These little toasts have a lot going for them, starting with their name. As if “crostini” weren’t inviting enough — roll that “r” and you’ll even sound Italian — few kids I know would pass up toast. And little toasts…well, I hardly have to say more.
Anyone who has ordered a bruschetta appetizer is familiar with this concept: toast up a slice of bread and top it with something yummy. True peasant fare, which is probably how these tidbits became popular in the first place. Economizing with meat or vegetables piled on leftover toasted bread in the absence of elaborate place settings. In the middle ages, after all, you were lucky if you owned a fork and knife, let alone a bowl or plate.
Suffice it to say that the concept of crostini have been around for a very long time. I, however, credit the Italians for elevating this dish by improving upon the toppings (see the afore-mentioned bruschetta as an example) and serving it, frequently enough, with a glass or two of wine.
Now, the kids in the house will have to substitute their favorite non-alcoholic beverage for that wine, but they can easily partake in both the crostini making and eating. And here’s an observation: you may even persuade a non-veggie eater to try something new if you pile it on top of toasted bread smeared with a healthy dollop of creamy ricotta cheese.
Toasts seem to be all the rage right now. In The New York Times, Melissa Clark proposed topping rustic toasts with Soft Shelled Crabs. And Bon Appétit Magazine had some lovely ideas earlier this year in their “26 Recipes for Toast, Crostini, Bruschetta, and Toppings” article. There is good reason for this trend: they are delicious. And easy. And a crowd pleaser. Did I mention easy?
So easy, in fact, that our Stout Sprouts — or your sprouts — could easily prepare a batch themselves with little adult supervision other than the cutting and toasting of the bread. Let’s consider the division of labor:
– Cut bread into slices: adult
– Toast slices of bread: adult
– Take ricotta out of refrigerator: kids
– Take pre-prepared toppings — aka, leftovers — out of refrigerator: kids (though, to be fair, an adult probably prepared them)
– Smear toasts with ricotta: kids
– Top with toppings: kids
– Serve: kids
– Eat: adults and kids
– Clean up: it’s a toss up, but the kids can certainly handle putting dishes in the dishwasher!
The only trick is to have good quality ingredients, from the bread to the ricotta to the veggie toppings. We get a delicious pain au levin from Terra Momo Bakery in Princeton, NJ, which they also sell at the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market. You could also use a more traditional Italian ciabatta, but whatever you choose, make sure it has enough density to stand up to the toppings. While we’re at the farmer’s market we pick up a ridiculously creamy ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead. You already know that My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms with Shallots and Thyme use fresh mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms and Shibumi Farms. And we’re still waiting on the Jersey corn and tomatoes, but when they arrive at the market you can be sure that we’ll top some of our crostini with Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil (you could swap thyme for basil if you wish…we did). I’ve been trying to keep our crostini vegetarian, but you could easily choose to top them with some sliced flank steak (which we’ve done), or a couple grilled shrimp and fresh-cut herbs.
Although they have their roots in Italy, these crostini, with their farmer’s market influences, are all-American. Which makes them a very appropriate dish to serve this 4th of July weekend. Fireworks for your mouth, I guarantee.
Crostini with Ricotta and Assorted Veggie Toppings
1 loaf good-quality artisanal bread cut into slices (large or small, your preference…but not too thin)
2 – 3 whole peeled garlic cloves
Good quality olive oil
1 tub whole milk ricotta cheese, such as the the ricotta from Fulper Family Farmstead
Crostini toppings, including My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms with Shallots and Thyme, or Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil
Begin by toasting the sliced bread in the toaster or over a prepared grill (a real treat, because they will have a nice smokiness you won’t get from the toaster). When toast slices are done to your preference move them to a platter, drizzle them with a small amount of olive oil, and rub one side of each toast — hard — with a garlic clove. The garlic with be grated off of the cloves and onto the toasts.
Top the garlic-rubbed side of each toast with a generous spoonful of ricotta and a some of whichever topping (or toppings) you are using and serve.
Serves: 10 – 12 as an appetizer, 6 – 8 as a side dish
Kid rating: four stars. The Stout Sprouts loved making these. If I’m totally honest, they would forgo the garlic-rubbing and veggie-topping and just have toast with ricotta. But when topped with a kid-friendly topping like the Roasted Corn and Tomatoes with Basil, our Sprouts eat these up.
Parent rating: five stars. Maybe — just maybe — it has something to do with the super-fresh ingredients to which we have access, or the delicious recipes we’re developing for dishes like My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms, or quite possibly that glass of wine….but neither my husband or I could get enough of these little toasts. Great for lunch. Great for appetizers. And we even served them for dinner one night along with a little grilled steak. Love ’em. Hope you will as well!