Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Bruschettas and Crostini

I completely forgot that I made these last weekend. I'm working on my Masters in Literature at Northwestern University and am now in the thesis stage. A bunch of us have started getting together to help navigate the murky adminstrative waters and motivate each other, since we no longer have the weekly class structure. These meetings have a somehow developed a dinner party component, which is fine by me. We rotate locations and the lovely Jenni Higgs was the host this past weekend. Her menu was predominantly Italian, so I went with that for making starters.

I found two recipes for bruschettas in Cucina Rustica. One based on fava beans and fennel, the other on zucchini. In addition, I made crostini, rather than just slicing up bread. Man, goodness all around. The two are a great pairing in colors, textures and flavors. The fava is lightly savory, the zucchini, lightly sweet.

Sad confession: according to the note in the endpaper, my father and step-mother gave me this book in 1993. I don't think I've ever made anything from it before. Big, big mistake. This is a great cookbook. The instructions are very clear and easly to follow with a wide variety of selections. The volume I have is out of print, but it's available through Amazon Marketplace resellers for as low as $1.48 as of today. There also appears to be a new edition.

I wasn't able to find fava beans at the Jewel, but I called Channing for his web connection and he was able to find that butter beans are an acceptable substitute. Also, in looking at the recipes today, I realized that I accidently put sun-dried tomatoes that should have been on the zucchini on the fava instead. I actually think it works better that way. The tomatoes add some color and that makes for better presentation. The zing of flavor is also a better fit with the savory bean mixture. The zucchini has a great smoothness that I think would be comprimised by the tomatoes.

Bruschetta al Maccit
Grilled Bread with Fava Bean Puree Serves
4 to 6 as a luncheon dish, or 10 to 12 as an appetizer

Maccu is an ancient Sicilian soul food made of dried fava beans and wild fennel. If you are lucky (as we are in Los Angeles) to find a hillside carpeted with wild fennel, a delicious edible plant, pick some of the feathery tops to chop up and add to the recipe. The tops of the wild plant are more pungent than those of the domesticated bulb fennel that is widely available.

1 16-ounce can fava beans
1 fennel bulb
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
Salt to taste
6 thick slices good-quality country bread or 12 thin slices baguette or other thin loaf
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled

Drain the fava beans and place in a bowl. Carefully remove the dark outer skin of each bean. Do not be concerned if the beans break up. Set aside the shelled beans. Carefully wash the fennel and discard any woody outer layers. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, then thinly slice crosswise.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onion. Cook the onion over low heat until it begins to wilt. Add the sliced fennel. Continue cooking the onion and fennel together until they are both very tender, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook until it gives off its characteristic aroma. If using wild fennel tops, add them at this stage. Add the fava beans and 1/4 cup water. Cook all ingredients together over low heat at least 15 minutes, or until the beans are soft and the flavors blend. Add salt to taste and remove from the heat. In a food processor with a steel blade or in a blender, briefly process the bean mixture to a coarse puree.

Grill or lightly toast the bread slices. Rub with garlic cloves, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve the Maccu warm or at room temperature mounded in the center of a platter and surrounded with small Crostini (see below).

La Place, Viana and Evan Kleiman. Cucina Rustica. New York: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 44.

Bruschetta con Zucchine Sfrante
Bruschetta Topped with Zucchini Puree and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Serves 4 to 6

In this dish, the zucchini is cooked with onion and herbs until it completely falls apart and becomes a rough puree. Then the puree is spooned onto well-toasted sturdy bread and topped with thin slices of sun-dried tomato.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 medium zucchini, washed, ends removed, and coarsely sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
6-8 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 thick slices good-quality Italian bread
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
4-6 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained, cut into strips

Gently heat the olive oil in a small saute pan. Add the onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the zucchini, garlic, and herbs. Cover the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until zucchini falls apart completely. Add salt and pepper to taste. Grill or lightly toast the bread slices. Rub each with the garlic cloves and drizzle with olive oil. Spread
the rough zucchini puree on the grilled bread. Garnish with the sun-dired tomatoes.

La Place, Viana and Evan Kleiman. Cucina Rustica. New York: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 41.

Appetizer Croutons
Serves 8 to 10

We often serve Crostini instead of bruschetta at large gatherings or cock­tail parties. Crostini are smaller, less filling, and more delicate. Either use a baguette-type loaf that has a small diameter, or cut bread slices in halves or, if necessary, in quarters.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 loaf good-quality baguette or other thin loaf, cut into thin slices
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced or left whole
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the garlic and parsley, and gently cook over low heat until the garlic releases its aroma. Add the slices of bread and fry until golden on one side, then turn each piece and fry the other side. Alternatively, brush both sides of bread with olive oil, lay slices on a cookie sheet, and place in a preheated 400F oven.

If desired, sprinkle parsley over the bread slices. Back until bread turns golden. Remove from oven and lightly rub the whole peeled garlic close on one side of each bread slice. Crostini can be made in advance and served at room temperature.

La Place, Viana and Evan Kleiman. Cucina Rustica. New York: Harper Collins, 1992, p. 45.

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