The idea to serve crostini at a party we threw recently came from this LA Times article.
It’s is a nice read. Journalist Russ Parsons takes us away to Lago Trasimeno in Umbria, one of our favorite regions. As we read, we imagine ourselves right there with him at the frantoio, where extra virgin oil is pressed out of the nuts of freshly harvested olives.
Just like Russ, in our minds we also drizzle the new oil onto crusty bread that has been toasted over an open fire. (Actually, in the article the bread is toasted in a “beat up electric toaster oven. What?? Any self-respecting frantoio must have an open word-burning fireplace to toast bread in, so we chose to alter this detail in our mental vacation.) A little sea salt sprinkled on top, and this, dear readers, is the holy grail of bruschette.
Before we write any further, let’s take a moment to clarify a few things about bruschette. Complimenti, Mr. Parsons, for doing the same in your article.
First, Italian nouns have genders, and those that end with an “a” are feminine. To make a feminine noun plural, change the final “a” to an “e”. Therefore, bruschetta is singular, and bruschette is plural. You can make “a bruschetta” or “a few bruschette.” “Two bruschettas,” though, strikes a bad chord.
Second, the “ch” sound in Italian is the same as the “k” sound in English. It’s actually a little more complicated than that, but for today, that rule will suffice. So, all of you who have been pronouncing bruschetta as “broo-shetta,” and you are in good company, have some re-learning to do. The correct pronunciation is “broo-sketta.”
Just replacing the “sh” sound with a “k” sound is a significant improvement. However, the over-achievers among you may wish to also try lightly rolling your “r,” making the “e” sound more like “ay”, and hanging a little longer on the double “t.” “Broo-SKAY-tta.” Click here to listen to an authentic pronunciation of bruschetta.
Okay. We now have all of that sorted out. However, we are not actually going to talk about bruschette today. We’re going to talk about crostini, instead.
You see, there are really only two authentic versions of a bruschetta – toasted bread rubbed with garlic with olive oil and sea salt on top, and toasted bread rubbed with garlic with olive oil, sea salt, chopped tomatoes and basil on top. Any other version of toasted bread with something on top is better identified as a crostino.
Crostino: singular masculine noun. To make a masculine noun plural, change the “o” to an “i.” Singular, crostino. Plural, crostini. Pitfall to avoid: don’t ask for “a crostini.” Ask instead for “a crostino” or “some crostini.” You’re picking up on this now, aren’t you?
So, back to the party. Sometimes we have fun serving our guests elaborate, multi-course meals, each course paired with the perfect wine. At this party, though, we wanted our guests to mingle and visit with each other, stopping by the dining room to fill up their plates with antipasti and stuzzichini and coming back for more whenever they ran out.
At the center of the spread were crostini assortiti – a towering mountain of crusty bread surrounded by savory spreads, all based on vegetables and legumes, differing in color, texture and flavor. It’s a colorful, tasty and easy to serve option for parties.
Cannellini and garlic spread
Puree one can of cannellini beans, well-drained and rinsed, in a food processor with 1/2 clove of garlic, 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, and a few dashes of freshly ground black pepper.
Puree 2 cups of pitted kalamata olives in a food processor with 1/2 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon capers and 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Halve and clean 2 red and 2 yellow peppers. Place flat down on a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and roast in the oven at 425° for 30 minutes, or until the skin blackens and lifts up from the peppers. Let cool, and then remove the skin from the peppers. Cut the peppers into 1″ pieces, and set aside. Sauté 1/4 cup diced onions and half a pint of halved cherry tomatoes in 3 tablespoons olive oil. As the cherry tomatoes soften, press them flat with the back of a fork, and remove the skin. When the tomatoes are soft and the onion translucent, add the peppers and 1/4 cup dry white wine. Salt to taste, and let simmer until the wine cooks off.
Peel one medium eggplant. Slice it in half lengthwise, and then slice each half lengthwise again to make quarters. Remove any heavily seeded parts. Cut into 1/2″ slices. Coat a baking tray with olive oil, and place the eggplant on top of the tray. Drizzle more olive oil over the eggplant, and salt liberally. Roast in the oven at 425° for 5 minutes. Remove, and using a spatula turn the eggplant. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, and then take out and let cool. Puree half a pint of cherry tomatoes, 1 cup pitted kalamata olives, 1 tablespoon capers, and the eggplant into a food processor.
Greens sauteed with garlic, red pepper and olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Wash one bunch of mustard or turnip greens and remove the thick parts of the stems. When the water boils, toss a handful of coarse salt into the pot, and add the greens. Boil until tender, approximately 8-10 minutes, and drain. Sauté 2 tablespoons olive oil, two cloves of garlic diced into small pieces, and a bit of crushed red pepper in a skillet for 2-3 minutes until the garlic is golden brown. Add the greens and 2-3 spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Simmer for 5 more minutes.