Canapé Bread

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Many years ago in the United States, there was a cooking company that was built on having a hostess sponsor a party in her home, and a representative of the company would demonstrate all of its kitchen gadgets. It was one of those parties that you felt obligated to go to, and also buy something, because your friend was having the party. Even if you’d just been to one the week before!

So for the few years that this company was popular, I collected quite a few gadgets. (I don’t remember the name of this company, and I don’t know if they’re still around.)

Something I did purchase were canapé molds. I thought they were pretty cool. I purchased 2 flower-shaped molds, 2 star-shaped, and 2 heart-shaped. I used the star breads for a New Year’s party once and they were so pretty!

Here are the flower molds I’m using today:

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Essentially, you bake a yeasted dough inside these molds, and slice the breads to use for canapés.

Recently I was asked to be part of a special event, and I wanted my contribution to be unique. So I decided to practice with these molds since it had been such a long time since I’d used them for caterin. Fortunately, after a little digging, I discovered the recipe that was created for these molds, although the recipe is for 3 and I only had two of the same flower-shape.

I wanted to use the recipe because I remember once I made my own bread dough and filled the molds up too much, and there was a lot of bread overflow in the oven. I think I even remember some flames.

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Here is the recipe:

Canapé Bread

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So here’s what I did. If you need a more involved tutorial on baking bread, there is a recipe with many more photos here.

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the warm water. I keep my yeast in the freezer, and it lasts for years.

Once the yeast has dissolved, give the mixture a stir, then let the bowl sit in a warm place for about 5 minutes. The yeast will cause the mixture to rise and bubble.

Heat the milk and butter together until the butter has melted and the mixture is warm. Pour it in to the yeast mixture.

Begin adding flour 2 cups of flour. I typically keep the dough moist for the first rise. Cover the bowl, and after 1 1/2 hours, the dough will look like the second photo.

Add a generous amount of flour to your work surface and remove the dough from the bowl. It will be very soft. Carefully work flour in to the dough as you’re kneading it.

After about 5 minutes of kneading, the dough will be nice and smooth.

Add a little oil to a clean bowl, place the dough in the bowl top-first, then turn over. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rise for about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in to 3 parts, and gently roll each part lengthwise.

Place the dough into a greased mold. Place the lid on the molds and place them horizontally in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees meanwhile. Then bake the molds for 10 minutes, and lower the heat to 375 degrees. Continue baking for about 25 minutes, then remove the molds from the oven.

Let them sit for 10 minutes, then remove the lids. The photo on the right shows what the bread looked like after I removed it from the oven, the photo on the left shows the bread with the “heel” sliced.

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Remove the breads from the molds and let them cool. Then slice and serve.

I served them with my faux Boursin spread.

Alternative, you can place the sliced breads on a cookie sheet, brush them with oil, and toast them in the oven first before serving. This makes them firmer and easier to spread.

Either way, they add something special to a party spread.

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Now, it does take a little effort to make these, especially for me because I only have 2 matching molds, but I think it’s worth it. If you don’t own molds like these, you can always use cookie cutters and cut shapes out of sliced bread.

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Roasted Okra

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Quite a few years ago, I was at a girlfriend’s beautiful loft for dinner, and for someone who doesn’t really love cooking, she had really put out an impressive spread of hors d’oeuvres.

Among those hors d’oeuvres were roasted okra. I was a bit hesitant at first. I’d only had okra in Creole dishes, and there is this dog slobber-type slime that I had previously associated with okra. But I’m glad I tried them!

Not only did I immediately become addicted to these roasted okra, I found out that they were made from frozen okra! Wow.

So I had to make them myself. They’re so easy, and only take a little bit of time for the thawing process. Other than that, all you’ll need is an oven.

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Roasted Okra

1 or 2 1-pound packages frozen whole okra
Olive oil
Salt or seasoning salt

Starting the day before, thaw the bag of frozen okra in the refrigerator overnight.

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The next morning, place the okra in a large colander. Give them a little rinse, then let them drain for at least 4 hours.

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Place the okra on paper towels and let them “dry” up. There should be no very little “wetness” left to them.

