Crostini: five gourmet toppings

Crostini: five gourmet toppings

Wed 01 Feb 2017 4:41 PM

Crostini have endless potential and prove the ultimate snack food not only during the aperitivo hour, but also as appetizers at lunch or dinner and the perfect pairing when drinking wine. Literally “little crusts”, crostini are small pieces of toasted bread topped with various accoutrements.

In Florence crostini toscani (or neri) are everywhere, toasts slathered with chicken liver pate that—it has to be said—do not look terribly appetizing. The kind of bread you find as a vehicle for crostini toscani varies from trattorias to homes. Talk to almost any Florentine and they will recall their grandma using a bread roll frusta, similar to a baguette, and brushing/dipping slices of bread in broth before spooning on chicken liver pate. While these crostini ideas break the mold of nonna’s traditional crostini toscani, they are an easy way to get creative when you have friends over or when you have a great bottle of wine that needs a tasty friend to pair with.

Note: crostini and bruschetta have nuanced differences. Usually the term bruschetta is used for bigger slices of rustic, poor bread, whereas crostini call for smaller pieces of bread and the type can vary from loaves or baguette. The most common bruschetta around Tuscany is slices of pane toscano, toasted over flames, rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, especially during the olive harvest season. The word “bruschetta” derives from “bruscare”, meaning to roast over coals. Also remember that “-ini” in crostini means small and if you see “-oni” in crostoni you are in for a big toast!

Buffalo ricotta, broccoli rabe and truffle honey

I suggest using pane napoletano, salted and tastier than Tuscan bread. (Pane napoletano is not the easiest bread to find—join me for Curious Appetite’s Food Lover’s Crawl to seek out this and all the best ingredients in Florence!) Lightly toast bread slices, set a small layer of cooked cime di rapa (broccoli rabe) on top, spread with a layer of ricotta, sprinkle salt and pepper and drizzle with white truffle honey. Slice pieces in half or quarters, depending how big your bread is.

Burrata and anchovies

Burrata is a rich cheese, similar to mozzarella, from Puglia. It has a fresh mozzarella-like shell and a creamy soft filling. For this one, bread choice is up to you. Perhaps a wood-oven baked pane toscano a lievitazione naturale (natural risen). Toast or don’t, especially if the bread isn’t crumbly and has a firm texture. Slice the burrata as best as you can, lay and spoon a layer of the cheese, then arrange 2–3 anchovies for each half-piece of bread.

Robiola, fresh apricots and walnuts

For this, I recommend wholegrain bread, simply for texture. Robiola is a soft, smooth, fat-rich, slightly tart cheese from Piedmont. It has a neutral taste, so it makes friends with a variety of combinations. Toast sliced bread, spread on a layer of robiola (not too thin), adorn with sliced apricots and top with chopped walnuts or pine nuts. Alternatively, drizzle with saffron honey for something exotic.

Friggitelli, tomato and aged balsamic vinegar

The perfect summer treat! Friggitelli are slightly sweet, small green peppers that are usually roasted or fried. Try a fresh version of them in this crostino. Slice peppers into little coin pieces, toss with diced cherry tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture onto toasted bread and finish with aged balsamic vinegar—not glaze but aged balsamic vinegar.

Fig, finocchiona and aged balsamic vinegar

Finocchiona is a common fixture in the Tuscan cured meat family. Different to most salamis, this fennel version is fresh and hasn’t been dried. There is a variation called “sbriciolona”, which derives from the word “sbriciolare”, meaning to crumble because it’s so fresh! Toast pane toscano for this one, arrange slices or “crumbles” of fennel salami on top, allowing the heat from the bread to melt the meat a little. Arrange sliced fresh figs on top and finish with the tiniest pinch of salt, dash of cracked pepper and aged balsamic vinegar.

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