Tag Archives: Gremolata

Simple Holiday Starters: Crostini Three Ways

When you read the appetizer section of most restaurant menus you’ll usually find crostini or bruschetta, both a delicious treat before dinner.  What is the difference between the two?  Crostini refers to thin slices of bread that are toasted and topped with cheese, vegetables or meat.  Bruschetta refers to thick slices of bread toasted over coals or a grill, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and typically topped with a tomato and basil mixture.   I have combined the two and refer to these creations as crostini for simplicity.  The toppings are an easy way to dress up slices of good bread.  Whether it’s for you and your honey, or for a party, crostini make elegant holiday appetizers that can be prepared without much fuss. 
My three holiday crostini toppings are:
1. Olive Tapenade
2. Ricotta, Prosciutto and Pistachios
3. Gremolata & White Anchovies

Olive Tapenade
By now you probably know that I have a serious olive addiction.  Not only do I love the rich and creamy black olives but also Castelvetrano olives, oil-cured olives, black Cerignola and green Cerignola olives.  So it’s only fitting that an olive tapenade starts my list.  This tapenade is made with black olives, Castelvetrano olives, garlic, capers, Italian parsley, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  It has a wonderfully rich, nutty, briny and buttery flavor that satisfies my olive cravings.  I found the Castelvetrano olives in a jar (Mezetta brand) at my grocery store; these and the other varieties can also be found in the olive bar at grocery stores or specialty stores. The tapenade will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Ricotta, Prosciutto and Pistachios
This crostini is inspired from the restaurant Postino Wine Bar in Scottsdale, thanks to my sister, Cheryl.  It uses ciabatta bread as a base and the flavor combinations are unusual.  To add a layer of flavor, I dress up the ricotta with some lemon zest, olive oil, nutmeg, salt and pepper.  For special dishes like this I use good quality Prosciutto di Parma, which comes from the city of Parma in Italy and has a distinct, rich flavor (San Danielle prosciutto is another delicious alternative).  The chopped pistachios add a salty, nutty flavor for a fantastic flavor contrast.

Gremolata & White Anchovies
Yum – if you haven’t tried white anchovies yet you are in for a real treat.  They are worth the splurge and have a plump texture with a mild fish flavor (nothing like the canned brown ones).  Imported from southern Italy, they are preserved in olive oil and a bit of vinegar; you can find them in your specialty Italian markets (Denver sources: Parisi, Tony’s Market) – any leftovers can be used for a quick sauce with pasta (heat several tablespoons olive oil, add some minced garlic and white anchovies and cook until the anchovies melt into sauce; toss with linguine, or angel hair, and Italian parsley).   Gremolata is usually made with parsley, garlic, lemon zest and olive oil; the herby, garlicky gremolata is the perfect companion to the rich, piquant anchovies on a toasted baguette slice.

There are endless options for making crostini, so have some fun and get creative – add a glass of Prosecco or Champagne and you are ready to toast in the Holidays.  Cheers!

Eat well and share the love!

Holiday Crostini Three Ways: Olive Tapenade / Ricotta, Prosciutto & Pistachios / Gremolata & White Anchovies
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies (makes 12 to 15 crostini)

8 to 10 baguettes slices (thinly sliced)
4 to 5 ciabatta slices (thinly sliced)
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh-cracked pepper
Olive Tapenade (yields about 1/3 cup)
15 black olives
8 Castelvetrano olives (pits removed)
1/8 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon capers, drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper
Ricotta, Prosciutto & Pistachios
5 tablespoons low-fat ricotta cheese
1/8 teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
Dash of extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
Pinch of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper
2 to 3 slices of prosciutto di Parma
2 tablespoon chopped pistachios (about 12 pistachios)
Gremolata & White Anchovies
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (about ½ cup packed leaves)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon minced garlic
Pinch of kosher salt and fresh-cracked pepper
4 to 5 white anchovies

Heat oven to 375 degrees F and cut baguette and ciabatta bread into slices.  Place on a sheet pan and drizzle both sides with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper.  Bake in oven for 8 to 9 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool before topping.

Olive Tapenade: (4 to 5 slices of bread)
Add all ingredients to a small blender and blend in intervals until smooth; stop motor in between intervals and scrape down sides.  Store covered in the refrigerator – will keep for one week.
Spread 2 teaspoons of tapenade on each toasted baguette slice.

