Ask anyone who knows my culinary style – I’m a purist, a stickler. Traditional dishes have established their rightful position as such because they have been practiced, refined, & elevated to a place worthy of the ongoing repetition that warrants tradition.
That established, I am aware that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and therefore, in a responsive fashion to that which is fashionable, I have dubbed the collection of canapés, crostini, toast points, or whatever you want to call them in the common culinary vernacular – “bruschetta”. It has a nice ring to it…or at least a trendy one!
That this post follows the Hors d’Oeuvres de le Mall post is no coincidence – my December demos focused on holiday entertaining; specifically, easy holiday entertaining ideas for harried hosts. I know all too well the intensity of the season, yet still relish the opportunity to host holiday hoopla. And gatherings; be they ever so humble, or grand glittering galas, mandate that some form of food be offered, preferably with a festive flair, to guests in your company.
So, when asked to join the People’s Co-Op Year-Round Farmers’ Market at their Holiday Market for a culinary demonstration, I took it as an opportunity to host an informal cocktail party/cooking demo. I introduced a few easy toppings, made with Farmers’ Market ingredients, to serve atop toasted bread. Holiday simple.
Now, technically, bruschetta is very basic – sliced rustic country bread (such as ciabatta), is drizzled with good quality olive oil (meaning it is very pleasing to the palate), & then toasted or grilled. It is then rubbed with a clove of raw garlic, and embellished, perhaps, with a sprinkling of fleur de sel (“flower of salt” – hand-harvested sea salt). This is a very satisfying recipe in its own right, especially when accompanied by a nice glass of wine.
But this basic recipe also works as the perfect canvas for various toppings, Italian & otherwise.
Now, on the subject of Italian, Russ Parsons, writing for the LA Times, stated so eloquently what I find most troubling about bruschetta:
…”please indulge me in a brief — yes, certainly pedantic — rant. In Italy, the combination “ch” is pronounced like a hard “c,” so “bruschetta” is brew-SKET-a, or even, for the truly fastidious, brew-SKATE-a. Pronouncing it brew-SHET-a is like dragging your fingernails across a chalkboard, even though some very smart and very nice people do it.”
…just think ‘chianti’
In the end, I took a lot of leeway with bruschetta – in the end, they were not really bruschetta at all, rather crostini, canapes, toast points. But in the end, they were all delicious, and my Farmers Market guests were delighted.
A Trio Of Bruschetta
a salty-sweet topping of greens, minerally-rich, & bright, sautéed with savory and fruity condiments
(made at the market with greens from Osmogaia – Red Russian Kale, Rainbow Chard, Siberian Kale, Toscano Kale, Portuguese Kale, & Turnip Greens)
Wild Mushroom Duxelles
a classic chopped mushroom topping made with Oregon’s seasonal wild mushrooms
(made at the market with Chanterelles, Winter Chanterelles or Yellowfoot, & Hedgehog mushrooms from Dusty @ The Mushroomery)
Fresh Fromage Blanc with Apples, Herbs, & Honey
local goat cheese, simply blended with herbs, and topped with a slivered apple salad & honey from the same farm from which the honey was procured
(made at the market with Fraga Farm Fromage Blanc, Herman Obrist’s Honey & Glöcken Apples, and garnished with sprigs of Gee Creek’s Chickweed)
This medley of chopped healthful greens and assertive seasonings is delicious on its own, or can be embellished with a slice or sprinkle of cheese. Based on a selection from the cookbook Mostly Mediterranean by Paula Wolfert, it is a perfect year-round recipe – choose greens that are fresh and in season.
1 pound fresh spinach, escarole, Swiss chard, dandelion, kale, etc. (a combination works best, if using just spinach, you may need another ½ pound)
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 flat anchovy fillets, drained and crushed with a fork (optional)
1 ½ tsp. capers, preferably salted, rinsed and drained
¼ cup chopped pitted purple olives
1 ½ Tbsp. seedless black or yellow raisins, soaked in warm water, drained and chopped
1/8 tsp. hot red pepper flakes, or more to taste
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
grilled or toasted ciabatta, baguette or other rustic, crusty bread
Remove the tough stems and leaves from the greens, then wash them thoroughly. Cook the greens for several minutes, until tender, in boiling salted water. Refresh in cold water. Drain the greens and thoroughly squeeze dry. Chop roughly.
In a skillet large enough to accommodate the chopped greens, heat the garlic in the olive oil over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, and the garlic is lightly browned, remove and discard the garlic. Add the anchovies, if using, and stir for several seconds until they begin to dissolve in the oil. Add the greens and fry for a minute, stirring. Add the capers and cook for another half a minute. Stir in the olives, raisins, and pepper flakes, and remove the mixture from the heat. Using a wooden spoon or heat-proof rubber spatula, scrape the mixture out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Allow to cool, and then chop fine by hand. Alternatively, chop in a food processor. Adjust seasoning if needed with salt and freshly ground black pepper. This preparation can be made several hours in advance or the night prior. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.
Top the toast with the greens and serve. If desired, sprinkle the greens with cheese or top with a slice of cheese (such as Asiago or Pecorino Romano) and run the toasts under the broiler to glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.
