Munch on the taste of summer

Gretchen Mckay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Is there anything more wonderful than strawberry season?

The crop has started to come in at local farms and if you’re like me, the race is on to eat and preserve as many of these sweet and luscious berries as possible in the coming weeks. Ripened under sunshine and picked at the peak of freshness, local berries are a far cry from the mass-produced strawberries you find throughout the year in plastic clamshell containers at grocery stores.

Because they’re sweet, strawberries lend themselves toward dessert. Shortcake is a given, along with strawberry crisp, strawberry pie and strawberry freezer jam.

In this recipe, the berries stand in for tomatoes in a sweet and tart bruschetta appetizer.

Most bruschetta is made with toasted bread, but I like to fry the ciabatta slices in a little olive oil so they’re super-crispy. You can use either fresh ricotta or shredded fresh mozzarella as the base and a tangy balsamic glaze sweetened with honey drizzled on top. (My little sister has an apiary in her backyard in Bethesda, Maryland, so I lucked out).

Chopped fresh mint and shredded fresh basil add a pop of green. The end result is both bright and fresh and a perfect way to kick off a summer dinner or happy hour. Truth be told, they also make a mighty fine breakfast.

Fresh strawberries drizzled with a balsamic glaze make a great topping for bruschetta.

STRAWBERRY AND CHEESE BRUSCHETTA

PG tested

For balsamic glaze

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey

For bruschetta

  • 1 pint (2 cups) strawberries, destemmed and cut into halves or quarters, depending on size
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 baguette or ciabatta, sliced into rounds
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta or fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, for garnish

Make balsamic glaze: Pour vinegar and honey into a small pot or saucepan and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer, stirring occasionally.

Cook until the vinegar thickens and is reduced by half (about 20 minutes). It will look glossy and be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour in to a glass container and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, toss strawberries with the mint, basil and 2 teaspoons olive oil. Set aside.

Add a glug of olive oil to a large frying pan set over medium-high heat. (I used cast iron). When oil is hot, add bread slices and fry until golden and crispy, then flip with tongs and cook for another minute. (You may have to add more oil if you do this in batches.) Remove to a platter.

Spread each slice of bread with a heaping tablespoon or two of ricotta or shredded mozzarella cheese. Top with a spoonful of strawberries, then drizzle with a little balsamic glaze. Garnish with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt and serve.

Serves 4-6.

– Gretchen McKay