This weekend my family will celebrate a most momentous occasion, that being my parent’s 60th wedding anniversary. They were of course, the Ward and June Cleaver of Havertown, Pennsylvania. (A 1960′s cultural reference only old people will get, young people, you can google it.) I’ve always said that they make marriage look fun, in fact, they’re totally “adorbs!” (Younger generation cultural reference.) So, what does this have to do with crostini you ask? We’ll be serving these tasty hors d’ oeuvres at our upcoming gathering.
What I love about these appetizers is that they are the perfect “marriage” of different tastes and textures. Did you like the way I segued into that, huh. Anyway, you’ve got your crunch from the toasted bread and walnuts, paired with the saltiness of the prosciutto, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the sweetness of the fig and balsamic all in one perfect little bite. Actually, it’s probably two-bites, but who’s counting.
Fig & Prosciutto Crostini
- 12 fresh figs – Black Mission or Brown Turkey varieties
- 1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto
- 1/2 cup baby arugula
- 1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped small
- 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- French baguette sliced into 24, 1/2″ slices
For the Balsamic Reduction: Pour the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar into a small but heavy saucepan and bring to a steady simmer. Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, allow the mixture to simmer until it begins to thicken and become syrupy. Then, pour it into a small bowl and let it cool. Set aside.
Place the walnuts that have been chopped into small pieces into a small frying pan and over medium heat stir constantly until the nuts become fragrant and their natural oils are released. Keep your eye on them as they can burn quite quickly. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Snip the stem off of the figs, and then cut them in half. Slice the prosciutto into slices that will fit the size of the crostini. Slice the baguette into 24 – 1/2″ slices and place on a baking sheet. Once you’ve gathered all your ingredients together, place the bread slices into a 400 degree F oven and toast bread until it becomes golden on the edges. Then remove.
Top each bread slice with a piece of prosciutto, a piece of the arugula, a fig slice, then a few goat cheese crumbles and walnuts. Drizzle the crostini with the balsamic reduction and serve!
Makes 24 individual crostini
Have all your ingredients prepared and in little bowls so when the bread comes out of the oven, you can make the crostini assembly-line style and serve while the bread is still warm.
In case you were wondering, figs are an excellent source of dietary fiber. I eat them by the boatloads.
So, I’ve told you that son #1 is a professional chef, and the guy works all the time. Being in the restaurant business he never has a weekend off, and I suppose that just goes with the territory. Lucky for him he really loves his job. He did however have off the other day and decided to invite his buddies over to watch some football. They were just going to order some pizzas and drink beer, typical guy stuff. Now me, being the hovering mother that I am, felt it necessary to offer these guys a healthy snack. They’re grown men actually, and I probably should have just minded my own business, but I just couldn’t help myself.
I decided to make these zucchini fries for them. I think they’re the perfect snack for sitting around and watching football, all crispy and crunchy. It was just kind of funny when I walked into the family room holding a tray of these and said”hey guys, how about some zucchini!”, they all just looked up at me with this look on their faces like, yay, zucchini…
However, when I returned about an hour later, the tray was empty. Mom’s always right. I’m just sayin’…
- 1 1/2 pounds zucchini, trimmed
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Kosher salt
- ground black pepper
- 3 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups panko or plain breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the oven racks in the lower third and center of the oven. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Cut the zucchini into french fry size sticks about 3″ long.
- Arrange 3 shallow bowls or pie plates in a row. In the first bowl, whisk together the flour, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. In the second bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper. In the third bowl, combine the panko, parmesan and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
- Working in batches, first dip the zucchini in the flour, shaking of the excess. Transfer to the egg mixture and toss until coated. Let the excess egg run off, then coat the zucchini in the panko mixture.
- Arrange zucchini, without crowding, in a single layer on the prepared pans. Bake for 15 minutes and then rotate the pans. Continue baking until panko coating is golden and crisp, 7-12 minutes more.
- Serve right from the oven.
Food is a fun part of my life, but having friends to share it with is what really matters. Everyone has commitments, family responsibilities and jobs, so it’s rare that we can get the girls together for a few days all at the same time. However, we managed to do that at my friend’s house up in Santa Barbara the other day.