1 pound wild mushrooms, cleaned and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt
2-4 cloves garlic, minced, or 4 cloves of roasted garlic
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
2 oz. sweet vermouth
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
ciabatta, baguette or other rustic, crusty bread, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
Add the olive oil to a large skillet and heat over a high flame. When the oil is very hot (shimmering, but not smoking), add the mushrooms. Sauté until thoroughly done (if the mushrooms contain water, be sure to cook that water away over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium & cook them further, until they begin to brown). Stir frequently and reduce the heat if the mushrooms are browning too quickly. Add a little more oil if the pan seems dry.
When the mushrooms are nearly finished, stir in the salt & the garlic. Cook for 1-2 more minutes, until the garlic softens. If using the roasted garlic, stir it in, mashing it up a bit, and proceed without further sautéing the garlic. Stir in the thyme, then deglaze the pan with vermouth. Raise the heat to medium-high. Once the vermouth has bubbled away, season the mushrooms with the pepper and remove from the heat to cool.
Process the mushroom sauté in a food processor so that the mushrooms are chopped into bits (stop before they are chopped to a paste). Alternatively, chop the mushrooms by hand. Stir in the chopped parsley, taste the duxelles, and adjust seasonings.
Drizzle or brush the bread slices with olive oil. Grill or toast the bread. When the toasted bread is manageable, but still warm, rub it with the garlic clove.
To serve, spread the grilled bread slices with mushroom duxelles.
8 oz. fresh goat cheese (fromage blanc)
2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 ½ tsp. chopped fresh oregano
(alternatively, substitute ½ – 1 tsp. Herbs de Provence for the fresh herbs)
¼ – ½ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
juice of ½ a lemon stirred into in 1 cup water
ciabatta, baguette or other rustic, crusty bread, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
honey to drizzle over bruschetta
fleur de sel sea salt
Blend the goat cheese with the herbs. Season with black pepper.
Core the apple and thinly slice. Cut the apple slices crosswise to form matchstick-sized pieces. Place the apple sticks in a bowl and pour the acidulated water (lemon water) over them. Toss to coat.
Drizzle or brush the bread slices with the olive oil. Grill or toast the bread. When the toasted bread is manageable, but still warm, rub it with the garlic clove.
To serve, spread the grilled bread slices with the herbed goat cheese. Drain the apples and lay them on a paper or clean kitchen towel to remove excess water. Scatter the apple over the cheese, pressing lightly to adhere it to the spread. Drizzle honey over the apple, then sprinkle with fleur de sel. Serve at once.
Farmers’ Market Notes, Stories, Ramblings:
I had a wonderful time at People’s Farmers’ Market . Although this was my first demo at this particular market, I am acquainted with a number of vendors from other local markets. I get jazzed up about seeing familiar friendly faces, getting to know more of the interesting local farmers, & the opportunity to try new products & produce.
Ernest Kuntze, better known as “Curley” is ever-present at his stand, representing Osmogaia Farm (from osmosis and Gaia, the first Greek Goddess, Mother Earth). (Incidentally, Curley bares a slight resemblance to Zeus…albeit an earthy-soft, hippy rendition, more earth than stone) I sampled a good variety of greens from his 19-acre, deeply organic (uncertified) farm. There were an impressive number of rich green kales, including Toscano Kale, Siberian Kale, Red Russian Kale, & one I had yet to try, Portuguese Kale, a beautiful fan-shaped, bumpy leaf of emerald-green. I found myself at his booth a week later, intensely craving more of the vitamin-rich organic green goodness. If you’re going to crave nutrients, I suggest you go for the delicious ones!
There are questions that Farmers are asked over and over and over…and over and over and over. I posed one to Herman (“the third”) who was manning Herman Obrist‘s honey stand, “So, what kind of honey do you have?”
“The kind made by bees.”
“Oh,” I stumbled…um, ok, think of something intelligent…something that lets him know you have a great interest in his honey…, “I was wondering if there was a specific flower? Or if it was a certain type of honey?” Not intelligent. Very pedestrian. But earnest, and with a bright smile and warm eyes. “I was just wondering,” I added innocently.
Herman softened his edge a bit, “The lighter colored honey is from earlier in the year, when the spring flowers are blooming. When the fruit flowers and Marion berries are blooming, in the summer, the honey is darker.”
There were some interesting apples – I told Herman what I was going to do with the honey and mentioned that it seemed ideal to pair the apples with the honey from the same farm. Herman seemed to beam at the chance to tell more about his apples,
“They’re called Glöcken. I’ve heard them called Bell Apple. Swiss in origin, a winter keeper – they’ll stay good for a long time. Our farm has been growing them for 3 generations, and I’ve never come across them anywhere else. They’re a really unique apple.” Indeed. He offered me a slice. Crisp, delightfully sweet-tart, lightly perfumed, and quite juicy. Perfect.
And in an unconventional bruschetta bread choice, I went with the Southern-German-style bakery that peddles its wares at numerous Portland area Farmers’ Markets. Fressen Artisan Bakery breads are dense, sour loaves of hearty grains. There are no airy ciabatta-type pocketed interiors, rather a tight crumb that gives way to a hearty chew. For the greens topping and the mushroom duxelles, I went with the Swabian, a baguette-type loaf. But the Schuettel Brot caught my eye and, though distinctly more rigid than the other loaves, seemed well suited to carry the goat cheese canapé. Unconventional, indeed, but certainly tasty!
As I’ve said again & again:
get an idea, then go to the market and see what you’ve got to work with
– it doesn’t have to adhere to a rigid recipe or tradition, as long as it makes sense, tastes good, and works!
Yesterday’s toast points are today’s bruschetta – find flavors that sing and slap them on bread!