Saturday, July 30, 2011

Strawberry Bruschetta with Mascarpone Cheese and Aged Balsamic

Summer is the season to celebrate strawberries, so I wanted to end July with a fabulous strawberry dish that's been marinating in my mind for a while.  

Yes, I know July is national ice cream month, so maybe I should be writing about ice cream, but sadly, I don't have an ice cream maker, so all of my ice cream making attempts end with a block of ice in the freezer that we can barely chip away at.  Maybe one of these days we'll get an ice cream maker, but for now, we're holding out since the temptation to make ice cream every weekend would be pretty hard to resist.

Most people seem to make their strawberry bruschetta with goat cheese, which I'm sure is delicious, but I wanted to make mine with the flavors that are reminiscent of one of my favorite childhood desserts.  Strawberry Shortcake.  

When I was a kid, my parents would frequently take us to an all-you-can-eat steakhouse/salad bar type restaurant after church on Sunday, the kind of place where kids eat pretty inexpensively.  Unfortunately, my vanity got in the way of their budget since I reached the age where I was too embarrassed to have to use a "kid plate" - the kind of plate that has the dividers to keep the food separate - especially since my older sister had graduated to a grown up plate and I felt like a baby in comparison!  We were standing in line, my dad getting ready to pay, when my mom saw my trembling lip and tragic eyes (I suppose I was a little dramatic about it!).  Moms seem to instinctively understand these situations, though, and asked for a grown up plate for me.  Life was good again, especially when I was allowed to have one of the pretty parfait glasses of red jello cubes and whipped cream sitting by the register.

To this day, I feel a little panicky at these types of serve-yourself restaurants.  The endless rows of tile floors surrounding the food bars scare me, since on one of our family lunches there, my slippery Sunday shoes went right out from under me, and I'm sure you can guess what happened after that...  I fell.  I dropped my plate and food went flying.  I cried.  I ran back to our table and jumped on my dad's lap, sobbing.  I was too embarrassed to go back, so he went back for me and got all of my favorites - salad with pineapple and cottage cheese, a chicken wing, a little macaroni and cheese, and my all-time favorite, fried okra. (It was the south, after all!)

After lunch, there was the dessert bar, which really is the only reason most kids eat their meal.  We were fascinated by the soft-serve ice cream machine and all the bowls of toppings laid out.  There were some plates of individually sliced cheesecake and pie, which didn't interest me at the time.  What I loved were the pans of fruity cake and pudding.  There was banana cream pudding, lined with vanilla wafer cookies, whipped cream, bananas and pudding.  There was a chocolate something or other.  And there was strawberry shortcake, a huge vat of spongy cake, cream and strawberries, that you could just scoop into a bowl and eat with a spoon.  The cake soaked up the cream and berries so it had such a nice, moist pudding quality.

When you taste this bruschetta, it has all the flavors of strawberry shortcake and you'll almost think you're eating dessert, even though there's only one teaspoon of added sugar in the whole recipe and it's a very light dish.  But this strawberry bruschetta is all grown up with the addition of balsamic vinegar.  Don't even think about leaving this off--it's the most important ingredient and really makes the dish!  Balsamic vinegar is sweet and a little tangy, and really brings out the flavor of the strawberries and cheese.  We used our new bottle of 18-year aged balsamic that we bought at a farmer's market and it was absolutely amazing!   And it was also so pretty, that I just couldn't stop taking pictures. :)

(I'm excited to tell you that I learned how to create links to "printable recipes" for your convenience, so you will see this from now on--it'll take me a little time to go back and add these for previous posts, but eventually, these links will be available on all my posts.)

Strawberry Bruschetta with Mascarpone Cheese and Aged Balsamic
(for 4 slices)
  • 4 slices good bakery bread or french bread (I used a small loaf of "Ecce Panis" bread from the grocery store)
  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries (4-6 strawberries)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Place the bread slices on a baking sheet lined with foil and drizzle with the olive oil.  Toast under the broiler on low until slightly golden and crisp.

While the bread is toasting, toss the strawberries with the sugar in a bowl to draw out the juices.  They only need to macerate for about five minutes to get juicy enough.

Let the bread cool for a few minutes (so that the cheese doesn't melt when you spread it).  Spread each piece of bread with a tablespoon of mascarpone cheese.  Top with the strawberry slices, and then drizzle the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar.

Enjoy immediately!