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Preheat the oven to a roast position, or to at least 400 degrees Farenheit. Place the okra in a large roasting pan or jelly roll pan, making sure there’s not too much overlap. Drizzle on olive oil, and season with salt or your favorite seasoning salt. I used a favorite spice blend that my girlfriend Gabriella brings me from Trader Joe’s.

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Roast the okra for about 20-25 minutes, tossing them once during the process. They should be roasted on all sides.

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Cook longer if there’s not sufficient browning. The roasting time depends on how full of water they are. Turn out the okra onto a serving platter.

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You might want to add a fun coarse salt to them as well, but taste them first to test the saltiness.

I made a little Sriracha mayo for dipping, but they’re wonderful just by themselves. Or there’s truffle aioli…

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Be careful. They seriously are addicting!

And not slimy.

Pork Rillettes

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Pork rillettes probably sound fancy, but really they’re the opposite of fancy. Their presentation is rustic, and flavor subtle. But they’re fabulous!

You serve rillettes the same way you serve a pâté or terrine, with good bread, olives and cornichons. It’s especially good as part of a cheese platter.

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But the difference between pork rillettes and pâtés or terrines is that there is no liver included. It’s just pork.

I typically make rillettes in the fall, but after visiting Stéphane in France last May, he served my girlfriend and I goose rillettes not once but twice! I think we begged for them the second time! So I thought it might be okay for me to make them now, in July. Not that I’d serve them outside in 100 degree weather.

Another motivation to make rillettes was that this same girlfriend who went to France with me was going to be visiting me over an upcoming weekend, and I thought it would be a surprise to serve them to her! Just for the memories. If I could only get the same good bread…

Rillettes are sometimes called potted rillettes because it’s traditional to store them in little pots or jars or terrine molds for a prettier presentation.

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Pork Rillettes

1 pork butt, about 7 pounds, bone included
Black pepper
Seasoning salt
1 onion, quartered
Baby carrots
Celery, chopped
1 leek, quartered
1 head of garlic, halved
4-5 bay leaves
A bunch of parsley
Fresh rosemary branches
Fresh thyme branches
Handful of peppercorns
A few whole cloves

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Season all sides of the pork with pepper and your favorite seasoning salt. Place the pork butt in the bottom of a large and deep pot.

Add the remaining ingredients. Then cover the pork with water, at least 1″ above the pork.

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Bring the water in the pot to a boil on the stove. Cover the pot tightly with a lid, then place the pot in the oven and bake for the pork for 6 hours.

Halfway through cooking, turn over the pork, carefully, to ensure it cooks evenly.

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Remove the pot from the oven, remove the lid, and let everything cool.

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Carefully remove the pork from the broth using large forks and place in a bowl. Then strain the broth and reserve. It makes a lovely base for a soup or a stew.

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After cooling completely, place the tender pork and in a bowl of a stand mixer. I got the idea to use a stand mixer to shred the pork from the book, “Charcuterie” by Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn. Also include some of the pork fat; it adds flavor and texture. Keep the broth on hand in case you need a little.

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Taste the pork and the broth and season if necessary. I added some dried thyme, some salt, and some ground allspice to my pork. The seasoning shouldn’t jump out at you. It’s more subtle, highlighting the pork’s flavor.

Slowly start the mixer at a low speed. Add a little broth if necessary. You don’t want the meat watery, but the broth keeps the meat from being dry.

Try some rillettes on a little toast or cracker to test it. That way, you can season again if necessary, and also adjust the fat and broth amounts. Continue mixing until it’s the perfect texture. It took less than a minute for me to get the desired texture.
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Place the rillettes in clean jars, patting them down to remove major air holes. Then cover the rillettes with melted duck fat or butter.

I actually used some duck fat that I’d saved from when I made duck confit, which is why it looks darker than normal. The fat is really just used to preserve the meat in the jars, although the refrigerator will do the trick.

Any leftover rillettes can be frozen. Make sure to use a clean jars and lids.

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Serve the pork rillettes with bread, toasts, or crackers, alongside a good mustard, olives, and some cornichons. Make sure the rillettes are at room temperature first so they are spreadable!

