Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
~M.F.K. Fisher

Vice unbound on a plate, again. My openly lascivious affairs with both Egg and Pig reappear. Is it coincidence that I lustily deify these worldly beings both of which irreverently boast three letter names? Egg and Pig are gluttonous, addictive, more than venial sins with no hint of repentant shame…maybe less like the Seven Deadly and more like food as Providence.

Essentials of this dish are handcrafted and dreamily aromatic artisanal bread, preferably a ciabatta loaf, and premium bacon. Think heirloom swine, too. Artisanal bread (or should I say authentic bread) simply means the loaves are traditionally handcrafted, rather than mechanically mass produced. Superior ingredients are blended, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens with an acute eye on vivid flavors and textures. The core ingredients are fewer (organic flour, water, salt, fermentation agent) than the industrial variety, and the bread is crafted without enhancers or chemical additives—as bread has been artfully baked for centuries. Like finding trusted butchers and fishmongers, discovering a skilled baker is blissful.

Ciabatta is the Italian word for “slipper” which roughly depicts the shape of this loaf. With a light, airy structure this bread is ideal for bruschetta, crostini, and panini.

A protean dish, this serves well at any meal—day or night. Consider tabling it after that mayhem of unwrapping gifts ceases this month. In lieu of the parmiggiano-reggiano, a ladling of hollandaise or bearnaise or a light drizzle of white truffle oil (with the parmiggiano-reggiano) brings elegant touches. (See Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise, August 16, 2009).

POACHED EGG BRUSCHETTA WITH WILTED SPINACH & BACON

4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 t dried crushed red pepper

4 1 1/2″ thick slices of ciabatta, cut on the bias

1 lb thick bacon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 lb fresh baby spinach
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

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

Parmiggiano-reggianno, freshly grated or shaven

For the bacon: cook in large skillet until crisp and transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

For the bread: heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, thyme and crushed pepper and cook until the garlic is light brown. Remove and discard garlics. Add bread slices to the skilled and cook until golden browned and well infused with the garlic oil. Set aside.

For the spinach, add olive oil over heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes, then add spinach and stir until just wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices in half to fit. You may wish to place in oven until heated through before you drop the poached egg on top.

For the eggs: 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 the yolks are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. 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. They should goo out with a fork when served. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off.

To build: strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices. (You may wish to place in oven under low heat) while the eggs are poaching. Place 2 poached egg atop each. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmiggiano-reggiano.

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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

Truffle Toast

May 14, 2009

Does Anthony Bourdain have an Egg Slut Club? You know, where we wenches would dine on eggs prepared anyway, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, anyday. How do you join?

This dish, which I first savored at ‘inoteca in New York, hits for the cycle in my culinary league—bread, eggs, cheeses and truffle oil. Rapture, pure and simple.

TRUFFLE TOAST

4 thick slices of ciabatta or brioche
8-12 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
10 oz fontina or gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
White truffle oil

Preheat oven to broil. Lightly toast bottom side of bread and set aside, then modify oven temperature to 450.

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil.

Hollow out an indentation in untoasted side of each bread slice large enough to hold 2-3 egg yolks. Take care to leave a sufficient amount of bread surrounding the depression to avoid leakage. Place bread slices on the oiled baking sheet.

Carefully drop 2-3 egg yolks into individual saucers and then gently pour into the bread hollows carefully trying to retain the yolks intact. Liberally strew grated cheese over egg filled slices of bread, all the way to the outer edges.

Place the bread in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. During the last 2 minutes of baking, grate parmigiano reggiano over the top of each toast. Remove from oven and lightly drizzle with truffle oil in a diagonal stream.

Take care not to overcook as you want that luscious yolk slowly oozing out as the bread is opened.

If you are in an edgy mood, try this over a parabolic wood grill.