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~ Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini ~

6a0120a8551282970b015434397b4f970cWhat exactly does Mediterranean-style cuisine mean?  Personally, it takes me back to the 1970's, when Americans embraced the Mediterranean Diet.  You couldn't find a restaurant or a cafe that wasn't featuring something "Mediterranean-style" -- from soup to nuts.  Everyone jumped on this bandwagon, and, what a lovely, healthy, flavorful, well-balanced bandwagon it was and is. Mediterranean cuisine features multitudes of fresh ingredients available to countries who share borders on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.  All of these country-nations have been underlying influences on each others cuisines for centuries, which makes Mediterranean-style a fusion cuisine with its own unique characteristics, rather than in-the-style of any one country. 

6a0120a8551282970b015390609012970b When I hear "Mediterranean", I immediately think:  olive oil, garlic, olives and tomatoes.  After that, my mind wanders to a fine selection of goat or sheep cheeses, as their terrain is perfect for the raising of these two animals. Grilled meats go without saying, and many classic Mediterranean dishes revolve around fresh fish and seafood.  It doesn't end there.  Vegetables, fruits, citrus fruits, nuts and their byproducts (oils and marinades) add flavor and texture to this very colorful palate.  Artisanal flat-breads and loaves of all shapes and sizes add even excitement to this extraordinary dining experience.  I fell in love with the Mediterranean "diet" immediately and I've kept it culinarily close to me ever since.

IMG_3899Especially in the Summer, everyone just loves a fresh, healthy, flavor-packed appetizer and I can't think of a better recipe to start my August blog posts off with than this one. After combining a lot of my favorite Mediterranean ingredients, for the perfect foil to serve them on I chose an Italian classic: crostini. People always ask me, "what is the difference between bruschetta and crostini?", so before we go any farther, let me give you my definitions and explanations:

IMG_3916Bruschetta (pronounced broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" in Italian and comes from the word "bruscare" (pronounced broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals". Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Its preparation is so simple, it really requires no formal instructions. Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty bread are toasted over an open wood fire, rubbed with plenty of fresh garlic while they are still warm, generously drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically topped with fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo-milk mozzarella, but when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can actually turn into a hearty knife-and-fork meal.

IMG_3932Crostini in Italian simply means "little toast", which means it doesn't always end up drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, long and thin-shaped bread, like a baguette or a batard.  Crostini are always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, or, an accompaniment to the meal.  In the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of bread can be used, but it must be of a firm texture and have a good crust.  Light, airy-textured breads should never be substituted.

PICT1404 For the toasts I'm making today, I am using 2, 12-ounce batards and 2 sticks of salted butter, at room temperature, the softer the better.

A French batard is first cousin to the baguette.  Batards are shorter than baguettes and a bit plumper, which gives my crostini the perfect surface area for any and all toppings!

PICT1405 ~ Step 1.  To prepare the toasts, cut each batard into approximately 20, 1/2"-thick slices.  

Place the bread slices, in a single layer, on 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper.




~ Step 2.  Preheat the broiler and position the oven rack 7"-8" underneath it.

Spread an even layer of softened butter over the top of each slice of bread on both pans.






~ Step 3.  Place one pan of bread slices into preheated broiler.  Broil until the slices are lightly brown and bubbly on the first side, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.






~ Step 4.  Remove from oven and flip slices over.  Return to broiler and continue to broil until slices are browned on the second side, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Note:  The second sides of the toasts do not get buttered.

Remove from oven and transfer to cooling racks to cool completely.  In the case of this recipe (because toasts will be returned to the broiler after they are topped), they can be prepared 1-2 days in advance of serving.  Store in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap.

PICT1449For the roasted vegetable salsa:

2  large red bell peppers, about 8 ounces each

1  large red onion, about 12-16 ounces

1  pound small, ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes

4  large, minced garlic cloves, about 2 tablespoons minced garlic

2-3  jalapeno peppers, finely diced, seeds included

1  2-ounce can anchovy fillets rolled with capers, drained and minced

4  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1  tablespoon Greek seasoning blend, or dried oregano

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

2  3-ounce cans sliced black olives, well-drained

4-6 tablespoons minced, fresh basil leaves

1  pound crumbled feta cheese

additional Greek seasoning blend, for topping crostini

PICT1451 ~ Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Preheat broiler.

Slice each bell pepper into 4 pieces, discarding the seeds. When slicing bell peppers, always trim and remove the white-colored rib sections.  Place pieces, skin side up on prepared baking pan.  Peel and slice the onion into 6, 1/4"-1/2" slices, arranging them on the same pan with the pepper pieces.

PICT1463 ~ Step 2.  Place the pan of peppers and onions on an oven rack that has been positioned 7"-8" underneath the preheated broiler. Broil until the skin of the red peppers is blistered and blackening, about 15 minutes.  

Remove the pan from the oven and:

PICT1466 ~ Step 3.  Remove the peppers from the pan and place them in a glass bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes to steam. This steaming process makes the blistered skin very easy to remove. Flip the onion slices over and return them to the broiler until they are lightly browned on the second side, about 15 more minutes.

PICT1477While the peppers are steaming and the onions are cooling to the touch:

~ Step 4.  Using a paring knife and a grapefruit spoon, scoop out and discard the liquid and seeds from the tomatoes.  Dice the seeded tomatoes into small, bite-sized pieces, placing them in a medium mixing bowl as you work.

PICT1482 ~ Step 5.  Remove and discard the skins from the peppers.  Dice the "meat" into small, bite-sized pieces, adding them to the mixing bowl as you work.

PICT1468 Dice the onions into small pieces as well, adding them to the bowl with the tomatoes and peppers.

PICT1487 ~ Step 6.  Prep the garlic, jalapeno peppers, and anchovies as directed, adding them to the bowl along with the olive oil, Greek seasoning blend, sea salt & white pepper.  Using a spoon, mix well. 

PICT1497 Drain the olives and mince the basil, adding both to bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold until combined. Cover and refrigerate salsa for 4-6 hours or 1-2 days in advance.

 ~ Step 7.PICT1518  Preheat the broiler with oven rack positioned 7"-8" beneath it.  Line desired-sized baking pans with parchment paper.

Place desired number of toasts, about 1/2" apart on prepared pan(s). Using a slotted spoon, top each toast with about 2 tablespoons of salsa.  Evenly distribute the feta cheese over  all.  Sprinkle with additional Greek seasoning blend.

Place the pan of crostini under preheated broiler to broil until cheese is soft and beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes (feta cheese does not get ooey-or gooey like some other cheeses, it just softens and lightly browns). Remove crostini from the oven and allow to cool on pan 1-2 minutes. Transfer to serving platter and serve immediately:

Elegant, extraordinary, exquisite:

PICT1545 Mediterranean-Style Roasted Vegetable Crostini:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 dozen crostini and approximately 6 cups of salsa.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling racks; chef's knife; paring knife; grapefruit spoon; rubber spatula; slotted spoon

Cook's Note:  This recipe does require time to prepare but it is well worth the effort.  Preparing the salsa represents most of the work, but because it and the toasts can be prepared 1-2 days in advance it takes the pressure off you.  Also, with little extra effort, the recipe is easy to double for a large group and assembling any quantity is a breeze. That being said, the first time I served this recipe it was for a group of six women who were invited to my home for a light, summer luncheon. Within about 20 minutes we had eaten every last one, so be sure to make enough.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


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