Rosie Hawthorne’s recipes: Toasting the season with crostini

By on December 19, 2017

During the holidays, it’s always a good idea to have something on hand for a quick and versatile appetizer. I’m going with crostini.

Crostini, in Italian, means “little toasts” and they’re simply slices of toasted bread garnished with any number of toppings.

They’re cocktail party-friendly appetizers in that they’re finger-food and they lend themselves to a panoply of toppings, allowing an endless scope of flavors and seasonal accoutrements.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of crostini, I should differentiate between crostini and bruschetta.

Both are Italian appetizers, or antipasti, meaning “before the meal,” designed to stimulate the appetite before tackling the main meal. The difference is in the bread.

Bruschetta (pronounced with a hard “k”) comes from the Italian “bruscare,” meaning to “roast over coals.” It is, traditionally, a thick slice of rustic Italian or sourdough bread, typically grilled to achieve a nice char.

The bread is then rubbed with a clove of garlic, showered in a full-flavored extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with flaky salt.

On the other hand, crostini is made from smaller, finer-textured, thinly sliced bread, like a baguette. It is generally eaten with a topping or spread and is usually toasted in the oven.

For my crostini, I turned to The Fresh Market for both the baguettes and the toppings. With crostini, the sky’s the limit. My only problem was narrowing down the endless possibilities. There are so many different combinations of flavors, it was hard, but I have selected a quintet of delectable crostini preparations for you I know you’ll enjoy.

To prepare crostini, I cut Fresh Market baguettes into ½-inch slices, lightly brushed both sides with a favorite extra virgin olive oil, and baked them in a 350° oven for 7-8 minutes. You want the toasts slightly soft and “springy” in the center. Let the toasts cool. This is the basic crostini preparation for each of the recipes that follows.

Smoked Salmon Crostini

Crostini, prepared
1 package, prepared smoked salmon from the seafood department at The Fresh Market
Cream cheese, softened
Cucumber, thinly sliced
Red onion, diced
Scallions, sliced
Fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper

For each crostini, lightly schmear on some cream cheese and top with a thin slice of cucumber. (I lightly peel the cucumber, leaving bits of darker green for color.) Cover with a slice of salmon and top with diced red onion, sliced scallions, and fresh dill. Sprinkle a few capers over and give it a good grinding of black pepper.

Pesto Crostini

For the pesto, I always have basil pesto tucked away in my freezer from what I call my “Hurricane Harvest.” That’s when I go out to the garden right before a hurricane and pick all the leaves off my basil plants and make a huge batch of pesto, freeze it in ice cube trays, then pop the cubes into freezer bags for use throughout the upcoming months. If you don’t have this luxury, The Fresh Market offers numerous types of jarred pesto you can use.

1 dozen crostini
½ cup cream cheese, softened
½ cup blue cheese
¾ cup pesto
Sundried tomatoes, chopped
Fresh basil

Combine softened cream cheese and blue cheese until well mixed. I prefer a full-bodied blue cheese, but for those who say, “I don’t like blue cheese,” let me suggest your using Cambozola, available in the Fresh Market deli. Cambozola is a combination of a French Camembert and an Italian Gorganzola. Consider it the “bunny slope” of blues – the “gateway” blue cheese.

As for the sundried tomatoes, there are two types – packaged hard, dried tomatoes and jarred tomatoes packed in oil. For the dried tomatoes, I pour boiling water over them, cover them, and let them soften for about 20 minutes. Blot dry before using. For the oil-packed tomatoes, rinse the oil off in running water and blot dry.

For each crostini, spread a heaping tablespoon of the cheese mixture on each slice and add a dollop of pesto. Place sundried tomatoes on top and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Roasted Red Grape Crostini

For the grapes:
1 cup seedless red grapes, sliced
1 TB balsamic vinegar
1 TB extra virgin olive oil
1 TB brown sugar
Pinch kosher salt

Mix together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and brown sugar and a pinch of kosher salt. Toss with grape slices and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes. Let cool.

For the candied walnuts:
½ cup walnuts
1 TB unsalted butter
1 TB brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
Pinch of kosher salt

Melt the butter and brown sugar in a small sauce pan over medium low heat. Add in the walnuts and give them a dusting of cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cook about 2 minutes, or until the walnuts are sticky and fragrant. Let cool. Crumble nuts.

For the crostini:
1 dozen crostini
1 small package goat cheese (about 1 cup)
Fresh rosemary

Spread softened goat cheese in a thin layer over the toasts. Top with roasted grapes and toasted walnuts. Drizzle remaining grape “sauce” over crostini. Sprinkle rosemary “needles” on top.

Roast Beef And Pomegranate Crostini
1 dozen crostini
¼ lb. thinly sliced rare roast beef, preferably tenderloin
1 pomegranate

To prepare the pomegranate, slice it in half. Take a wooden spoon and spank each half into a sieve over a small bowl. Let the arils (seeds) fall into the sieve and the juices drain into the bowl. Discard the spongy, white membrane. Reserve juices and arils.

Pomegranate Reduction:
¼ cup pomegranate juice
¼ cup dry red wine
1 TB brown sugar
1 TB balsamic vinegar
2 TB unsalted butter (I prefer Plugrá butter, only from Fresh Market)
To prepare the reduction, combine the pomegranate juice, wine, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan. Cook over very low heat until mixture is reduced by half. I stick a wooden skewer in and mark it to determine the level. Stir in the butter until melted and remove from heat.

Rosie Note: Whenever I make a reduction, I set my sauce pan in a small cast iron pan to diffuse the heat. A reduction takes a while and unless you’re standing over the pan and watching the entire time, a reduction can go south and burn in a heartbeat. The iron pan helps you avoid that. The diffusion gives you a bit of “wiggle-room.”

Horseradish Sauce:
2 TB sour cream
1-2 TB horseradish, to taste
1 tsp Gray Poupon Dijon mustard
Combine all ingredients, to taste.

Spread horseradish sauce on the crostini. Place a few slices of roast beef on top. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of the pomegranate reduction over the meat and sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top.

Oyster Crostini

1 dozen crostini
1 dozen shucked oysters, liquor reserved
½ stick unsalted butter
1 TB minced shallots
1 TB white wine
1 TB lemon juice
1 TB Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce
Freshly ground pepper
Tabasco or Texas Pete
Fresh parsley, chopped

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add shallots and cook for about a minute, stirring. Stir in wine, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce. Add in oysters and liquor and just heat through until oysters are plump. Remove from heat. Ladle an oyster and some juice on each toast and top with a grinding of pepper, a few drops of hot sauce, and a sprinkling of parsley.

These are just a few ideas to get you started in the right direction. The rest is up to you. Sweet or savory?

Here are some more crostini ideas for starting points:

  • Melon slices with prosciutto
  • Sautéed mushrooms with caramelized onions, roasted garlic, and Gruyère cheese
  • Apples or pears with toasted nuts and blue cheese or Chèvre cheese
  • Figs with honey and rosemary
  • Deli meats with pepperoncino, roasted red pepper, and fresh mozzarella
  • Shrimp, black olives, and feta cheese with Italian dressing
  • Heirloom tomatoes, garlic, red onions, and fresh mozzarella with balsamic vinegar and fresh herbs
  • Roasted cherries, goat cheese, and thyme
  • Cucumber, radish, lemon, and feta

I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Consider crostini a blank canvas and you’re the artist. Go paint!

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