If I were a TV chef, this would be one of those dishes I would cook outside. I’d greet you from my back patio kitchen (because of course I’d have one of those, complete with a great beehive shaped brick pizza oven), offer you a virtual cocktail, and commence a cheery narrative about summers in France when I was a kid, or how this particular combination of ingredients speaks to some cherished family memory. The peaches would have come from my backyard tree, I’d delight you by plucking the basil myself from a tiered herb garden right next to the outdoor bar, and obviously the mozzarella would have come from some local artisan selling fresh knobs of it at the local farmers’ market.
But seeing as I don’t have an outdoor kitchen, and since I’d be a terrible TV chef (uncoordinated, messy, with a penchant for cooking in ripped jeans), I’ll admit that this lovely little snack emerged because I’m basically obsessed with caprese right now. After the triumphant caprese inspired meatballs of two weeks ago, my brain catapulted into summer, and all I want is fresh produce and grilled everything. Nothing says summer to me like a wide tray of gushing tomato wedges, mozzarella almost too soft to slice, and torn basil. If you add a drizzle of thick, syrupy balsamic, you’d better pour me a glass of wine, too, because I’m staying for a while.
Despite the whole Southern California thing, though, I’m not ready to buy tomatoes just yet. Not even at our local farmers’ market (where I shamefully wasn’t locavore enough to look for mozzarella cheese). It’s just not time yet. There is, though, a vendor whose stall is always packed that had a nice selection of stone fruits this week. It seems a bit early for these as well, but when I could smell the peaches from a few feet away, I decided to risk it.
Though this rarely happens, these turned out exactly how I’d imagined them. Usually I can’t help myself from changing something as I go along, or skipping over or adding a step or ingredient, and it’s hard to stop the universe from offering up its own brand of “help” to produce unexpected results.
Not this time. The peaches were juicy, the mozzarella was creamy and perfect, the basil was fresh and crisp, and I didn’t even burn the toast (believe me, that’s an accomplishment). I reduced my balsamic vinegar with a tablespoon of brown sugar, and I may never do it any other way; the sugar thickened it up faster, and it played well with the peaches, eliminating just the edge of the puckering tartness balsamic can have. Obviously, the whole thing went perfectly with a glass of cold, cold, slightly effervescent pink wine.
Suggestions: as we were eating these, I was already talking about alternatives. You could, for example, add the cheese 30 seconds or so before removing the toast from the broiler, to start it melting into the bread for a softer end product. You could grill the peach slices, with or without a brush of butter or brown sugar, for a caramelized fruit flavor. You could even eschew the toast altogether and just offer a platter of layered peach and cheese slices with basil tucked in, as you would with a traditional caprese, and serve it up alongside whatever you’d grilled in your outdoor kitchen. Maybe even add in some cucumber slices for extra crunch. And not that it’s likely you’d have leftovers, but if you, say, casually stacked the peach slices and remaining balsamic syrup over a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream, and then you called me, I’d be happy to come and share it with you.
Peach Caprese Toasts
Serves 2-3 (easily doubled or tripled… go crazy!)
Most quantities here are according to your tastes (translation: approximate). Take the basics and do them up the way you like them best. No fuss. It’s summer.
½ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
12 slices of baguette, about ¾ inch thick (French or sourdough)
olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper for sprinkling
2 small peaches
ball of fresh mozzarella (burrata would also be lovely, though a touch messy)
12 leaves fresh basil
- Preheat your broiler. While it warms, make the balsamic syrup. Pour the balsamic vinegar and the brown sugar into a small pot and cook over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the mixture reduces by half, then turn off the heat and let it sit. It won’t seem very thick during the boil, but just wait! It thickens as it cools into a tart, glossy syrup.
- Spread baguette slices out on a cookie sheet and drizzle them with olive oil, salt, and pepper. You want a fairly even coating of oil for even browning. Broil, watching carefully to prevent burning, until the toasts are golden and crisp on top to your liking. For me this took about 3 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly, OR top each toast with mozzarella slices and broil just another 30-60 seconds until the cheese begins to melt.
- To assemble, place a slice of mozzarella cheese on each toast (unless, of course, you already did with the melted option). Top that with a basil leaf, then a peach slice. Place on a platter or serving dish.
- Use a spoon to drizzle on some of the balsamic syrup – I like a thin striped pattern back and forth across the whole thing.
- If desired, you can also drizzle the top of the toasts with olive oil, and sprinkle with sea salt for a little extra lushness.
- Serve immediately as an appetizer, preferably with something sparkling to drink.