Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Something With Heft


I meandered about on my way to the market. The people on the streets were scurrying, many looked harassed. It was a pleasantly mild day, so it couldn't have been the weather that had them frowning and ducking against an invisible foe. It was my day off, so the only thing to be tweaking my mind was what to have for dinner. I did not have any particular cravings and I was not especially hungry, so something simple was in order. Something that I can whip up with the flick of the wrist.


Une tartine, as the francophiles would say. Or crostini, for those of Italian persuasions. 'Open-faced sandwich' may be the proper English term, but it sounds so mundane, so... flat. Nothing like a good and proper tartine or crostini, which can range from light lunches to hearty meals. A simple meal, the perfect tartine is ideal for busy weekday dinners, and can be easily assembled from anything you happen to have in the cupboard.


The foundation for a properly satisfying tartine is the right bread: you need something with heft -a country loaf, a rustic sourdough, or a chunky multi-grain; a bagel might even fill in the spot, but sliced white will not do. Ideally, the bread will be a day or two old, because you do not want the bread to be too tender nor too moist. It needs to hold up to a generous topping after all. Some bakeries sell day old loafs at a reduced price, and if you are in a pinch, a supermarket country loaf will do. Slice it yourself; you want the bread to be stick-to-your-ribs-thick, it should be proportional to whatever it is that you will piling on top: 2 cm/ ¾" thick slices are generous enough for any adult, yet not so much that it will throw off a child. When you buy the bread, slice it all, keep what you need, and freeze the rest: it will be ready and waiting for you the next time you are short on inspiration. Toast each slice to a golden sturdiness; if the bread is fresh, toast it twice on a lower setting to dry it out a little. Once you've got your crusty crostini, scrape a peeled, raw clove of garlic on each slice, and you are ready to let your imagination loose.


My favourite toppings are leafy greens, sautéed in butter or olive oil, and generously seasoned with salt and coarsely ground pepper. But anything goes: a generous mound of thinly sliced raw ham (prosciutto, Serrano...), lightly crisped in a hot pan with olive oil, a quartered persimmon, and slivers of hard cheese; canned sardines in oil, warmed in a pan with grated carrots, a few sprigs of watercress added for good measure at the very end; buttered baby spinach, sliced crisp apples, and chunks of sharp cheddar... Here are a few more suggestions:


Watercress, Caramelised Apples and Cheddar

Wash and trim half a bunch of watercress (cresson en français).
Peel and quarter an apple. Cut into thick slices.
In a frying pan, melt some butter over medium high heat. When it starts to brown add the apple slices. 
Do not stir the apples, you want them to brown nicely, without rendering too much juice. 
Flip the slices over, and let the other side caramelise.
Remove the apple from the pan, and pile in a single layer on the toast.
Return pan to heat, add a pat of butter, if needed. Throw the watercress in the pan.
Sauté cress until it it completely wilted.
Season with salt and pepper.
On the toasted bread, layer the watercress over the apples.
Garnish with a few shavings of cheddar, or any other firm cheese.
Serve immediately. 

* I am personally not a fan, but it is the season for black pudding (boudin noir). For those in need of an iron booster, omit the cheddar, and top the watercress with crumbled (removed from casing), pan-fried black pudding. A marriage made in heaven (so says the vegetarian!)



Kale, Cannellini Beans and Peccorino

Wash and strip a bunch of kale.
Blanch the kale in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Keep a close eye on the kale: if the kale is imported from a warm region, it will cook in under 3 minutes; if it is a cold-season toughie, let it cook for a good 5 minutes.
Save about a cupful of cooking water before draining the kale.
Rinse under cold water, then squeeze out any excess water. 
Chop kale into manageable bits.
Over medium heat, warm some olive oil. Add a slivered clove of garlic.
Gently cook the garlic, but do not let it brown. Add kale to pan.
Sauté for 3 to 5 minutes.
Drain and rinse a can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans), or any other white bean.
Add to the pan. Gently fold everything together, as you do not want to crush the beans.
If the mix seems a little dry, add the saved cooking water, a few spoonfuls at a time.
Remove from heat, and pile onto awaiting toast.
Coarsely grind some pepper, but do not salt, as the beans should bring enough flavour.
Smother with shards of Peccorino or any other hard yew's milk cheese, if desired.
Drizzle with more olive oil.
Enjoy with gusto.


Arugula, Chèvre and Warm Chutney 

Smear a slice of garlicky toast with fresh goat cheese (or any other soft, creamy cheese).
Heat some olive oil in a pan, and briefly wilt half a bunch of roquette.
Mound the wilted greens atop the cheese.
Return pan to heat, and warm a heaping spoonful of chutney (this chunky homemade ketchup or this onion marmalade would be scrumptious, but any jarred chutney will be just as tasty).
Drizzle the tartine with warmed chutney.
Dig in.

Two generously topped crostini would satisfy most appetites, but you can serve a salad or a soup on the side to fill in any gaps. Devour with your hands, or nibble with a knife and fork. It is as you wish. The above are merely ideas to get you going. Open your cupboards and fridge, look at what you have. A jar of roasted peppers, whizzed in the blender, makes a divine platform for any vegetable or meat; soaked sun-dried tomatoes will bring summer back into your plate, pile on the arugula and basil pesto, and you'd almost believe you were basking in the sun! Switch up the greens, stack on the roasted root vegetables... The possibilities are endless.

Bon app'!





3 comments:

  1. Oh wow! These all look just delicious!

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  2. Your pictures and vivid descriptions are making me hungry. I don't think there is anything better than toasted bread, even if its only buttered! Add some interesting toppings and you are in good food heaven. Have a great holiday!

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  3. So glad you both enjoyed the post! Happy holidays!

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