Friday, July 20, 2012

Bruschetta and Crostini

Here's my column from the Petaluma Post for July:

Whether lounging by the pool, picnicking at a winery or bring food to a potluck, bruschetta and crostinis are a great way to go.  You’re probably thinking that bruschetta is that great tomato concoction on top of a crostini, and you are partly right.  That’s the common American definition of this Italian classic.  Crostini is a toasted slice of bread, while technically the bruschetta is a toasted sliced of bread that has been drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Very similar, both are a great blank canvas for any ideas you might have.

How to make a basic crostini
Take one baguette; I prefer a denser bread that can be cut thin.  Slice on the bias, to get about 35 slices out of the baguette slice.  The thinner the slice, the easier it will be to bite through.  Place the slices on a cookie sheet and brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper if savory or sugar if sweet.  Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes till the edges just brown.

That first thing everyone thinks of is classic tomato bruschetta.  An Italian salsa of diced tomatoes, basil and more.  My favorite for this one uses cherry tomatoes.  Roast your cherry tomatoes with just a touch of olive oil to bring out the sweetness then toss with the other ingredients.

Tomato Bruschetta
2 cup small cherry tomatoes, if larger cut in half
2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch kosher salt and pepper

Toss together and layout single layer on a sided cookie sheet, then bake at 350 degrees for about 8 to 12 minutes.  The tomatoes should just begin to pop, the longer you roast the sweeter the flavor.

4 stems of basil, chiffonade
1 small onion, caramelized
2 stems Italian parsley, chopped
1 small spring rosemary, chopped
1-2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Allow to meld for 2 to 4 hours before serving

Grilled summer fruit is another great topping.  Peaches, figs, plums and apricots lightly tossed in olive oil and grilled, then served with a smear of Chèvre or brie will be a big hit.  For a sweeter side use crostinis that have been toasted with sugar and add a drizzle of honey.

For a party think of doing a bruschetta bar, toast 3 or 4 different crostinis, such as sweet, garlic, and olive seeded.  Then go for the smears, hummus or white bean puree, roasted garlic, goat cheese, blue cheese, brie, and pesto.  Then hit the toppings – this list can be huge! Roasted peppers, grilled eggplant, grilled summer fruits,  tapenades (black or green olives), tomato bruschetta, smoked salmon anchovies (I love the Italian white anchovy).  Let people have a great time and experiment.

White Bean Puree
1 cup dried white beans - Navy or cannellini
Water to cover by 3 times- allow to sit over night
Rinse and drain
Cover with water by 2 times and bring to a boil
Simmer till very tender
Cool and drain
From here have fun; season with salt and pepper, roasted garlic, pesto anything you want.

Crostinis don’t just have to be for nibbles and hor d’oeuvres, larger cuts of bread can be used as open face sandwiches.  Using a firm artisan bread slice ¼” thick slices, rub with olive oil and garlic and toast.  By doing this you are creating a barrier so the bread will not get soggy.  Think of spreading with some fresh ricotta, a few sliced of prosciutto and some arugula for a lovely snack.  Make it an addition to a bowl of soup.

Cheese Spread
1 cup grated hard cheese- parmesan, romano etc.
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Puree all together, and spread on a small or large crostini.  Then broil till golden and bubbly.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can you say Vegan?

Last night we catered an incredible wedding at Hans Fahden Vineyard near Calistoga.  The Bride and Groom came in with a request of a vegan menu that no one would know was vegan.  Vegan is definded as no animal products, no butter, eggs etc.  They had spoken with two other caterers that had turned them down.  I took it as a challenge. 

They gave me a lsit of their favorite foods and we worked to creat the perfect menu.

We started with our Farmer's Market Crudites.  Simple enough, just lots of fresh veg with Cumin Hummus and Baba Ganoush, Artisan Breads, Roasted Beet Relish and Tapenade.  Plus our Vegan Spring Rolls of Avocado, Cucumber, Red Bell, Thai Basil, Tofu, Enoki and Bean Sprouts with Ponzu and Peanut Sauce.

Then on to dinner, this is were a vegan menu is most challenging.  We did it in two courses, everything served family style:

First Course

Wild Arugula Salad
with Heirloom Tomatoes, Champagne Mustard Vinaigrette

Artisan Bread Basket
with Caramelized Onion Mori Nu Spread

Country Style Marinated Olives

Second Course
Stuffed Squash Blossom Fritters
Cashews, Chick-peas, Eggplant with
Horseradish Ceram & Avocado Salsa

Green Pea Risotto
Arborio Rice, Green Peas, Onions and Green Pea Puree

Wild Mushroom Ragu
with Oysters, Chanterelle, Crimini

Summer Vegetable Ragu
Sweet Corn, Bells, Haricot Vert
Lemon, Basil and Olive Oil

The highlight of the night was the squash blossoms, the filling had the perfect tooth to feel hearty plus a touch of Cumin in the tempura battered added a great smoky spicy taste.

Thanks to Geoff and Alannah for giving me a great menu and inspiration.