Eric Akis: Fancy toast makes perfect patio snack

If you’re having friends over for a casual get-together, you’ll need something to snack on while you sip wine and catch up on things. Making some toasts and tasty toppings is a delicious option, not to mention a trendy one in some restaurants these days.

The toast I’m talking about is not the breakfast variety you smother with peanut butter and jam, it’s the appetizer kind you spread with something savoury.

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Making the toast for this snack is not complicated. You take slices of good-quality bread and, well, toast it in a toaster, under a broiler or in the oven.

In an Italian restaurant these toasted slices of bread would be called crostini, pronounced “kroh-STEE-nee.”

The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink describes crostini as thin slices of toast covered with various ingredients. My recipe for them is called olive oil parmesan crostini, because when I toasted the bread I flavoured it with those items.

As for what to spread on those crostini, I’ve given you four options.

The first is an always-popular hummus with chickpeas, sun-dried tomatoes and basil.

Next up is smoked albacore tuna spread, where a tin of high-quality, B.C.-caught fish is flaked and folded into a creamy dip flavoured with pesto.

Tins of smoked albacore tuna can be found at some supermarkets and at seafood stores, such as Finest at Sea (finestatsea.com) in Victoria.

My third topping for the crostini is a tapenade that’s been flavoured with balsamic crema and three types of pitted olives — kalamata, niçoise and Sicilian.

You’ll find those olives and balsamic creama for sale in supermarkets with a well-stocked deli section and at some Mediterranean food stores. Balsamic creama (or cream) is balsamic vinegar that has been reduced until syrupy. It has a sweet, fruity and tangy flavour that marries well with the sharper-tasting olives.

My last savoury item to spread on crostini is a Middle Eastern-style yam spread.

To make it, cooked yam and garlic were blended with yogurt, citrus juice, mint and an aromatic mix of spices.

You can serve the spreads in decorative bowls or in mason jars, the latter being handy because you can tightly seal the jar before and after serving the spreads.

 

Eric Akis is the author of The Great Rotisserie Chicken Cookbook (Appetite by Random House). His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

 

Olive Oil Parmesan Crostini
Small, toasted pieces of bread you can slather with the tasty spreads below. The length of your baguette will determine how many crostini you get. Mine was about two feet long and yielded about 60 crostini.
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking time: seven to eight minutes, per sheet
Makes: About 60 crostini

1 baguette, cut into about 60, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick slices
(see Note)
• extra virgin olive oil
• chunk of parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide and set the baguette slices on the baking sheets. Brush each baguette slice lightly with olive oil. Now finely grate sprinkle some parmesan cheese on each baguette slice.
Bake the crostini, one sheet at a time, for seven to eight minutes, or until lightly toasted. Crostini can be made a few hours before serving. Cover and keep at room temperature until needed.

Note: The baguette used for this recipe was about six- to seven-centimetres wide. Do not use one much than wider than that or you won’t get bite-sized crostini.
If you have any crostini left after entertaining your friends, they’ll keep for several days in a tight-
sealing container.

 

Hummus with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Basil

The tahini, a sesame seed paste, used in this tasty hummus is sold at most supermarkets, often is the aisle peanut butter is sold.

 

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: Two cups

 

1 (19 oz/540 mL) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

8 oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes, drained well (see Note)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus some for drizzling

3 Tbsp tahini

3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, or to taste

2 Tbsp water

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

2 tsp ground cumin

3 Tbsp chopped fresh basil, or to taste

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Spoon the hummus into a decorative bowl or mason jar. The hummus can be made a day in advance of serving. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Drizzle the hummus with a little olive oil just before serving.

 

Note: Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes are sold at most supermarkets in the pickle aisle, or dried pasta aisle.

 

Smoked BC Albacore Tuna Spread

Smoked tuna anchors this creamy spread flavoured with pesto and lemon.

 

Preparation: 10 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About two cups

 

1 (250 ml) tub spreadable cream cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp pesto

• splash or two Tabasco or other hot pepper sauce

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1 (150 gram) can smoked B.C. albacore tuna, drained well and finely flaked

Place all ingredients, except tuna, in a bowl and beat until well combined. Mix in the tuna. Transfer to a decorative serving bowl or mason jar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Spread can be made several hours before needed.

 

Three Olive Tapenade with Balsamic Crema

Sicilian, kalamata and niçoise olives are blended into this version of tapenade that’s accented with sweet, tangy and fruity tasting balsamic creama. The tapenade is a tasty spread for crostini and can also be used in sandwiches, as a pizza topping and as coating for roasted fish fillets, chicken breast or lamb rack.

 

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: About 2 cups

 

1 cup pitted Sicilian green olives

1 cup pitted kalamata olives

1 cup pitted niçoise olives

1/4 cup capers

4 anchovy fillets

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbsp balsamic crema

3 large garlic cloves, sliced

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

• freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process until well blended, but still a little coarse in texture. Transfer tapenade to a decorative serving bowl or mason jar. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. The tapenade will keep in the refrigerator for a week or more.

 

Middle Eastern-style Yam Spread

Sweet yams cooked and blended into a spread with such things as citrus, spices, garlic and yogurt.

 

Preparation: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Makes: About 2 cups

 

3 cups cubed yams (about 1 lb)

3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/3 to 1/2 cup thick yogurt

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 Tbsp lemon juice

2 Tbsp orange juice

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp ground coriander seed

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

• salt to taste

3 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

• extra virgin olive oil

Place the yams and garlic in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a simmer. Cook the yams until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain well and then place the yams and garlic in a food processor with the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil for drizzling. Purée the yams until smooth.

Transfer the spread to a decorative serving bowl or mason jar. Serve the spread now, while still warm, or cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. If doing the latter, the spread can be made a day in advance of serving. At that point the spread can be served cold or warm, the latter done by simply heating it for a few minutes in the microwave. Drizzle the spread with a little olive oil, just before serving.

 

Galiano Festival takes the sting out of nettles

This weekend Galiano Island will host its eighth annual Nettlefest in and around its South Community Hall, 141 Sturdies Bay Rd. It’s a weekend of foraging and feasting on stinging nettles and includes the events below. To register, visit galianofoodprograms@gmail.com.

 

• Friday at 5:30 p.m. stinging nettle aficionado Alison Colwell will run a nettle-cooking workshop. In this hands-on class, you’ll learn how to prepare nettles for cooking and then roll up your sleeves and make and enjoy a meal. Cost for the workshop is $15 to $25 and includes a copy of Colwell’s nettle cookbook.

• Saturday from 10 a.m. until noon naturalist Patti Pringle and holistic nutritionist Cedana Bourne will host a forest foraging walk. Bring your gloves and baskets and get ready learn about foraging for wild foods, their nutrition and how to preserve them. Cost for the walk is $5 to $10.

• Saturday at noon the Galiano Island community nettle harvest takes place. This free event is open to everyone, including kids. Please bring baskets, clippers and gloves to use for harvesting nettles.

• Sunday at 5:30 p.m. the free Nettlefest potluck takes place at the South Galiano Community Hall. Bring a dish to share and be ready to dance.

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