Bruschetta or Crostini?

August 23, 2009

If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.
~Robert Browning

These crusty morsels often lead to one of those nagging kitchen queries: what is the difference between bruschetta and crostini? And does it really matter? From what I can tell, it all comes down to loaf size—although some would argue even that is a distinction without a difference. Either way, both are grilled, toasted or sautéed bread slathered with olive oil and garlic and then clothed in savory toppings.

Brushcetta, from the Italian bruscare, which means “to roast over coals,” actually refers to the bread, not the condiments. They are relatively large, somewhat thick slices of bread (such as ciabatta or bâtard) which are grilled, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. Bruschetta are traditionally dressed with tomatoes and basil, though other toppings from meats, herbs, dried fruits, vegetables, and cheeses have been known to adorn them.

On the other hand, Crostini, meaning “little toasts” in Italian, tend to be thinner, smaller slices of bread (usually baguette size) that are toasted then graced with vegetables, meats, spreads, and cheeses.

Whatever the similarities or contrasts, much like pizzas and panini they both allow for free creative license with ingredients and assembly. All that hampers is your level of ingenuity. Above all, find a great bakery for your “fond.” The recipes below work equally well in bruschetta or crostini form.

BRUSCHETTA WITH TOMATOES AND GOAT CHEESE

3 or 4 ripe heirloom tomatoes, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 t balsamic vinegar
8 fresh basil leaves, cut in ribbons (chiffonade)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ciabatta loaf or bâtard
4 oz goat cheese

First choose your cooking method—barbeque grill, oven or sautéed on stovetop. Prepare grill to medium high heat or preheat oven to 450 or heat heavy skillet to medium high.

Combine chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and wine vinegar in a bowl and mix. Add the chopped basil, season with salt and pepper to taste and stir again.

Slice bread on a diagonal into 1″ thick slices. Brush each slice with olive oil. Place on a cooking sheet, olive oil side down. Toast on top rack until the bread just begins to turn golden brown, about 4-5 minutes depending on your broiler. If using a charcoal grill, simply place oil bread slices directly on the grate and cook until golden brown as well. When finished, rub toasted or grilled bread with a sliced garlic clove.

Alternatively, heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium high. Peel and crush 3 garlic cloves and place in pan; with a wooden spatula, rub the bottom of the pan thoroughly with the crushed garlic. Sauté the bread on both sides until golden brown. Because there is already garlic in the olive oil, do not add the minced garlic to the tomato mixture as is done with grilling or oven roasting.

Once cooked, spread each slice with a thin layer of goat cheese.

Align the bread on a serving platter, goat cheese side up. Either place the tomato topping in a bowl separately with a spoon for self serve, or place some topping on each slice of bread and serve immediately.

BRUSCHETTA WITH GOAT CHEESE, FIGS, PINE NUTS AND HONEY

1 ciabatta loaf or bâtard

4 oz goat cheese
1 C dried figs, chopped
1/2 C pine nuts, toasted
Honey to drizzle

Grill, bake or sauté bread as in prior recipe.

Spread with goat cheese, arrange figs and pine nuts on top and then drizzle with honey. Serve immediately.

A wide array of possibilities and combinations exist for both bruschetta and crostini besides those offered in the recipes above. Far from an exhaustive list, some more ideas follow.

Cheeses
Parmigiano-reggiano
Mozzarella
Gruyère
Fontina
Manchego
Gorgonzola
Feta

Vegetables/Greens/Fruit
Cappellini
Garbanzos
Olives
Capers
Avocado
Dried apricots
Figs
Currants
Roasted garlic
Roasted peppers, chilies
Tomatoes
Arugula

Herbs
Basil
Parsley
Cilantro
Tarragon
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage

Meats
Proscuitto
Serrano

Chicken livers

Spreads
Tapenade
Caponata
Hummus

Tomato relish

Nuts
Pistachios
Hazelnuts
Walnuts

The olive tree is surely the richest gift of Heaven, I can scarcely expect bread.
~Thomas Jefferson

From the magical, luminous lands of Provence in southern France comes Tapenade, a prized olive based condiment…served simply with vegetables, fish, meat, eggs or on crostini or bruschetta. On a pizza topped with fresh mozzarella, tapenade reaches new heights. The paste must be made more by taste than exact ingredients in a way that the flavors are balanced and kindly commingle in an egalitarian way.

TAPENADE

2 C French brine-cured olives, such as Niçoise, pitted
2 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
2 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets, preferably salt packed (optional, but recommended)
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

If the anchovies are salt packed, let them stand in a bowl of milk for 15 minutes to exude the salt. Then, drain thoroughly.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the drained anchovies, olives, capers, mustard, garlic, cognac and thyme. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

TAPENADE VINAIGRETTE

4 T tapenade
2 t dijon mustard
2 fresh plump garlics, crushed gently
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
2 T sherry vinegar

1 C extra virgin olive oil

Gently whisk together tapenade, dijon, garlic, salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar. Whisking further and much more vigoursly, slowly add olive oil to form an emulsion.

I am Sam, Sam I Am

January 29, 2009

Do you like green eggs and ham? Would you like them here or there? … Would you like them in a house? on a train? in the rain? with a goat? on a boat? You may like them you will see…

P.S. to an earlier post about developments in the White House culinary staff (Obama Fare—Gratin Dauphinois).

Sam Kass, a private chef who cooked for the Obamas while they were living in Chicago, will now serve them in the White House.

A Chicago native, Mr. Kass, 28, graduated from the University of Chicago and received his formal training at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Europe. He later worked at Avec, a Chicago wine bar serving Mediterranean food.

Mr. Kass then founded Inevitable Table, a private chef service in the Windy City that purports to be a “link to clean, healthy food.” The services advertised include cooking and shopping “mainly from local farms,” buying wines from “small sustainable wineries,” and offering meals for children and private parties.

Not to worry White House executive chef, Cristeta Comerford—a spokeswoman for Michelle Obama said Mr. Kass will not be the only cook preparing the first family’s meals, but “he knows what they like and he happens to have a particular interest in healthy food and local food.”

Mr. Kass’s appointment again underscores the Obama family’s commitment to healthy, local and sustainable foodstuffs. Is an organic vegetable and herb garden on the White House grounds in the offing? Imagine the bounty from the White House kitchen waste alone which could reaped to create an official presidential compost bin. A science project for Malia or Sasha?

I do so like green eggs and ham, thank you, thank you, Sam I am…

GREEN EGGS AND HAM

Pesto

3 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/3 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil into a food processor or blender. Blend in pulses until the paste is fairly smooth, adding more oil if it is too thick. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper; set aside.

Bruschetta & Proscuitto

1 loaf Tuscan bread or baguette
1 head garlic, cut in 1/2 crosswise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8 thin slices of proscuitto di parma or san daniele del fruili
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat broiler, placing rack 6″ from the element

Slice the loaf of bread, on the bias, into 3/4-inch slices. Place bread in oven on sheet pan and broil until golden brown on both sides, approximately 2 minutes for the first side and 1 to 1 1/2 for second side. Remove to a platter and rub each slice of bread with the garlic and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat olive oil in skillet and sauté proscuitto briefly, 1-2 minutes.

Poached Eggs

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature
Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated or shaven

Fresh eggs are mandatory as they will gather compactly around the yolk, resulting in a rounder, neater shape.

Fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure they are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex, whirlpool. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

To assemble: put a slice of bruschetta on a plate, toppped by a slice of crisp proscuitto; then place 2 poached eggs on top. Spoon a tablespoon of pesto over each egg. Finish with grated or thin shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

*Free range, organic eggs: Organic eggs are produced from hens that consume a special feed in which all of the ingredients are free from commercial fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. Free range chickens usually have a covered shelter and access to an outside scratch yard. They are pasture-fed, also foraging for worms and bugs, which are ideal for their health and immunity systems.

…I do, I like them, Sam I am.