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Stéphane served fresh garlic with the rillettes to rub on the bread first.

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Rillettes are kind of the ugly step-sister to a pâté or fancy terrine, but you’ll not care once you try them!

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note: You don’t have to turn all 7 pounds of pork into rillettes, unless you’re feeding an army. Any pork left over makes fabulous rillettes, with great flavor!!!

Strawberry Vanilla Neufchâtel

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A while back I posted on making your own Chocolate Neufchâtel – a chocolate cream cheese spread. My initial reason for making the chocolate version from scratch many years ago was because the chocolate neufchatel I purchased once was terribly expensive.

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I haven’t seen it around anymore, although I spotted a variety on IGourmet.com this morning. It’s made by Westfield Farm, and it’s purely a chocolate-flavored goat cheese. Pure bliss!

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In any case, chocolate neufchâtel is wonderful to serve for something slightly sweet on a table of hors d’oeuvres, as is this strawberry version. I use the name neufchâtel only because it sounds nicer than cream cheese. They’re both firm and creamy, although American cream cheese also contains cream; the taste difference is negligible.

I had a little leftover jam from when I used my new jam and jelly maker last week, and decided to use it to make the strawberry cream cheese. I could have also added some goat cheese for a little zing, like I did with my chocolate version, but today’s will be only cream cheese.

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Besides being delicious, strawberry cream cheese/neufchâtel is very pretty, especially in the spring and summer for parties and showers. You can make a very similar strawberry cream cheese with sweetened fresh strawberries, but today I’m simply using the jam I made, a strawberry vanilla jam. It’s so simple.

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Strawberry  Vanilla  Neufchâtel

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup strawberry jam

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl and add the jam.

Blend the ingredients together until they’re smooth.

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Today I’m going to make the cream cheese into a log form, so I let the mixture chill for about 1 hour in the refrigerator.

Place a piece of plastic wrap on a counter, and plop the strawberry cream cheese onto the plastic. Working carefully, with your fingers underneath the plastic wrap, carefully form the cream cheese into a log shape, wrapping it in the plastic at the same time. If it’s not working properly, you probably need to chill the cheese more.

When ready to serve, unwrap the cheese and place on a serving platter. The plastic should come off easily; the butter helps with that step.

Let the log warm to room temperature before actually serving. Serve with water crackers or crisps or bread.

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As you can see, it’s very spreadable.

You could sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, toasted walnuts, candied pecans, or pearl sugar. Or, if you wish, you could also add a little more of the jam on top.

But I really like it as is, with just the slight sweetness of the strawberries!

note: Taste the cream cheese when you’re making it, because the flavor of the resulting spread, no matter what shape you form it in, will taste the same. If you want more sweetness, add some sieved powdered sugar. Don’t go crazy with adding the jam; in fact, I wouldn’t use any more of the jam to cream cheese and butter ratio than I did. Otherwise you run the risk of the cream cheese not firming up. Jam doesn’t firm up – cream cheese and butter do!

Baked Mozzarella

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If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love baked brie – of any kind. I’ve posted on two savority varieties, my tomatillo-sauce topped baked brie and a baked brie with sautéed mushrooms.

So this recipe, although not about brie, really caught my attention. First, it is all about hot cheese. Secondly, the topping is very different than anything I’ve ever seen, which made making this recipe even more tempting. Third, it’s about hot cheese.

The recipe comes from this cookbook, Barbecue, with an unknown publishing date. I bought it in London, and it was printed in the UK.

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So you think this recipe would be about meat, but in the last chapter, entitled The Bits on the Side,” I found the recipe I’m making today, which Mr. Reynaud calls “Crumbed Mozzarella.” The reason being, the mozzarella is covered with a mixture of ground pistachios and bread crumbs. Interesting, yes?!!!

I just knew I had to make it. I’ve only made one other recipe from this book, called surf and turf, which were kabobs, and so far, so good. But this recipe was really odd, which forced me to prepare the mozzarella differently. I didn’t, however, mess with the ingredients.