For our first night in Santa Barbara we decided to stay in and make a home-cooked meal. Earlier in the afternoon we had walked up to the farmer’s market on State Street in downtown, and purchased fresh produce for that evenings dinner. We literally spent hours perusing the vendor’s booths, marvelling at the beautiful array of fresh vegetables, artisanal breads and home-baked fruit pies. Everyone had a job to do in preparing the meal which really made this effort a good time. My friend Joni, who had her own restaurant in Palm Springs and has run many other high-profile restaurants in the past, was serving us her Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta.
The fresh ciabatta was perfectly grilled, and the heirloom tomatoes which had probably been picked that morning were full of flavor. I loved the dish so much, I decided to share it with you.
Joni’s Heirloom Tomato Bruschetta
5-6 medium to large Heirloom tomatoes cut in large dice*
handful of fresh basil leaves chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
fine sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
fresh Ciabatta loaf
olive oil for grilling
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Dress with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
Allow the tomato mixture to sit at room temperature while grilling the ciabatta.
Cut the Ciabatta into 1″ thick slices. Lightly brush each side with olive oil and grill until well toasted on both sides.
*A serrated knife works best when slicing tomatoes.
All I could hear out in the middle of the Pacific, was the rhythmic sound of the water slapping the side of the boat. My surroundings seemed so muted. No cell phones ringing, no car horns honking, only the occasional squawking of a sea-gull looking for it’s next meal. The sky was pale, the sea appeared gray and the white sails of the others boats almost disappeared against the sky. We were just a mile off shore, but a world away from that whirling dervish they call Los Angeles. Rodolfo was the skipper of the boat, and my husband Neil and Rodolfo’s wife Sonia were in charge of operating the ropes that controlled the sails. My job, lunch of course.
I got up early in the morning because I wanted to bake fresh French bread for the sandwiches that I was making for our 4th of July sea adventure. For me, the bread is the key to a tasty sandwich. I thought back to the sandwiches we had had in tiny cafes in Europe and my favorite was always the Serrano ham. This is a dry-cured Spanish ham, and I love it’s salty, buttery flavor. I added to it Manchego cheese which is a firm, Spanish cheese made from sheep’s milk. I spread fig jam on the bread, and finished it off with arugula and thinly sliced red onion. The layering of these flavors set off fireworks in my mouth! It was a happy July 4th.
Serrano Ham Sandwich
crispy French baguettes
thinly sliced Serrano ham
sliced Manchego cheese
fig jam (at most upscale markets)
red onion (sliced thin on mandoline)
I usually have a baguette or two left over, so the next day we had Serrano ham crostini. I sliced the day-old bread about an inch thick, brushed it with olive oil and placed it on the grill for a few minutes. This makes a great appetizer.
I married a New Yorker and for 26 years I’ve been listening to his claims that one can only get good pizza in New York City. And I will say, there is some truth to that statement. I personally vote for the pizza at Mack & Manco on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. Whenever I go back to the Jersey shore, I make it a point to make a pit stop there and indulge my need for cheese and dough. Nothing is quite as nostalgic as salt air and fresh, hot, tomatoey pizza. So, in my mind pizza dough was something mere mortals like myself could never recreate. Would I be brazen enough to attempt such a feat. I think so. I’ve done everything else with dough, why not pizza. I’m here to tell you that pizza is now a permanent feature in my repertoire.
I’ve had the pizza at several of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants, and I love it. Especially the dough. So, when I decided to try my hand at making homemade pizza I went to one of his recipes. It’s really very easy to make, if you make it with love. There’s somewhat of a time commitment with the two risings, but you can bake some off now, and wrap the rest up to bake off the next day. The truth is, I like my homemade pizza so much, I never order delivery pizza anymore.
My kids like their pizza with marinara sauce on it, but I like to brush my dough with a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic and red pepper flakes because it let’s the other ingredients you place on it shine through. This particular pizza uses pancetta (an Italian bacon, and what’s not good with bacon on it), Fontina, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, and sliced Shitake and Baby Bella mushrooms. It’s really a very tasty combination.
