Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar Add Ping
Ever tried roasting strawberries? Or serving them as a savory dish rather than a sweet? Restaurants have been using strawberries this way for years. Home cooks? Not so much.
Roasting concentrates strawberries’ already intense flavor. Toss them in olive oil and seasoning, and their sweetness turns deliciously savory. Mate with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar, and you have the makings of a memorable salad.
We’re talking big flavor — with little effort! Well worth it for the standing ovation your guests will give you.
Recipe: Roast Strawberry Salad
This salad is composed (in French, it’s a salade composée) rather than tossed. That just means you arrange the ingredients in a pattern on the plate. A famous example of this genre is Salade Niçoise. Here, you just need to arrange the roast strawberries and goat cheese on a bed of lettuce in an eye-pleasing way.
For this dish, strawberries are the most important ingredient, so you want to buy fresh, juicy, in-season berries. The kind that are in stores now. Balsamic vinegar is another key ingredient; see Notes for more information about this.
This is a two-part recipe: One part for roasting strawberries. Then a second for assembling the salad. Roasting the berries takes 20 minutes, with 5 minutes prep time (25 minutes total). Assembling the salad takes about 5 minutes. This recipe serves 4. As with most salads, leftovers, don’t keep well.
For the Roast Strawberries:
- 1 pint fresh strawberries
- Extra virgin olive oil (just enough to coat the berries — about a tablespoon)
- salt and pepper to taste
- cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 head lettuce (green or red leaf lettuce is ideal)
- extra virgin olive oil (just enough to coat the lettuce when tossing — 1 or 2 tablespoons)
- salt and pepper to taste
- good quality balsamic vinegar to taste (about a teaspoon; see Notes)
- 4 - 6 ounces goat cheese (I prefer the little “logs” of cheese for this dish)
- roasted strawberries
- additional balsamic vinegar as garnish (optional; see Step 7 of the Salad Procedure)
For Roasting the Strawberries:
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wash, dry, and hull the strawberries. Cut in half (lengthwise). If really large, consider cutting into fourths — you want all the strawberry pieces to be about the same size so they take the same amount of time to roast.
- In a bowl, toss strawberries with just enough olive oil to coat. Salt and pepper to taste. (You want a fairly light seasoning — maybe ½ teaspoon of salt or a little less, and a dozen grinds of pepper from your grinder.) If using cayenne pepper, add just a touch (¼ teaspoon at most; you don’t want to make the berries spicy hot — you just want to know there’s some heat in the background flavoring). Toss again to thoroughly mix all seasonings.
- Place strawberries in a single layer on a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet (as they roast, the strawberries exude some liquid; the foil helps with cleanup) or in a pie plate (preferably Pyrex). Place in oven, and set timer for 10 minutes.
- At the 10-minute mark, flip strawberries over. Taste one to see how the texture is coming along. It’s probably totally soft and technically “done.” But I think strawberries have better flavor if roasted for about 20 minutes. Put the berries back in the oven and set timer for 5 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, taste strawberries again. Mentally note the flavor. Put them back in the oven for another 5 minutes, and repeat your tasting. If you prefer the flavor of the strawberries after they’ve cooked for 15 minutes total, then roast them just that long next time. If you prefer the 20-minute flavor, that’s your cooking time. (You can also cook them a few minutes longer if you wish.)
- Let strawberries cool briefly (5 minutes) before using them. Roasted strawberries often produce some juice; you can drizzle this over the berries after you put them in the salad, if you choose.
- Wash and dry the lettuce. Wrap in a dish towel (to absorb any excess moisture) and allow to crisp in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- When ready to make the salad, remove lettuce from refrigerator and tear into bite-sized pieces. Add to large mixing bowl.
- Add oil (a bit less than you think you’ll need) to the lettuce leaves. Using tongs or a large fork and spoon, toss the salad (it’s easiest if you use a long-handled fork and spoon or tongs made specifically for mixing salad). Toss until oil totally covers each leaf; you may need (or want) to add some additional oil.
- Add a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and toss to incorporate. I always sample a leaf at this point to make sure the amount of oil is right, and the salt and pepper are to my taste. If not, I make adjustments.
