13 June 2012
As you might have guessed, I've been eating piles of strawberries. In fact, aside from the two bags in my freezer last week's strawberries are almost all gone. I was quite content to eat them straight from the bowl, not an extra flourish needed, until I read this. Aside from the lovely details of a trip to New York, what caught my eye and whetted my appetite in Tara's story was the mention of pickled strawberries on fresh mozzarella.
I wasn't sure how to pickle strawberries and wasn't ready to commit too many of my precious berries to a bath in vinegar but the idea lingered, especially since I knew there was a ball of fresh mozzarella resting just inches from the strawberries. It seemed only right that they should be more closely acquainted. I started with an open face sandwich of sliced strawberries, fresh mozzarella, a leaf of basil gently torn and sprinkled on top and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. The sweet tart berries contrasted with the salty cheese and the balsamic vinegar gently echoed the berries acidity. Basil was a natural with all of them.
Over the weekend I made another sandwich (and maybe one more) and then thought about the best way to present this combination. Crusty bread, juicy berries, salty, creamy cheese.... I had strayed from the pickle, but the balsamic reduction was still essential to this combination. Maybe throwing these ingredients on top of dough is taking the easy way out -- mozzarella, basil, and balsamic have proven they work wonders together. But the strawberries bring it all together. They melt into the dough, leaving juicy pockets in the chewy bread that make the mozzarella taste creamier and complements the balsamic vinegar perfectly. Make some strawberry lemonade and you have a picnic ready whenever you are.
Strawberry Focaccia with Mozzarella, Basil and Balsamic Reduction
This is very nice served warm, but I think I like it best at room temperature. This is the same focaccia recipe adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum that I used here. This recipe includes my method for making balsamic reduction. If your strawberries are large, cut them in half or into quarters. You can certainly adjust quantities of strawberries, mozzarella, basil and balsamic.
If you can't leave the dough rising for four hours, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight and take it out an hour or two before shaping the dough. As always, you can use just all purpose flour, but I like the added texture and flavor that comes from the whole wheat. I used my stand mixer to mix this, but I think it would work fine to stir by hand.
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/8 teaspoon yeast (active dry or instant)
2 cups minus two tablespoons room temperature water
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt for sprinkling on top
10-15 smallish strawberries (or more if you like)
1-2 ounces of fresh mozarella cheese
2-3 large leaves of fresh basil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic reduction
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a mixing bowl) place the flours and yeast. With the paddle attachment running on low speed, combine the flour and yeast. Keep the mixer running and slowly pour in the water. Mix until the dough comes together and then increase the speed to medium. Mix until the dough becomes smooth and shiny, about 15-20 minutes. If stirring by hand, stir until the dough is smooth and shiny, ideally for 15 to 20 minutes (the stirring helps develop the gluten). Add sugar and salt and mix well to incorporate. Oil a bowl or container with olive oil and pour the dough into it. Cover so that it is airtight and let rise for about 4 hours, or at least until it has doubled.
About an hour before you are ready to bake the dough (around the time you put the beans in the oven) coat a sheet pan with olive oil (parchment paper may also be helpful to keep the bread from sticking while it bakes). Pour the dough onto the baking sheet and gently stretch it until it covers the pan. Let the dough rise for about an hour. Preheat to 475' while the dough is in its final rise. Place a rack on the lowest level in the oven and put your baking stone (if using) on the rack while preheating.
Just before you get ready to put the dough in the oven, place the strawberries on top of it, evenly spaced apart. Too many strawberries, too close together can make the bread soggy, but I like to make sure that when it is cut each piece will have a few berries. Bake the bread for 12-14 minutes or until the top is golden brown. While the bread bakes, slice or rip the mozzarella into small pieces. When you remove the focaccia from the oven, spread the cheese evenly over the top (at this point you can put the bread back in the oven with the heat off for a minute to melt the cheese a bit). Then gently rip the basil leaves into small pieces and sprinkle over the focaccia. Drizzle on the balsamic vinegar.
Serve while hot or once cooled to room temperature.
Adjust to your taste.
1 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups strawberries, hulled
Mix the lemon juice, sugar and strawberries in a small bowl. Mash the strawberries a few times with a fork. Leave the mixture to macerate for at least 30 minutes. Stir to make sure the sugar is dissolved. You can puree the mixture for a lemonade without whole fruit, mash it a bit more or leave it as it is. Pour the mixture into a half gallon container and fill the rest of the way with water. Garnish with more strawberries, basil or mint as you wish.