I’ve never been to Italy, but would LOVE to go there someday. It seems like such a fascinating place, replete with history and architecture that, while centuries and centuries old, is still very much alive today; amazing food, of course; and so much more – not to mention it’s quite the romantic destination! For this month’s Cheese Please! challenge, hosted by Fromage Homage (this month’s theme: “Cheesy Romance”) I knew I wanted to incorporate strawberries somehow, and was inspired to take things in a pseudo-Italian direction while looking at the art print hanging over my dresser one morning.
This painting of the Italian coast is by one of my favorite artists, Thomas McKnight, who has an incredible talent for depicting landscapes and scenes across the world in vivid and intriguing ways, and for focusing more on the energy and spirit of places, rather than on technical details.
But anyway, to return to food: this appetizer could hardly be any simpler to make. Swapping in strawberries for tomatoes makes for a surprising twist on the classic caprese combination of tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. The strawberry heart cut-outs lend a crisp, juicy sweetness and a hint of whimsy – a great way to start off a homemade Valentine’s Day meal! You can of course make your own bread for the base, but since I think most of us, when putting together a multi-course meal, like to concentrate our energies on creating impressive entrées and desserts, this seems like a perfectly acceptable short-cut to take. I have to confess that I don’t quite know what to call these (suggestions?) – they’re not actually bruschetta or crostini, since they’re neither toasted nor grilled. I originally tried these with toasted bread (as you can see in the pictures), but later decided that I liked the mouth feel better when using soft, fresh bread. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what I call them – they’re delicious regardless. Buon appetito!
- 1 baguette, cut crosswise into 24 1/3-inch thick slices
- 12 ounces strawberries
- 10 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 24 slices
- 12 leaves fresh basil
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Place balsamic vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once it boils, reduce to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the volume is reduced by half. A word to the wise: don’t breathe in too deeply (or even a regular amount) when you approach the simmering balsamic vinegar. The smell is so pungent that it’s a little bit like getting punched in the face – I recommend even keeping a hand or cloth over your nose.
- Wash strawberries and basil leaves and pat dry. Cut strawberries in half, then cut into hearts with a small cookie cutter. Cut basil leaves in half.
- Layer each slice of bread with one basil leaf half, a slice of mozzarella, a few drops of the balsamic vinegar reduction, and a strawberry heart.
Christine @ Cooking with Cakes says
oh my goodness these look lovely! I love crostini and caprese, but the heart-shaped stawberries are such a unique, adorable touch – love this!
Thanks! Strawberries are SO well suited for this, I can hardly believe it. Flavor-wise, they pair wonderfully with mozzarella and basil, but their color and natural shape makes them the perfect fruit to cut into little hearts!
Oh my goodness, I know what you mean about inhaling balsamic reduction! We have a fan in our kitchen and even then it can still take my breath away to the point of coughing. I really like the print you posted, and I’m glad to hear of the artist (for the first time.) Your strawberry hearts are darling!
I reeeally wish someone had warned me about that – I nearly keeled over in shock when the first waves of the smell went up my nose. I’m glad you like the print! I can’t tell if his paintings sate or whet my wanderlust, but I love his work regardless. Thanks for stopping by!
These are amazing! I’m pinning them!
Glad you like them! Thanks for stopping by 🙂
Wow! These look amazing. The red, green and white really pop – oh and they look tasty too.
Thanks! And wow – I hadn’t consciously thought about the fact that caprese salads are the colors of the Italian flag until you said that about how the red, green, and white really “pop.” How cool!
So pretty! And a really nice combination taste-wise too. Thanks for sharing them with this month’s Cheese, Please! Challenge 🙂
Thanks – and thank you for hosting!
Allison (Spontaneous Tomato) says
These look so perfect and cute!
i’ve grown to love strawberries in savory applications. and, this looks perfect!
Me too – I thought it was a little odd the first time I encountered them in a salad, but they’re quite the nice addition in many savory contexts, aren’t they?!