- Add balsamic vinegar (less than you think you’ll need) and toss. Taste, and add more balsamic vinegar if necessary (you can also add a bit more balsamic vinegar as a garnish on top of the strawberries in Step 7 below).
- Distribute the dressed lettuce on 4 plates. Cut the goat cheese into rounds or cubes, and arrange on the plates. Add strawberries to the plates in an attractive pattern.
- Drizzle a bit of balsamic vinegar on the strawberries as a garnish if you wish (I suggest this – it adds more flavor, but see Notes), and serve.
- It’s impossible to specify exactly how much olive oil or balsamic vinegar you’ll need when making this salad. Every head of lettuce has a different volume, and everyone likes different oil-to-vinegar ratios in salad dressings. So it’s important to taste as you make — which is why I suggest starting with less oil and vinegar than you think you’ll need. It’s easier to add more than to subtract too much.
- You want to use a good-tasting extra virgin olive oil when you make this salad. You’ll definitely be tasting the oil, so use a flavor that pleases you.
- A key ingredient in this recipe is balsamic vinegar, which has a rich, somewhat sweet flavor. Traditional balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) comes from Italy — Modena or Reggio Emilia, to be specific. These vinegars are artisan-made, and aged for at least 12 years. And they’re expensive. Most of us can’t (or won’t) afford them — a small bottle can cost $200.
- There’s a less expensive version of balsamic vinegar from Italy that takes much less time to make — and doesn’t have quite the same flavor: Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (Aceto Balsamico di Modena).
- There’s also commercial balsamic — stuff that is made in just a few hours. A lot of it is dreadful, but some is quite acceptable.
- Finally, you can buy flavored balsamic vinegars, which blend in other natural ingredients. These are often of quite high quality.
- You generally can find acceotable balsamic vinegar in the supermarket. For this dish, you want one that’s on the sweeter side (though you still want good vinegar tang) and preferably somewhat thick. One brand I use and like is Alessi Balsamic Vinegar. Another widely distributed brand is Colavita Balsamic Vinegar of Modena; it’s fairly good for (relatively) inexpensive supermarket fare.
- You can also buy balsamic vinegar from several internet sources. For this salad, I used some that my sister purchased online as a gift (thanks, sis!) from Leonardo e Roberto’s Gourmet Blends. (Note: This is dot-US, not dot-Com.) Specifically, I used their Black Currant Balsamic Vinegar. It’s rich, syrupy (not too tart), and simply marvelous.
- Don’t get hung up on trying to find a specific brand. What you’re looking for is something with decent tartness (to serve as an acid ingredient in the salad dressing), but with a sweet tang to it.
- I suggest drizzling extra balsamic vinegar on the strawberries in Step 7 of the Salad Procedure. You want to add just a bit (1/4 to ½ a teaspoon) as a garnish. After your guests taste the salad, they can add more at table if they wish.
- I often drizzle of bit of balsamic vinegar on the goat cheese, too. The combination of flavors is delightful.
- As noted in the Procedure, you need to establish your own time for how long to roast strawberries. For me, 20 minutes is ideal; but I can see how someone could prefer roasting them from anywhere between 15 to 25 minutes.
- You can roast strawberries without olive oil or seasonings — just skip the seasoning step, and roast them in a 400-degree oven as directed. Their flavor won’t be savory (just sweet) and will be less complex. But they might make an interesting garnish for a dessert dish (ice cream, pie, or pudding, for example).
Not Your Average Strawberry
Roast Strawberries can take salads to a new dimension. Pairing their sweetness with savory olive oil and seasoning delivers flavor intrigue, and they combine well with other high-interest ingredients (here, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar).
“Boy, this is great,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs as she tasted this salad for the first time. “I thought the idea of roasting strawberries sounded weird, but what terrific flavor!”
“Turned out better than expected,” I agreed.
Did they ever.
Once you taste Roast Strawberries, you’ll never forget them. They’re that good. Which is why you need to make this dish – really! – and soon. Like, this weekend.
You’ll thank me (between happy mouthfuls).
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