crostini: the toast with the most

bread.  let’s all be honest with ourselves, it’s just downright amazing.

just to quickly clear up any misinterpretations, when i say the word “bread,” i mean magical foods like challah, french bread, italian bread, pumpernickel, rye bread, pita, and even our unleavened friend matzah.  what i don’t mean is the nasty highly processed white bread that sticks to the roof of your mouth when you make a sandwich out of it.  are we all on the same page?  ok, let’s continue.

the invention of bread gave humanity all kinds of stuff.  it gave us sandwiches (arguably one of mankind’s most versatile and transportable foods), croutons, bread bowls, french onion soup, and a boat load of other things which make my life wonderful.  some historians even think bread was the innovation that inspired beer (although other historians believe exactly the opposite, namely that beer, as one of the oldest beverages known to man, was the inspiration for bread).

but let’s address the elephant in the room.

toast.  if toast was a liquid, i would bathe in it.  if it weren’t so darn crispy and scratchy, i would probably try to make an overcoat or some cool article of clothing out of it.  maybe a hat.  yes, i like toast that much.

roughly torn chunks of french bread, once toasted to perfection, accentuate the majesty of the already incredible fried egg.  toasted pumpernickel bread, raw garlic, and pickles have been the backbone of the russian diet for well over 100 years.  what would french onion soup be without a disk of toast slathered in cheese?  it would be run of the mill onion soup, that’s what.  i could go on, but i won’t, because i want to talk about the crostini.

the sweet, sweet crostini.

picture a super thin disk of toast.  then picture a smattering of two or three high quality delicious ingredients delicately nestled atop the aforementioned toast disk.  sound simple?  that is because it is.  but as our good friend lord polonius said, “brevity is the soul of wit.”

smoked chicken, shiitake, and pesto crostini

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  1. make yourself some shiso pesto.  don’t know how?  don’t worry, i got your back.  check out this page.
  2. slice the bread.  remember, a crostini is typically made from a baguette of some kind so you can maintain that beautiful plate-like disk.  i like to slice at a diagonal to maximize the surface area and give a little bit more of slender, elegant look to my appetizers.  slice as thin as you possibly can.  the goal is to make a slice thin enough that it can be consumed without tearing at, but thick enough that it doesn’t burn up in the oven.  give them a quick toast on high temperature, maybe only two or three minutes.  be careful, make sure to watch them while they are in the oven.
  3. get yourself some smoked chicken.  i tend to make my own, which is what i used in this recipe.  the chicken was brined in a mixture of curry spices and beer and then apple smoked over a long period of time.  you can read more about that here.
  4. wash the shiitake, remove their stems, and slice them good and thin.  pop them in a frying pan with a little bit of oil over medium heat.  as they start to brown and soften, add a little bit of thyme, salt, and pepper.  that should be all they need.  make sure not to overcook them or they will be slimy and textureless.
  5. assemble.  slice the chicken and pile it on first.  then add the mushrooms.  finally, slather the whole ordeal with some of that tasty, tasty shiso pesto.

 red bell pepper, pork shoulder, fried garlic, and béchamel crostini

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  1. whip yourself up a little batch of béchamel sauce.  if you don’t feel like working that hard, you can always substitute store-bought alfredo or cream sauce.  but remember, homemade sauce is almost always better quality and allows you to exercise more control over the flavor profile of your dish.  just something to keep in mind.
  2. slice and toast the bread just like mentioned above.
  3. you don’t necessarily have to use pork shoulder.  almost any pork that is thinly sliced will do the job well.  the goal is to add a little bit of crispness to the dish, so bacon, ham, or shoulder will suffice.
  4. core the red bell pepper.  the best way to do this is to cut off both the top and bottom of the pepper, then run the knife down the veins of the interior.  the core should just pull right out when you are done, and all those pesky seeds with it.  cut the pepper in half, and then cut each half into as thin slices as you possibly can.
  5. add a tablespoon or so of oil to a frying pan and get it nice and hot over medium high heat.  peel about six cloves of garlic and slice them.  the slices don’t need to be paper thin, so don’t worry too much about it.  once the oil is hot, add them in and make sure they are evenly distributed across the surface of the pan (i.e. not are sitting on top of one another).  once you start to see a little browning, stir the garlic for a few seconds, doing your best to make sure the browned side is up of each piece.  give them a few more seconds, and take them from the pan onto a paper towel.  the result will be slightly smoky, deliciously crispy garlic chips.
  6. assemble.  add some crispy pork to each piece of toast, followed by red bell pepper, a few chips of fried garlic, and finally a drizzle of hot béchamel sauce.

 fresh onion, smoked salmon, and avocado crostini

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  1. slice and toast the bread just like mentioned above.
  2. cut the ends off of an onion and remove the peel.  cut the onion in half and remove the core (especially if it looks green or yellow).  place the flat side on the cutting board and cut slices thin enough to be transparent.
  3. split the avocado.  whack the blade of your knife into the pit and give a quick twist in one direction and it should come out without damaging the flesh at all.  remove the skin from the avocado and cut diagonally into the flesh to create nice, thin, long slices.
  4. remove your smoked salmon from its packaging.  do your best not to use canned smoked salmon, mainly because its grainy texture leaves something to be desired.  dry smoked and wet smoked salmon are both ok, but for this particular you should be looking for something akin to lox.
  5. assemble.  add avocado, smoked salmon, and onion in that order to the disks of toast.

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