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Baked Crumbed Mozzarella
Adapted from Barbecue and Grill

1 – 8 ounce mozzarella ball
1 ounce pistachios
2 teaspoons bread crumbs
Big pinch of thyme
A few grindings of black pepper
1 egg
Olive oil (optional)
Salt (optional)

Remove the mozzarella from the plastic and let it sit on paper towels to dry off.

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Meanwhile, weigh the pistachios.

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Add the bread crumbs, black pepper and thyme.

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Place everything in a food processor and process until almost fine; I like a little texture.

Place the mixture on a plate and set aside.

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Break the egg into a medium bowl, large enough to fit the mozzarella, and set aside.

Get out a small plate and have handy.

Dip the mozzarella in the egg.

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Then place it on the pistachio-bread crumb mixture. Turn the mozzarella around to coat on all sides.

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Then place the mozzarella on the small plate and place the plate in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Get out a skillet that is well seasoned. Heat it over medium heat. Add the mozzarella ball, and begin to brown it on all sides, although you might do a better job than I did. It was supposed to be done on a hot plate, whatever that is, for a total of 7-8 minutes. The browning process, which Mr. Reynaud simply refers to as cooking of the mozzarella ball, I think is also supposed to cook the egg and create a seal for the cheese.

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Right before serving, I gently heated the mozzarella in its serving bowl in the microwave.

Then I served the hot mozzarella with crostini.

note: Mr. Reynaud’s recipe called for 3 mozzarella balls, of undisclosed size, and I just wanted to use one. But I thought it was a poorly written recipe to not have included the weight of the cheese balls. There were other problems as well… But I still love this cookbook!

verdict: The flavors are fabulous! However, I think I’d prefer to chop up fresh mozzarella, place it in an oven-proof shallow baking dish, Top the cheese with pistachio mixture, and bake it. That way, there is more pistachio to mozzarella ratio. Because I find melted mozzarella quite rubbery. I prefer baked brie and camembert…

Chocolate Neufchâtel

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Back when my husband and I were first married, we went on lots of picnics. I guess that’s what you do before kids, which reminds me that now that they’re grown and gone, we should be picnicking again!

In any case, I used to buy a particular chocolate Neufchâtel cheese, and paired it with strawberries and water crackers. In my memory, at least, it’s something I always packed up for our adventures, for something a little sweet.

Then there came a time when we really couldn’t afford this cheese any more. That’s when I had a light bulb moment. I can make it myself, just like I created home-made Boursin, which I call “faux” boursin!

I actually made this cheese a lot when I catered, but I haven’t made it for years now. I’d just completely forgotten about it until something jogged my memory recently.

The reason this cheese worked well for catering is that it’s inexpensive to make, slightly sweet, and very pretty.

I sometimes also made an additional strawberry Neufchâtel as well, which was pretty sitting next to her chocolate sister. But these cheeses I used to make, and am making again today, are made with cream cheese instead of Neufchâtel. The good old American variety.

I just googled chocolate Neufchâtel and I found nothing. Perhaps I was the only person eating it? Well, fortunately you can duplicate its flavor in your own kitchen, using this recipe, which can be doubled or tripled.

Chocolate Neufchâtel

1 – 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 ounce unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted

Place the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl. Using a spatula, beat them together until smooth. The addition of the butter helps in the molding process.

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Add the cocoa and powdered sugar.

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Gently stir in the ingredients until the cream cheese mixture is smooth.

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Place the cheese in a plastic wrap-lined bowl that fits it snuggly, and provides the shape of the cheese that you want. Add the cheese, smoothing the top. You might want to give the bowl a few hard taps on a cutting board to make sure that there are no air holes.

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Cover well with the plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Before serving, unmold the cheese by turning the bowl upside down onto a serving platter. Carefully remove the plastic wrap. Let the cheese sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. You want it nice and spreadable!

I served mine with fresh strawberries and water crackers, just like in the old days!

This is enough cheese to serve 4-6 people. And it cost less than $2.00 to make.

A recipe for strawberry version is here.

Gougère Tart

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You’ve all probably heard of gougères – those fabulous bite-sized, savory choux puffs that are a Burgundian French classic.

The problem is, I’ve never been able to make these for a get-together of any kind at my house, or when I catered either, because they’re really only good just out of the oven. Similar to a soufflé, they will deflate, so they’re not as pretty, and even if they’re kept warm, the texture will change.

