August 18, 2010

Easy Italian Appetizers

One of the reasons I fell in love with food in Italy is their focus on quality, simple ingredients. I really had my eyes opened to the idea that simple food can still be amazing. These appetizers definitely hinge on the quality of their ingredients. And when the cantaloupe or tomatoes are perfect, these appetizers are very appealing.

In Jim Lahey's My Bread, he chronicles his decades-long process to learn to make bread. His European influence centered on bread in Rome, and his words about the Roman cooking style resonated with me: "Cooking, of course, mattered in Rome, but it was a particular kind of cooking--not fancy, no culinary showing off. It was basic and traditional, the reason that grandmothers in the kitchen are so admired there. You could create real beauty with fresh, simple ingredients and careful preparation."

A common Italian appetizer is the simple pairing of fresh cantaloupe with prosciutto, which is cured thin-sliced pork. It's available in the deli or pre-packaged. The cantaloupe I received in my CSA share was divine - very sweet and fragrant- and so it worked magic in this dish.

Cantaloupe and Prosciutto

cantaloupe, cubed
prosciutto, sliced into smaller pieces (about 2 x 1 inches)
fresh mint leaves (optional)

Gather a piece of prosciutto and place on top of a cube of cantaloupe. Top with a mint leaf and secure with a toothpick.

Tomato-Basil Bruschetta
from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

6-8 fresh, ripe plum tomatoes
8 to 12 fresh basil leaves
6 garlic cloves
12 slices good, thick-crusted bread, sliced 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Wash the tomatoes, split them in half lengthwise, and with the tip of a paring knife pick out all the seeds you can. Dice the tomatoes into 1/2-inch cubes.

Wash the basil leaves, shake them thoroughly dry, and tear them into small pieces.

Preheat broiler.

Mash the garlic cloves with a heavy knife handle, crushing them just enough to split them and to loosen the peel, which you will remove and discard.

Broil the bread to golden brown on both sides.

While bread is still hot, rub one side of each slice with the mashed garlic.

Top bread with diced tomato, sprinkle with basil, add salt and pepper, and lightly drizzle each slice with olive oil. Serve while still warm.

1 comment: