Make new friends, but keep the old.

I invited some dear friends and former coworkers over this week. These ladies helped me through one of the darkest stages of my career, at a place where we each experienced all manner of hell and persecution. I know that everyone has had an unpleasant job of some sort before — but whatever you’re picturing, quadruple it. To survive the day-to-day, we leaned on each other and cooked, ate, laughed and commiserated together. We all shared a love of food and fellowship, which led to plenty of potluck lunches and flurries of emails and conversations about recipes. I found many of the food blogs I read today through their recommendations: Pioneer Woman, David Leibovitz, Brown Eyed Baker, Smitten Kitchen, Orangette. Even though we don’t see each other every day anymore, like soldiers who fight on the battlefield, I will be bonded to these women for life.

It’s been several months since we had quality time together, so everyone came to my home to catch up with wine, heavy hors d’oeuvres and stories about ridiculous work escapades. Their visit served as a good excuse to pull out a few dishes already in my repertoire but also to experiment with some new ones. For appetizers, it was bruschetta three ways: fig-mozzarella-prosciutto, classic tomato (my good, ole standby) and smashed pea with mint.


Tomato bruschetta:

This is my frequent go-to in the summer, especially when I have home-grown tomaoes. Even though I tend to toss the ingredients willy-nilly into a bowl, I did try to put some measurements on it so it would be easily repeatable, both for you and for me. I usually add small bits of crumbled feta cheese for a heartier, saltier bite, but I left those out this time. No matter, it was still perfection.

Smashed pea and mint bruschetta:

I keep seeing smashed peas in various forms all over the food world — often as a side dish, sometimes with mint, and occasionally atop a piece of bread in bruschetta or crostini form. I always have peas in the freezer, and happened to have leftover fresh mint and a hunk of parmesan in the fridge. Voila, smashed pea bruschetta!

Fig-prosciutto bruschetta:

This last version was inspired by a pizza that Pioneer Woman made recently — she topped a pre-baked crust with fig jam and fresh slices of mozzarella and baked it. When it was still warm from the oven, she laid thin slices of prosciutto and handfuls of fresh arugula atop the cheese to finish it off. Well, I happen to love all four of those things. More than words. So I figured that same combination would do well as a bruschetta, and it was to die for.

For dessert, we enjoyed more from the batch of Sweet & Spicy Brownies.

You know, I’ve been calling these all “bruschetta,” but they could more correctly be called “crostini.” It has something to do with the thickness of the bread, but I think both are toasted slices topped with various meat, bean, tomato, etc. variations. To those food hounds among us, anyone know the difference?

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Bruschetta Three Ways

For the bread: Turn on the oven broiler and let it preheat for 5 minutes. Slice a baguette into thin slices, about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thickness. Lay the slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil (optional). Put them in the oven for just a minute, or until lightly browned. **Watch them closely — I always burn a batch or two!

Remove the baking sheet and flip the slices over. Drizzle with olive oil again if you wish. Broil the bread again for less than a minute. When they are cooled enough to touch, cut the end off a clove of garlic and rub it over each slice of bread. Serve with the bruschetta version or dip of your choice.

Classic Tomato:

1 pint of grape tomatoes (or 1 1/2 to 2 cups of any other kind of tomatoes), finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice (1/4 to 1/2 lemon)
5-7 basil leaves, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, grated or very finely minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
dash of salt
2-3 grinds of fresh black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir together. Let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors blend before topping the bread.

Smashed Pea with Mint:

10 oz package of frozen peas, thawed and drained
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
10 mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 grinds fresh black pepper (to taste)
1/3 cup olive oil
grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise in thirds or fourths

Combine the peas, garlic, parmesan, mint, salt and pepper in a food processor. Pulse the ingredients several times until they come together in a paste. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil and process until it’s the consistency you want. Some like it chunkier, some like it smooth. Remove the processor lid and taste it. Add more salt and/or pepper if you need to. Top each slice of bread with 1-2 tablespoons of the pea mixture and top with a drizzle of olive oil, more grated parmesan and a tomato slice.

Fig-Prosciutto:

1 jar of fig preserves (I’m loyal to Bonne Maman)
1 ball of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
1 package of thin-sliced prosciutto
1 package arugula

Spread the fig preserves lightly on one side of the toasted bread slices. Top each slice with mozzarella and broil for just a minute, until the cheese is melted. Watch closely! When they are out of the oven, top each piece with a slice of prosciutto (you may need to tear or cut the prosciutto into smaller pieces) and a few leaves of arugula. The heat from the cheese will warm the prosciutto and ever so slightly wilt the arugula. Drizzle with olive oil if you feel like it.

Mangia!

Adapted from Pea Pesto Crostini and Fig-Prosciutto Pizza with Arugula.

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