By Lee & Lou Havlicek.
Lee & Lou Cook.
Crostini are like little golden (brown) tickets when the holiday season rolls around. They’re incredibly versatile, endlessly delicious staples that make holiday dinners, cocktail parties, movie nights where whoever happens to be in town shows up, late night snacks in the kitchen after midnight present wrapping, and dinners made of leftovers a really tasty breeze.
When it comes to these building blocks, quality is key. The best crostini aren’t overly complicated. They showcase a few ingredients—maybe an amazing cheese or some seasonal produce—which means that anything you add should play off and bring out the other flavors. It also means that you’re going to taste everything, so it all has to be great. What takes the most consideration when it comes to crostini is selecting ingredients. Assembly itself is usually a snap.
The olive oil you use is going to have a big impact on the flavor of your crostini. Change up your olive oil and you’ll change the whole taste. Some olive oils can be bitter—you should avoid those here. They may be fine for cooking, but definitely not for flavoring. An olive oil that’s fruity or grassy is going to be your best bet. We usually like Spanish or Italian olive oils best. They tend to be bright and fruity or grassy.
There’s a lot to be said about olive oils. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Doesn’t it all taste pretty much the same?” It really doesn’t. Go do a taste test and see just how much the flavors vary. It’s kind of amazing. The way in which olive oils are described is often pretty similar to the way wines are discussed—a hint of this, background flavors of that. If you have a chance, check out the Yearly Index of the World’s Best Olive Oils. But what this all comes down to is that you should use whatever olive oil you love. In any case, make sure it’s extra virgin and, if possible, first cold pressed. These oils are where you’ll find the most flavor.
When it comes to choosing the right kind of bread, there are a few things to consider. Something with a nice crust and good chew is always ideal, but the kind of toppings you use will determine exactly what sort of bread and how you slice it. If you’re using bread that will give you smaller slices, like a baguette, it should be cut in about 1/2 inch thick slices. If you’re using a larger loaf, like a country-style bread, it should be sliced a bit on the thick side (about 3/4 inch thick slices). If you’re using a very rich or heavy topping, or if you’re serving a lot of different appetizers, smaller slices are nice so you don’t fill up on one. If your toppings are lighter and you only want to serve one per person, larger slices work great.
As for toasting, here’s the secret: use your broiler. The trick to crostini is to brush the tops with olive oil and pop them under the broiler, toasting only one side so that it gets just the right amount of crispy, but the bottom remains a bit chewy…
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