordable stuff. Still apparently from Modena.

The first time we tried the strawberries with balsamic and pepper, we were a bit hesitant. Despite the fact that three things everyone liked were in play here, the combination seemed unusual. But wonderful.

We did a few years of that. Alternating between clafoutis and the balsamic preparations for our weekly strawberry purchases in the spring. All in all, a wonderful few weeks of the year.



But, restless spirit that I seem to be, never satisfied with the known, I searched again.

Mindful of the possibility of wasting precious strawberries on a clunker recipe, I waded through piles of recipes. Uninteresting. Trite. Contrived. Overambitious.

Till I hit on one that seemed to hold promise.

The premise here is: take some things you really, really like, add a few more things you really, really like, and combine them into a slightly new thing that is even better than the original thing.

Who could turn down a proposition like that?

In the end, the dish is sort of like a bruschetta of strawberries in balsamic. Some basil is added to the strawberries. And it adds a wonderful component. You taste it, clearly, but it is in the background. Subtle. The kicked up strawberry mixture now sits on a bread nicely toasted with olive oil. And a layer of mozzarella. Broiled until just bubbly.

Strawberries? Love ‘me. Balsamic? Great. Fresh cracked black pepper? Awesome. French bread toasted in olive oil? Wonderful. Fresh Buffa mozzarella? Fantastic.

Everything together? A new spring tradition.

I think it works just as well for an appetizer as a dessert. Either way, the flavor is full, balanced, deep. The textures varied, layered, and complementary. And visually? A treat for the eyes.



Bruschetta of Strawberries in Balsamic with Mozzerella
Based on a recipe by Andrea Immer of Navarro Wines
Adapted by surfindaave
Serves 4 as appetizer or dessert

Ingredients:
2 cups of very ripe strawberries, washed, stemmed, and cut into thick slices
½ cup balsamic vinegar
fresh ground black pepper
5 basil leaves, sliced in chiffonade
8 slices French bread
olive oil
4 ounce ball of fresh Buffa mozzarella, cut into thin slices
If serving for a dessert, whipped cream as garnish, if desired

In a small, heavy sauce pan, reduce the balsamic by half. Let cool.

Gently toss the strawberry slices, balsamic and ground pepper. Let marinate for 30 minutes.

Add the basil to the strawberry mixture and toss gently.

Brush the French bread with olive oil on both sides. Toast under broiler on both sides until lightly browned.

Place a slice or two of the mozzarella on each toast, and broil until just bubbly.

Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the toasts. Drizzle with some of the sauce. If serving for dessert, place a dab of whipped cream on top, if desired. Serve. Enjoy!


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