Celebrating Spring with Strawberries | Where the Bagel Meets the Biscuit


 

BRIAN ADORNETTO  is a food writer, professional chef, and culinary instructor. For more information, please
visit http://www.loveatfirstbite.net. You can contact Brian at loveat1stbite@msn.com.
californiastrawberries
Throughout this year’s long winter of snow, ice, and bitter cold winds, all I could think about was strawberries. They are the first fruit to ripen in the spring and, to me, exemplify the season. Like spring, this delicate heart-shaped fruit is sweet, fragrant, refreshing, and brightly colored, all while symbolizing purity, passion, and healing, everything the winter of 2014 was not. However fleeting, the strawberry season signifies the beginning of longer, sunnier days, budding flowers, and farmers’ markets — in a word, spring.

I knew that when this brutal winter finally showed signs of waning, I would celebrate with an exciting new strawberry recipe. I resolved not to bury the strawberries in shortbread and whipped cream, coat them in chocolate, puree them into smoothies and daiquiris, or bake them into cakes, muffins, crisps, or pies. I would also resist the urge to bottle spring by making preserves, sauces, or jams, as they had offered me little solace this winter. Instead, I wanted something fresh, cheerful, and fun that would not mask the brilliance of the strawberry.

In my pursuit, I discovered an unconventional, but deliciously decadent pairing: strawberries and cheese. Experimenting in the kitchen, I came up with so many tasty recipes that I couldn’t help but share a few!

Due the simplicity of the first recipe, you must use high-quality ingredients — aged balsamic from Modena; crunchy crusted, chewy French bread; creamy raw milk chevre; pure fragrant honey; and fresh, hand-ground black peppercorns. Whether a starter, midday nosh, or sweet-savory dessert, smart sourcing elevates this dish from enjoyably good to superb.

Balsamic Strawberry Bruschetta with Pepper-Honey Goat Cheese

Serves 4

  • 12-15 strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 8-10 half-inch thick slices of a French baguette
  • 4 oz. goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium bowl, toss the strawberries with the vinegar.

Arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a cookie/baking sheet pan. Bake for 5-7 minutes, until lightly toasted, but not hard.

In a small bowl, cream the softened goat cheese, honey, salt, and a generous amount of black pepper with an electric hand mixer until smooth and well combined.

When the toasted baguette slices have cooled, schmear each with ¾ to 1 tablespoon of the goat cheese mixture. Completely cover each slice with sliced strawberries and sprinkle with basil.

The second recipe gilds the strawberry with my favorite filling, cannoli cream. This delightful mixture of ricotta and mascarpone sweetened with powdered sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon is a snap to make. Plus, buying ripe strawberries is considerably easier than making cannoli shells.

Strawberries filled with Cannoli Cream

Fills about 20-25 Strawberries, depending on size

  • 1 ¼ cups ricotta
  • ¼ cup mascarpone
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons powdered (confectioner’s) sugar
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • ½ cup mini chocolate chips
  • 20-25 Strawberries

In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, mascarpone, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon with an electric hand mixer until well combined and no longer streaky.

Fold in the chocolate. Cover and place into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Turn the strawberries upside down, so they are standing on their stems. Cut an “X” into the tip of each strawberry, going about 3/4s of the way down, but taking care not to cut all the way through.

Spoon the filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Gently place the tip into a strawberry’s incision and fill. Repeat with each of the strawberries.

*Alternately, cut each strawberry in half lengthwise. Spoon the filling onto the cut side of half of the strawberries. Place the plain halves cut side down on top of the filling, making a sandwich.

Notes:

A strawberry’s natural sugar begins converting to starch as soon as it is picked, so if you come across any strawberries that are tart or grainy (or both), they have probably been sitting around for a while.

The components of each recipe can be made ahead, but don’t assemble either until the last minute. This will prevent the bread from becoming soggy and the filling from turning pink.

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