I present to you another gougères option, more easily served as a first course or even as part of a lunch; thin slices can be served as hors d’oeuvres as well.

This version utilizes the same dough and cheese, but it’s a whole tart, and not individual puffs. There’s no outside crust that dries out, and the inside stays nice and moist. The dough will deflate a little after the tart is out of the oven, but the tart itself maintains its integrity, so you can let it cool a little, slice and serve.

If you’ve never made a choux dough before, don’t worry. It’s not as involved as making something like a dough for croissants. All you need is a strong arm, in fact, because there is a lot of stirring involved. I’m pretty sure you can make the dough in a stand mixer, but I make it the old-fashioned way.

My husband actually remembers the last time I made this tart, which proves how memorable it is. And I hadn’t come across the recipe till recently. You can see by the stains how many times I used it. I’d love to credit the source, but I looked online and found nothing. I think it’s funny on the recipe card that I actually changed the ingredient amounts not just once, but twice. But there’s no mention of the pan I used. Since I wasn’t sure which column was the one to follow, I went with the numbers on the very left.

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As with classically-shaped gougères, the secret to this gougère tart is the cheese. Really good Gruyère – diced as well as grated for this tart.

Gougère Tart

3/4 cup whole milk
1/3 cup, or approximately 5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon butter
1 cup white flour
4 eggs, at room temperature, broken into a small bowl
7 ounces diced Gruyère
2 1/2 ounces grated Gruyère
1 egg mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of salt

Turn the oven to 375 degrees.

Generously butter a 10″ tart pan; a pan with a removable bottom is not necessary.

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Have all of your ingredients on hand, and read the recipe through before you begin. Begin by melting the butter into the milk in a medium saucepan.

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Add the flour, and vigorously stir the mixture for about one minute over the lowest possible heat.

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It will look similar to a roux – kind of crumbly.

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Let the pan cool slightly, then beat in one egg at a time, beating vigorously. There should be no heat involved any more.

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By the time the second egg is added and incorporated, you can see the dough getting smoother.

When you add the fourth egg, don’t beat it in completely. Then add 2/3 of the diced Gruyère and stir to just combine.

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Plop the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth. Then coat the top with the egg wash.

Add the remaining diced cheese as well as the grated, and place the tart in the oven; I put my pan on a baking sheet for easier handling.

Bake for 35 minutes. You will see it rise in the oven as it puffs up.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. It should be set enough to slice easily after just about 5 minutes. The tart is cheesy, but it’s also bready.

I enjoyed my slice without even a green salad on the side. Mostly because I couldn’t wait. But it would be fabulous with a salad of tomatoes or spring greens, and it would certainly be delicious served as a first course, just a matter of minutes out of the oven.

This gougère tart would pair perfectly with a light fruity red, or a pinot grigio. No white that is too tart or too oaky.

Ricotta and Smoked Salmon

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Smoked salmon is one of my top favorite indulgences, along with steak tartare and foie gras.

I love smoked salmon served in the traditional manner, alongside cream cheese with a generous amount of capers and diced purple onions. Warm, toasted bagels are the best, but for me, just about any bread or toast will do, because it’s mostly about the salmon itself.

To serve smoked salmon this way, you need to have a trustworthy source, because there is smoked salmon that is inferior in quality. If I’m having a party or get-together of sorts and want to put out a traditional smoked salmon spread, I buy mine from a company called Mackenzie. I prefer their Scottish salmon.

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What bothers me the most about buying smoked salmon is that it is typically sold in 4 ounce packages. Who needs just 4 ounces of salmon? I most often need somewhere between 4 ounces and a whole 2 pound side of smoked salmon, but no one seems to care about my opinion.

Well speaking of little packages of smoked salmon, I happened to have a couple of them leftover from the holidays. They seem to keep forever if you freeze them. My plan is to dice the smoked salmon and use it in a spread, mixed with the fresh ricotta I made recently.

I’ve made many different kinds of spreads using smoked salmon – my most favorite is a warm dip that utilizes both cooked and smoked salmon. It’s absolutely divine. But today I’m just making a rustic spread that highlights the ricotta and the salmon.