Ricotta, Prosciutto & Pistachios: (4 to 5 slices of bread)
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, lemon zest, nutmeg, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.  Spread one tablespoon of the ricotta mixture on each slice, add a half of a slice of prosciutto (torn into pieces), sprinkle with 1 teaspoon chopped pistachios and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.

Gremolata & White Anchovies: (4 to 5 slices of bread)
Mix together the parsley, extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Spread 1 ½ teaspoons gremolata on each toasted baguette and top with an anchovy filet.

Zuppa: Minestrone with Gremolata Parmesan Croutons

With some cold weather (we have snow in the forecast tonight!) settling into our area, it’s the perfect time to make a heartwarming soup.  Minestrone is a classic Italian soup and has many variations, usually made with meat, vegetables and pasta.  This recipe is easy to put together and has tons of homemade flavors.  It starts with sweet Italian sausage and is built with sautéed onions, carrots and celery, and then fire-roasted canned tomatoes, beef stock, a bay leaf and a parmesan rind (see my tips & hints) are added for a rich, deep flavored broth.  It simmers for 45 minutes to three hours – the longer the better, which also gives the parmesan rind more time to melt into the soup.  Ditalini pasta (small tubes), cannellini beans, green beans and baby spinach finish off this rich and satisfying soup.  In my book, a savory crouton is a great way to dress up a bowl of soup; a flavorful gremolata mixture makes a delicious crouton topping to enjoy with the minestrone.  

The croutons are simple to make with just a few ingredients.  A gremolata is traditionally made with parsley, garlic, olive oil and lemon zest; I have added parmesan cheese to give a little crispy crust when the croutons are toasted. Slices of bread are lightly toasted, a garlic clove is rubbed on the bread, it’s topped with the gremolata and toasted until lightly golden.  For a pre-dinner nosh another time, you could enjoy these croutons on their own (or with some good prosciutto, thinly sliced) with a glass of your favorite wine, or cocktail. 

If you prefer, a flavorful turkey sausage can be substituted for the Italian sausage.  And if you are gluten-free, omit the pasta.  I hope your dinner table will soon include some heartwarming bowls of minestrone soup and unforgettable croutons.  Cheers.

Eat well and share the love!

Minestrone with Gremolata Parmesan Croutons
Recipe: Melissa Schenker/Foodie for Two
Serves two foodies, plus leftovers

8 ounces ground sweet Italian sausage
½ cup diced sweet yellow onion (about ½ small onion)
½ cup diced carrot (about 1 large)
½ cup diced celery (about 2 stalks)
1 clove garlic, minced
(1) 14.5 oz. can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes
4 to 6 cups low-sodium beef stock
1 bay leaf
1 parmesan rind
1/3 cup uncooked ditalini pasta (small tubes)
1 cup packed baby spinach leaves
1 can of cannellini (white northern) beans, drained
   and rinsed
10 to 15 small green beans, cut into ¼ inch pieces
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
Gremolata & Croutons
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese, plus some for topping
Pinch of kosher salt
5 to 6 grinds of fresh-cracked pepper
4 to 5 slices of French bread (or similar), cut on the diagonal
1 clove garlic, peeled

In a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven (or medium stock pot), heat to medium and add a few drizzles of olive oil so the sausage won’t stick to the pan.  Add the sausage and cook until crumbled and browned, about 20 minutes.  Turn off the heat and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.  Wipe out the pan. 

Return heat to medium-low and add 2 tablespoon olive oil.  Add the onions, celery and carrots with ½ teaspoon salt and 1/16 teaspoon of fresh-cracked pepper; sauté, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and tender – about 20 to 25 minutes.  Add the garlic and let cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.  Add the canned tomatoes, 4 cups beef stock, the bay leaf and the parmesan rind. Let simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to 3 hours. 

About 30 to 45 minutes (45 to 60 minutes for high altitude) before serving, stir in the pasta, spinach, cannellini beans, chopped green beans, ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of fresh-cracked pepper; let simmer on medium-low heat until pasta is just tender.  If needed, add more beef stock to thin out.  Serve soup hot with gremolata parmesan croutons (recipe follows). 

Gremolata Croutons:
In a small bowl, mix together the parsley, olive oil, lemon zest, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  In the toaster oven or under the broiler, lightly toast croutons and then rub with the garlic clove.  Drizzle with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.  Add 1 ½ teaspoons of the gremolata mixture to each crouton and spread out.  Top with a  light sprinkle of parmesan cheese and lightly toast until bread edges are golden and mixture is warmed through.  Serve warm.