Tag Archives: entertaining

candied tomato + ricotta crostini

crostini

There is a sort-of-good reason my posting has been sluggish the last two weeks; I’ve been in Italy with my sister. First we were in Rome for a week, and then out in Perugia, visiting a remote enough village called Montefalco. Italian food and wine—and the gorgeous, sunny, bright, 70-degree days—they make you a step slow. In a good way.

I made these crostini before I left; I was probably already thinking about Italy. In northern Italian cuisine, at least, there are as many ways to transform dry and stale bread as there are moments in time. During our journey, we had many dishes of bread soaked in bean broth, or smeared with some kind of meat, or heaped with brothy greens. All delicious. These are easy finger food for a party—nice and compact and simple to pick up and eat. Most of the crostini I’ve encountered in Italy are actually soaked in broth, which makes them decidedly not finger food.

candied

When I created these, I needed a huge batch, so I give large party-sized proportions below. But you can just as easily grab a 12-ounce container of sweet cherry or grape tomatoes and make these on a smaller scale. Fresh marjoram is hard to find—but it’s wonderful. If you can’t find it, I think a much smaller number of sprigs (maybe 2 or 3) of fresh thyme would do. And do take the time to locate a nice, strained, creamy, fine-grained ricotta, or make your own, or simply line a sieve with cheesecloth and drain the regular store-bought kind by weighting it down over the sink for an hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Few sights will perk up your kitchen faster than a giant pan of these incredible tomatoes simmering away on the stove. You’ll find more uses for them than just crostini. I originally got this idea, in fact, from this stunning recipe I found on Food52 a year or two ago. More cooking discoveries from Italy over the next few weeks. I’ve already made versions of two new dishes that will soon enough make it to these pages. Until then, ciao!

cooking away

Candied tomato + ricotta crostini

Makes about 50 crostini; enough to feed a number of people as part of a cocktail party menu. You can cut the recipe by one-third for a much smaller number.

A lazy woman’s version of this fantastic recipe from Food52.

  • 36 ounces cherry and grape tomatoes, mixed colors
  •  3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 sprigs fresh marjoram
  • Maldon salt
  • 3 cups fresh, strained ricotta
  • 1 or 2 baguettes, sliced about 1/4-inch thick (depends how long the baguettes are)

1. In a very large nonstick skillet, warm tomatoes and olive oil together. Cook at medium-high heat until tomatoes are all burst. Pour in the vermouth after taking the pan off of the heat. Crumble in the brown sugar and return pan to burner, set to medium. Throw in marjoram sprigs. Simmer until dark, thick, and syrupy. This may take 20 to 30 minutes. It depends on the amount of moisture in the a tomatoes. Let mixture cool for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place baguette slices cheek by jowl on baking sheets and toast for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

3. Thickly spread a dollop of ricotta on about half of crostini. Then top each with a spoonful of candied tomatoes. Sprinkle with Maldon salt to taste. Discard marjoram stems as you go. Continue covering crostini with ricotta and candied tomatoes until mixture is used up; you may have bread left over, depending on how big your baguettes were. Serve at room temperature.

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orange + avocado salad

salad forever

I learned this salad about halfway through my college years. I lived in Cabot House at Harvard, where the residential quarters are divided into 12 houses, each with a professor in charge, and a number of graduate students and other scholars kicking around to keep an eye on the undergraduates. The professor in charge of our house was a faculty member who had a remarkable wife, a phenomenal cook, a brilliant host, and a lively spirit.

Though I had grown up in a house where we fed every soul who walked through the door, Emanuela taught me a lot about the military-drill precision involved in preparing for entertaining. While she had a genius for flavors, textures, and more than anything, technique, she also innately understood when things had to be ready and how to get them ready. Just as hordes of college students and faculty would push their way through the door, platters and bowls arranged themselves flawlessly on the table. There was never any stress involved; even though people overuse the word “effortless” in this sense, she really made it all seem effortless. Suddenly we would all be tamed, civilized. Perching on chairs, eating carefully, listening to the speaker who was invited, mulling the topic. Civilization.

platter

Civilization; that is what this salad represents, and it charmed me from the beginning. Before college, I had never eaten or prepared an avocado. And we certainly never used a knife to take the skin off of an orange, creating glistening, jewel-like slices. Emanuela would toss this with giant tubes of pasta for a salad, dousing it in just the right amount of olive oil. These days, I leave off the pasta and serve it on its own. I recently made it for a big party and loved the proportions of it on the platter. If you’d like to be the genius of your next party, give it a shot. It will all seem so effortless, and civilized.

gems

Orange + avocado salad

This is scaled for a big crowd on a huge platter. You can bring it all the way back to 1 avocado and 1 orange.

