TasteFood: Think outside the strawberry box

To be perfectly clear: Having too many strawberries to eat is hardly a problem. But during this season of berry abundance, inventive ways to incorporate the sweet, sun-kissed strawberry into our meals is always welcome. And I'm not just talking smoothies and desserts. Strawberries are delicious in savory preparations, too, where their sweetness and gentle acidity contribute to light dishes such as salads, sauces, toasts and cheese plates.

This bruschetta recipe showcases the best of the strawberry, piled on toasted bread with a few of its favorite savory ingredients. A creamy, lemon-flecked ricotta cheese anchors peppery arugula to the bread, while a tangy, inky balsamic syrup dresses the berries.

Balsamic syrup is easy to make. It's a simple reduction of balsamic vinegar with a little sugar, spiked with lemon juice and black pepper for extra zing. When making the syrup, save your pricey balsamic vinegar for another use. A modestly priced supermarket version will do the trick. However, don't skimp on the ricotta in this bruschetta recipe. Choose a high-quality, fresh ricotta for best results. It should be creamy, sweet and slightly tangy — not grainy or soupy. A mild, fresh goat cheese is an equally delicious alternative to the ricotta.

Strawberry Ricotta Bruschetta

Active Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes, plus cooling time

Yield: Makes 2

Balsamic syrup:

• 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

• 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar

• 1 teaspoon lemon juice

• Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

• 2 slices levain or country-style bread, about 1/2-inch thick

• Extra-virgin olive oil

• 1/4 cup fresh ricotta or soft, fresh goat cheese, room temperature

• Finely grated lemon zest

• Sea salt

• 1 cup arugula leaves, washed and dried

• 4 to 6 strawberries, hulled, thickly sliced

• Freshly ground black pepper

Combine the syrup ingredients in small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer until the mixture is reduced by half and syrupy in consistency, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven broiler. Lightly brush the bread slices with olive oil. Broil in the oven until golden brown, turning once.

Smear the ricotta or goat cheese over the bread slices. Lightly sprinkle each bruschetta with lemon zest and a pinch of sea salt. Spread the arugula over the bruschetta and arrange the strawberries over the arugula. Lightly brush the berries with the balsamic syrup and drizzle additional syrup over and around the bruschetta. Garnish with additional lemon zest and black pepper. Serve immediately.

Lynda Balslev is the co-author of "Almonds: Recipes, History, Culture" (Gibbs Smith, 2014). Contact her at TasteFood, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106, or send email to TasteFood@TasteFoodBlog.com. Or visit theTasteFood blog at TasteFoodBlog.com.