STRAWBERRY CAPRESE WITH MÂCHE, CHOCOLATE MINT & BALSAMIC
Eaten for centuries by peasants and kings, strawberries, members of the rose family, earn their reputation with fragrantly sweet juiciness and a cannot eat just one appeal. In and out of season, strawberries attract attention. To make the tart berries worth their price in the middle of a New England winter, playing doctor is sometimes necessary. Always bite into one before committing to one way of preparing them--too tart and they become jam for tomorrow's pancakes, or part of a mint and cucumber relish for fish. Anyway in which they are prepared, assume they will be eaten. Sliced with a spoon full of sugar sprinkled on top and left to macerate, these berries are almost heavenly. Come May, strawberries grown by our neighbors in Connecticut start arriving at local markets. These strawberries are much smaller, but pack a juicy punch. Quarts of these gorgeous babies come home two at a time--one for eating out of hand and one for making an outrageously delicious plate for supper. This latest and greatest preparation may just make you think twice about which caprese salad you want for dinner.
Nota bene: Mâche lettuce, also known as lamb's lettuce, is a dark green, hand harvested, tender baby green with a nutty, sweet taste. It is available in Whole Foods Markets from March to October. A 1/4 cup of aged syrupy balsamic vinegar may be substituted for step 1 of the recipe directions. Substitute spearmint for chocolate mint if unavailable.
1 clamshell mâche lettuce, rinsed and spun dry
18 strawberries, rinsed & dried with a paper towel
6 ovaline mozzarella, each cut into 3 slices
18 small chocolate mint leaves, rolled and cut into thin ribbons
Extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup pistachios, finely chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1. Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and reduce by half over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
2. Divide the mâche among six plates. Make small piles that will be used to support the strawberries.
3. Slice each strawberry into three parts leaving the hat in tact.
4. Place one slice of mozzarella on the bottom slice, top with middle part of strawberry, add a few strands of julienned mint, and the strawberry cap and repeat with all the strawberries. Tuck 3 strawberries into the mâche on each plate so that the strawberries look as if they are planted in the garden.
5. Drizzle the strawberries and lettuce with the olive oil and the syrupy balsamic. A little goes a long way.
6. Finish with a sprinkling of sea salt & a few grinds of cracked black pepper. Serve immediately.