This wasn’t the best smoked salmon in the first place, but I had to buy it locally for some purpose back in December, without time to place an online order. Thus my leftover 4 ounce packages.

But I tested it out and even after freezing and thawing, is tastes exactly the same as it did originally, which isn’t great, but it will do for this spread. You could also add some of this diced salmon in a quiche or pasta, but I’d never use this variety for bagels and lox presentation. It’s just doesn’t compare to the real stuff.

So here’s what I did to make this ricotta and smoked salmon spread. It’s more of a guide than a recipe, because it depends how much you want to make. The way I make it, without diced onions included, it will store in the refrigerator until you want to serve it again. I don’t personally feel that chopped onions keep well, but you could sprinkle the spread with freshly chopped onions or chives if you wish.

If you make this spread and have some left over, add it to hot, cooked pasta. Then there would be no waste!

Ricotta and Smoked Salmon Spread

Home-made ricotta or store-bought, at room temperature
Whipped cream cheese or regular, at room temperature
Smoked salmon, diced
Capers, well drained
Diced purple onion, optional
Chopped chives, optional

Place about equal amounts of the ricotta and whipped cream cheese in a medium bowl.

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Beat it together with a spoon until combined.

Dice the salmon and add it to the cheeses. I used this salmon.

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Then add the capers.

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Gently mix everything together until evenly distributed.

Then you have a choice. You could fill up a pretty crock or bowl with this mixture, or mold it in a bowl lined with plastic wrap for a prettier presentation (although I usually add a little butter to these mixtures so they mold better). In this case, I simply grabbed the whole mixture with my (clean) hands and formed a ball with it. I placed the ball on a wooden board.

Then I sprinkled chopped chives over the top.

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Today I served torn up pieces of naan with the spread.

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I also included a few garlic-stuffed olives for fun.

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I served a sauvignon blanc along with the spread and bread, nice and chilled.

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Any kind of bread or toasts, or even good crackers could be substituted for the naan.

An important thing to note is that this spread must be served at room temperature. If the spread needs to be refrigerated, allow it to come to room temperature prior to serving. Flavors are just enhanced at room temperature, plus it makes the spread smoother for spreading on the bread.

note: One could always use farmer’s cheese or fromage blanc in place of the fresh ricotta.

Bruschetta di Ricotta

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Many different cuisines do “simple” well. I think it’s because of how regional “cuisines” began in the first place. It was about feeding your family – from milking a cow, killing a chicken, to picking ripe tomatoes and lemons. It’s about what grew and what you raised.

But today in the wide world of all things culinary, it’s become a little more fancy. We’re responsible for this, really. I mean, from my computer at home, I can now order just about any ingredient that 20 years ago I’m not sure I’d ever see in person.

And our demands for more upscale and modern meals at restaurants these days are relentless! There is more and more pressure on chefs to outperform even themselves. Maybe it’s good to keep the chefs on their toes, but as a result, I feel food has gotten a little complicated.

An appetizer, for example, that is built up like a tower 6″ tall, with no way of eating it politely. Or a beautiful piece of fish that has 8 different kinds of sauces drizzled artistically around it. Fun, but a little too much for me. In fact, I think of this example, because when my husband and I would go to Hawaii, I would ask for the fish to simply be grilled or pan fried, and for all of the accessory items to be omitted. This seemed to always take a lot of instruction, like they really didn’t believe my request. But I just wanted to taste the fish. I don’t get just-out-of-the-ocean fish where I live.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with trends, like how foam is so popular now. But for me, I just want the best quality food, made from the freshest of ingredients, simply prepared. I don’t care if it’s a meal in my home, at a fine dining establishment, or in a little hole-in-the-wall pub.

Simplicity. And I honestly think the Italians do it best. Something divine, yet made with only a few ingredients, like the hors d’oeuvres I’m offering in this post. Simple grilled breads topped with ricotta and baked. Sure, there’s a little salt, pepper, and olive oil, but that’s it. Simple perfection.

