To me, nothing screams “SUMMER!” more than a bowl of juicy, ripe strawberries. As with pretty much everything in our adult lives, I can attribute this association to childhood. My mom would stand at the kitchen counter hulling strawberries with a plastic straw to make strawberry shortcake for dessert. We even had a sprawling strawberry patch in our backyard. As anyone who tends a garden will tell you, food grown steps from where you eat it tastes infinitely better than anything you can buy at the store.
I don’t have space for a strawberry patch in my tiny Chicago backyard, but I still keep a carton in my fridge to eat with granola and coconut milk for breakfast, as well as to satiate my afternoon sweet tooth. Sometimes I’ll even get fancy and slice them into a salad. But recently, I was inspired to take my strawberry game to a new level. I had bought a fresh baguette from a local bakery at the Logan Square Farmers’ Market I thought, “why not Bruschetta?”
Traditionally made with tomatoes, strawberries seemed like the perfect swap for a sweet take on this Italian hors d'oeuvre (for the record, I have to Google “hors d'oeuvre” every time I want to spell it.) I paired it with a delightful nut cheese I learned to make at Matthew Kenney Culinary. We used raw macadamia nuts in school, but I went with cashews here. Macadamia nuts don’t require soaking, so if you’re short on time, they’re a terrific swap!
A sprinkling of thinly sliced, fresh basil elevates this summer party appetizer to a new level. Try not to eat the entire batch as you assemble them! Oh, and toasting the bread is completely optional. The recipe turns out just as delicious if you don’t feel like turning your oven on in the heat of summer.
- 2 cups fresh strawberries, finely chopped
- ½ tsp. agave nectar
- 1 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 8 hours
- 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- ½ tsp. salt
- Water, to thin
- 1 French baguette
- ⅓ cup fresh basil, finely sliced
- If you’re going to toast the bread, preheat your oven to 450F. Combine the diced strawberries and agave in a mixing bowl. Toss to coat the pieces and set aside.
- Add the cashews, lemon juice, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until creamy, adding water 1 teaspoon at a time until you achieve a smooth, spreadable consistency (I used 2 tablespoons). Adjust lemon juice and salt to taste, if needed.
- Slice the baguette diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5 to 6 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges. Transfer the pieces to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Spread each piece of bread with a layer of cashew cheese, followed by the strawberries and a sprinkle of fresh basil. Serve immediately.
To thinly slice basil, create a stack with the largest leaf on bottom and the smallest leaf on top. Roll up the leaves like a cigar and place seam side down. Use a rocking motion with the tip of a sharp knife to make thin slices from one end to the other.