My suggestion to anyone deciding to make their own pizza at home is to purchase a pizza stone if you don’t already have one. It makes an absolute difference in the final product. The pizza stone makes the crust incredibly crispy and there is your key to a successful pizza. You can pick one up at Target starting at about $15.00 or any cooking supply store. In the recipe below I say you can use a cookie sheet with parchment, but if you have a pizza stone then that’s what you should use.
From Wolfgang Puck, “Pizza, Pasta & More”
Makes 4 small pizzas
1 package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
1 cup warm water 105 to 115 degrees F
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and honey in 1/4 cup warm water.
In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. Add the oil, the yeast mixture, and the remaining 3/4 cup of warm water and process until the mixture forms a ball. The dough can also be made in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on low-speed until the mixture comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead by hand 2 or 3 minutes longer. The dough should be smooth and firm. Cover the dough with a clean, damp towel and let it rise in a cool spot for about 2 hours.
Divide the dough into 4 balls. Work each ball by pulling down the sides and tucking under the bottom of the ball. Repeat 4 or 5 times. Then on a smooth, unfloured surface, roll the ball under the palm of your hand until the top of the dough is smooth and firm, about 1 minute. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest 1 hour. At this point, the balls of dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
I make 4 small pizzas, but you can make 2 larger ones if your oven will accommodate the larger size.
For 1 Pancetta, Mushroom, Cheese Pizza
1/4 olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Baby Bella (crimini) and Shitake mushrooms thinly sliced
4-5 slices (very thin) of pancetta
In a small bowl, mix the olive oil, red pepper flakes and minced garlic together and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
I roll out my dough into a rectangle, or you can do a circular shape. Transfer the dough to the baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the surface of the dough with the oil mixture leaving a 1/2″ border. Sprinkle the cheeses over the dough, the mushrooms, then lay the pancetta slices on top.
Bake the pizzas until the crust is a nice golden brown and all the cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.
When I was in culinary school, we were having a class on wine tasting and Chef had asked each student to bring in an appetizer to pair with a wine. I made these scallop cakes, and I served them as a slider on a lightly toasted mini bun, topped with a chili-lime aioli and a smidgen of tomato concasse (Kon-Kah-SAY, sounds fancy, but it’s a diced tomato that’s been peeled and seeded. It was a nice touch, anyway). Well, the cakes were gone in sixty seconds. It’s my go-to appetizer whenever I’m asked to bring something to a gathering.
The panko crumbs give them a nice crispy crunch on the outside, while the inside bursts with the combination of the curry and the sweet butteriness of the scallop. My little tip is, when I’m forming the cakes, I take a 2 1/4 inch cookie cutter and press the scallop mixture into it. By compressing the mixture, the cake won’t fall apart when you fry it. It also insures that all your cakes will be the same size. However, if you don’t have a cookie cutter, you can still roll them into balls and then flatten them with the palm of your hand.
To insure total scallop yumminess, don’t chop the scallops too finely. When you take a bite of one of these cakes, you want that taste of the scallop to be prominent. And, just to kick the dish up a-notch, I found scallop shells at Cost Plus to serve them on. Perfection!
Curried Scallop Cakes
Makes about 30 cakes
1 1/2 pounds fresh sea scallops cut into 1/4 inch pieces or gently pulsed in food processor
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3 large egg yolks
3 scallions, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons dry mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons curry powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 1/2 cups panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Mix first 9 ingredients and 1 1/2 cups of panko in a large bowl to blend. Cover mixture and refrigerate 1 hour.
Place remaining 2 cups panko on large plate. Take one heaping table spoon of scallop mixture and roll it into a ball and coat completely in the panko crumbs. Then, if you have a cookie cutter or ring mold, press it into the mold to form a round cake.
Heat enough vegetable oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat to come 1/4 inch up sides of pan.
Working in batches, saute scallop cakes until golden and cooked through. Transfer scallop cakes to paper towels to drain.
These can be made 4 hours ahead. Cool, then cover and refrigerate. Reheat on baking sheet in 350 degree oven for 8 minutes. They also freeze well. I place them in an airtight container, and then reheat in a 350 degree oven until heated through.