  • 10 ripe Haas avocados
  • 10 juicy navel oranges
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for sprinkling

1. Peel the avocados and cut into 6 to 8 lengthwise slices. Use a sharp knife to take the skin and pith off of the oranges. First, slice off each end, then set up on one of the flat ends and cut with the knife just under the pith, rotating the orange and removing skin and pitch in sections. Flip to the other flat end and remove remaining pith with your knife. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the center of the orange. Cut each orange into 8 or so slices. Place slices in a bowl as you go. Collect up all the juices from the cutting process and reserve.

2. Arrange orange and avocado slices in alternate on a large platter, in concentric circles or however you like. Drizzle all the juice from the orange over the platter, making sure avocados are covered. Sprinkle onion over, and drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with just a little Maldon salt or fleur de sel. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve.

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wimbledon edition: pimm’s cup

Okay, so those of you following at home already know this is a tennis-watching household—a tennis-watching household that has food-related needs during the slams. Three-fourths of the time, for the non-U.S. tennis majors, this means suppers that can be eaten in front of the television (this practice is otherwise verboten here, a tennis- and golf-major-only phenomenon), as we watch matches recorded during the middle of the night or during the workday. This whole sporty thing is of course not of my doing; I was introduced to Breakfast at Wimbledon only when I was 18, soon after my first early July visit to Ty’s house. Who knew this would lead to 20 years of Breakfast at Wimbledon? We certainly did not.

Today is the break in tennis at Wimbledon (the Sunday of the “middle weekend” as everyone knows, is a day off, when we Yanks can catch up on our recorded tennis action). I recommend you use this time wisely. Practice making a Pimm’s Cup. This drink, if you aren’t familiar with it, is basically a stiff upper lip in a glass—a, or perhaps the, quintessential British quaff. When you’re through drinking it, you’ll be shocked to discover a salad in your glass, a pale green concatenation of lime and cucumber. Most commonly this drink is made with Pimm’s No. 1 (of course) and ginger ale or 7-up, garnished with mint, lime, and cucumber. Pimm’s is very low in alcohol, perfect for day drinking. (That is one way to look at it, anyway.) I love the suggestion of the bartenders at Employees Only to give the drink more “backbone” with a bit of orange liqueur, such as Cointreau. Just a splash brings the whole drink to attention, especially in the evening. I leave off the mint, but of course you should add it back if you like.

Instead of ginger ale or ginger beer, I put together my own ginger simple syrup, which I must say is addictive. (Just add a bit to soda water in a glass and you’ll forget about Canada Dry forever. I’m plotting more uses for this sweet and spicy concoction.) This drink should be consumed only in hot weather, whilst watching: polo, horse races, tennis, golf. After a few sips you’ll be remarking, “Look, it’s the Duchess of Kent!” or, “God save the Queen.”

Pimm’s cup

Adapted from Speakeasy: The Employees Only Guide to Classic Cocktails Reimagined

For the ginger simple syrup:

  • 3 to 4 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and julienned (two big pieces, about 3″ long each)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar

For the cocktail:

  • 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
  • 3/4 ounce orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
  • 1 and 1/2 ounce ginger simple syrup (above)
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 2 or 3 slivers of English cucumber (about 4″ long)
  • 1 thin, round slice of lime
  • splash of soda
  • ice

1. To make the syrup:  Combine ginger, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring just to a simmer, stirring, until all sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Pour into blender and puree. Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place it over the saucepan. Pour mixture back through cheesecloth; form cheesecloth into a sack, enclosing ginger puree, and squeeze all liquid from it. Set aside. Simple syrup keeps in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.

2. To make the cocktail:  Combine Pimm’s, orange liqueur, ginger simple syrup, lime juice in a Collins glass. Stir. Add cucumber slivers, lime, ice cubes, and a splash of soda. Swirl. Enjoy. Cheers!

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