This recipe is quite common, and there are many ways to make it, but I’m inspired by this book by Lorenza de Medici, called Antipasti. It’s an old book, but I just checked and it still can be purchased on Amazon.

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This recipe is adapted from the book above, to serve only two people.

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Bruschetta di Ricotta

1 small loaf French or Italian bread
Olive oil
5 ounces ricotta cheese, well drained, whole-milk only
1 egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Asiago or Romano
Salt
Pepper
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bread approximately 1/4″ thick, and place the slices on a baking sheet. Brush some olive oil over one side of the slices. Toast the bread slices in the oven until they are lightly golden.

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Meanwhile, place the ricotta cheese in a small bowl Add the egg.

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Stir the ricotta and egg well, using a whisk if necessary. Ms. de Medici also includes the olive oil with the ricotta-egg mixture, but I left it out to drizzle over the crostini later. Then stir in the grated cheese.

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When the bread has toasted, place a teaspoon or two of the ricotta-egg mixture on top of each crostini, then return the cookie sheet to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes more.

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The ricotta should be slightly yellowed and firm. Let them cool a little.

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Sprinkle the crostini with a little salt and lots of freshly cracked pepper.

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Drizzle the olive oil on the top, and then sprinkle with thyme leaves, if you’re using them.

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The bruschetta are also good at room temperature.

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I’m also offering a sweet twist of these crostini on Monday, so stay tuned!

note: Just think of all of the variations possible with these bruschetta! You could add fresh or roasted garlic, lots of herbs or a little pesto, bits of things like sun-dried tomato… So simple.

Red Pepper Confit

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Confit is a French term for something cooked in fat – the most well known being duck confit, which is duck legs cooked in duck fat. But I’m thinking that the term is used a little more loosely these days, because I’m starting to see more vegetable confits.

One vegetable confit I’ve made is with piquillo peppers, based on a Spanish recipe, so I’m using that as inspiration today to make a red pepper confit with over-the-counter roasted red bell peppers. Piquillo peppers are fabulous, but honestly, I’m not sure I could tell the difference between roasted piquillos and roasted red bell peppers in a blind taste test.

For this confit, I’m not using duck fat, but olive oil. It’s a good way a have a vegetarian option for anyone stopping by around New Year’s.

This confit is an easy recipe, and it stores for quite a while in the refrigerator, assuming there’s any left over. So here’s my recipe, and I must say, it’s pretty darn good and addicting!

Confit of Red Bell Peppers

2 – 16 ounce jars roasted red bell peppers, whole or in pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Few grindings black pepper
Olive oil
Crostini

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees farenheit. Drain the roasted red bell peppers well in a colander, then lay them on paper towels and blot them dry.

Place the peppers in a jar of a food processor. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the salt, and blend, but not until it’s smooth – we’re not making baby food. It shouldn’t be chunky, but there should be some texture to the mixture.

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This recipe makes about 6 cups of confit, so choose what size baking dishes to use. I used two smaller heat-proof dishes so I could freeze one while serving the confit in the other. (But I’d personally use only one dish fairly shallow dish if I was expecting extra folks over.)

Place the baking dishes on a jelly-roll baking pan. Pour the red bell pepper mixture into your baking dishes. Divide the sliced garlic between the dishes, and top with a few grindings of black pepper. Then carefully pour olive oil onto the red bell pepper mixture until it covers it by at least 1/4 inch.

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Cover the dishes tightly with foil. Place in the oven and cook for exactly one hour. Turn off the oven and remove the foil, but leave the baking dishes in the oven to cool slightly, for about 30 minutes. Then remove them from the oven to continue cooling.

If you’re having the confit right away, serve warm, with a little serving spoon. If not, let it completely cool, cover again with foil, and refrigerate.

Serve the confit with hearty seedy crackers, pita breads, or crostini, as part of an hors d’oeuvres platter. I served mine as is, but it’s also fabulous paired with cheese – especially a creamy goat cheese.

The confit would also be fabulous in a panini, or processed with white beans for a roasted red bell pepper-flavored white bean dip. So many options!

note: I sprinkled the crostini in the photos with chopped fresh rosemary and it was really good. Next time I might stick a fresh rosemary sprig in with the baking confit…

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