My heart belongs to France (and to San Francisco, oh, and also to my dog), my mouth, well, it belongs to Italy. I especially love the way Italians have found inventive ways to use their day-old bread: ribollita, which is not simply a soup, but each step of its making a holy pilgrimage to the motherland, let's make that soon, eh? And then there is spaghetti con acciughe e pangrattato, or for you Americans 'spaghetti with anchovies and bread crumbs', oh my god, we have to make that too! But my favorite thing of all is crostoni, which is just giant crostini. Hint: tini = teeny, toni = biggie.
I love crostoni because it's super simple and super quick grilled bread topped with whatever you can imagine, making an instant and impressive meal. I also love it because I bake bread, usually a quartet of head-sized loaves, and while I give two of my lovely boules away every week, saving two adds up to a lot of extra bread, and Thumbelina (my furry heart) and I like to be inventive with our rations.
Last week I made a loaf of olive rye.
Where can you find a loaf of olive rye besides my kitchen? You can't. Sorry. Well, you can also find it in my friend's kitchen, but that's only because she got it from mine. Come visit me at my other blog so you too can have fabulous homemade bread and uber-impress your non-cooking amigos, http://tartine-bread.blogspot.com/.
Today I had a hankerin' for crostoni, and when I opened my fridge a bag of farmer's market jewels tumbled out and landed at my slippers. Tiny sweet gypsy peppers of gold and red and fiery orange.
Oh yes! I remembered that I also bought a onion bulb caked with dirt and a grub or two,
Some garlic, and a fatty bunch of rainbow chard with leaves as shiny and green as the hulk when he's really mad.
You probably have these ingredients on hand, well, maybe your bread is from Trader Joe's, but never that mind. This crostoni will elevate it to something spectacular.
Here's what you'll need:
A bunch of gypsies, not the people, the peppers. I think I used about 15. A bundle of chard, Swiss or otherwise. About 6 cloves of garlic, a filthy onion, a splash of white wine, a few slices of crusty French bread, and of course, extra virgin olive oil, or liquid sun, as I like to call it.
You will also need some black oil cured olives, roughly chopped.
Some herbs, rough chopped. I'm using marjoram. See?
And some chili flake.
Slice up your onion, garlic and peppers, and arrange them in a lovely heap.
Speaking of heaps, here's a handy trick. Instead of yanking out the rubbish bin for your culinary refuse, tripping over it at every turn, keep on your counter a small bowl for trimmins and skins.
When you're done, it's easy to just dump it all in the trash. No more cluttered board, no more smelly trash muckin' up your kitchen Zen while you work.
Speaking of work, back to it!
Heat some olive oil in a pan. Don't be stingy. Now add your peppers et al, and don't forget to, what? SALT THIS LAYER. Remember, we want to season through and through, not just at the end of the dish.
Oh, shoot, I forgot to tell you to do this. So, do this quick: cut the ribs out of the chard leaves like this.
Until you have a cleaned up pile like this.
Now slice up your stems and get them into the pan like this.
The reason we add the stems to the pan now is because they take a while to soften, about the same amount of time as your peppers and onions. If you add them along with your greens, you will wind up with the unsavory crunch of undercooked chard stems, and nobody needs that sort of assault.
Now do a fat chiffonade of your chard leaves...
As you sweat down all of your veg over medium heat. They should soften quite a bit, but we don't want baby food here, so be mindful and don't go too far.
When they are appropriately softened, but still a little al dente, add a splash of white wine, comme ça.
And some water.
You want it to be a little saucy like this.
Great. Now simmer all of this goodness until the braising liquid has thickened a bit, then add your herbs. I like the herbs to commingle with the peppers and onions...
Great, now add your greens.
With some water. Enough to braise.
And little liquid sun. Add it now so instead of at the end of the dish, so that it has a chance to emulsify with the braising liquid and create a lovely sauce. If you add it at the end, you will have an oily mess o' greens.
Look at how much liquid is in the pan in the photo below, so you can get a sense of how much water to add. Braising means to gently cook something in an appropriate amount of seasoned liquid, just enough to bathe whatever it is you are braising. If you add too much water, you're boiling. We don't want boiled greens here. We're not culinary philistines for cripe's sake.
Once your greens are braised (they should still have some body and a lovely green hue. Don't cook them down to mush. Braise is not code for cooking to death) check the viscosity of the sauce. You want it to be velvety. Unctuous. Not watery. If the braising liquid is too loose, pull the greens to one side of the pan, tilt the pan over the flame so that the greens are safely in one corner, the cooking halted; the only thing now over fire is the braising liquid. And it should bubble like mad.
OK. When the braising liquid is velvety, pull some out for the pooch.
Now you can add your chili flake.
Oh, meanwhile, you should have been toasting your bread. If you are using an electric toaster, I don't wanna know about it. And you're a disgrace. You should be 1) grilling all bread 2) toasting all bread in your wood burning oven c) broiling your bread. Toasting bread in an electric toaster makes the texture either rubbery or coarse and desiccated.
Drizzle with olive oil.
Get a spoonful of your unctuous sauce over that toast.
Attractively arrange your veg and sprinkle with the olives.
You could shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, or eat it nudey just like this.
However you do it,