Ricotta and Roasted Pepper Tartine

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Exhibit A:

Exhausted woman's attempt at fancy girl food after putting baby to bed, cleaning kitchen for the third time in one day (what the hell, baby?), answering one percent of the emails glaring at her in her inbox and putting fourth coat of paint on New Year's Resolution No. 6.

Required:

Slices, as needed, of nice, toastable bread.

Ricotta (the plain old grocery store stuff, because I am only human).

Roasted peppers (bossy instructions here), torn gently into shreds.

Olive oil, flaky salt, dried oregano.

Execute:

Toast bread and put on plate.

Spread with ricotta.

Top with roasted pepper strips, entwined artfully.

Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle liberally with salt and oregano.

Eat, then repeat with remaining ingredients until full or asleep at the dinner table, whichever comes first.

...

Speaking of which, how early is too early to go to bed at night? Is 8:30 pm pushing it? Asking for a friend.


Kale Chips

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The other day I was reading one of those year-end round-ups of annoying things that food bloggers do and halfway down the list was this (paraphrased):

STOP TALKING ABOUT KALE CHIPS OMG.

This made me laugh out loud, because just that morning I had practically dragged my mother into my kitchen to show her how to make kale chips, aren't they amazing, OMG and I couldn't wait to blog about them. I'd made my first batch the night before and they had blown my mind. Then they proceeded to blow hers. So, of course I couldn't wait to tell you all about them, even if I was the last one to the party, by, like, two whole years. And now here someone was telling me to stop talking about them already! They were so over kale chips and these overly enthusiastic food bloggers and their stupid kale!

In case you, like me, have been living under a rock or have just never really trusted that rubbing kale leaves with olive oil and sticking them in the oven would result in something irresistibly delicious OMG I'm not even kidding, then this post is for you.

KALE CHIPS ARE SO DELICIOUS YOU GUYS.

(Is this the best food blog post you have ever read, or what?)

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First thing you have to do is buy really nice, fresh kale. (Incidentally, it's the one leafy green that is not hard to find here in my beloved city because Berliners love themselves some curly kale. In winter, it's all over the place here, packaged up in 5-kilo bags to be stewed for hours along with coarse sausage called Pinkel (which also means to urinate? Which, uh, is neither here nor there.)) Back home, you strip the leaves off the ribs and discard the ribs. Then you wash the leaves and dry them carefully (I use the salad spinner and then I dab the remaining moisture off with a paper towel or two). You put the dried leaves on a sheet pan in a single layer, scatter some fine salt over them and drizzle them with a tiny bit of olive oil. Then you get your hands dirty, massaging the olive oil into the kale so that every square millimeter of leaf glistens darkly.

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Then you stick the pan in the hot oven and set the timer for 10 minutes, checking every once in a while to make sure that the leaves aren't going black. When they're ready, the kale chips will still look mostly like they did before, albeit a little more cooked. But when you put one in your mouth, it will shatter like a potato chip! A virtuous potato chip, though! And it will be delicious! All roasty-toasty and nutty, salty and delicious! You will probably eat the entire pan clean before your cohabitors even get wind of what fantastical treat just passed them by. And then you will spend the rest of the day dragging people into your kitchen to show them the kitchen magic you know how to do.

KALE CHIPS FOR EVERYONE, NOT JUST ANNOYING FOOD BLOGGERS!

I used this video and the accompanying comments for guidance on making them.


Stephen Williams's Salsify in Black Forest Ham

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You know, most days I think I'm a pretty good catch. I have all my teeth, I earn my own keep, I speak four languages and I can cook (at least perfect spaghetti, a decent loaf of bread and poached eggs the old-fashioned way). Then along comes one man and cooks me a dinner made up of a few different root vegetables, for Pete's sake, and a simple roast chicken and I realize that I am a hack and a fraud and I might as well be serving cold cereal every night for dinner.

I guess I should explain. Stephen Williams is no ordinary man, you see: he's a Michelin-starred gastropub chef and the friend of a friend of mine who very kindly invited me over to dinner the night that Stephen was in town and cooking for her.

Now, I don't know if you know this about me, but I do truly believe that fancy food is sort of wasted on me. Give me a plate of spaghetti over a seven-course tasting menu any day. It's not that I don't appreciate the skill and artistry that go on behind that seven-course menu. It's just that I really kind of prefer, say, a plate of boiled vegetables and a good olive oil. Let's call it the Italian peasant in me.

But.

I am not entirely a Philistine. Because as I sat at that dinner table, chewing on a stub of ham-wrapped salsify (oh, fine, five, no, seven of them), I distinctly felt the earth move.

My goodness, it was good.

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And also slightly terrifying. If such glory was lurking behind a black-peeled root, what on earth else had I been missing my whole life? What other kind of magic was Stephen able to practice, if given a home kitchen and, say, a cabbage or a pound of carrots or celery root or a hulking rutabaga, for crying out loud?

(Only a few of us will be able to find out - Stephen's leaving the Harwood Arms and traveling in Australia for a while before going to work at the Auberge de Chassignolles this summer. In other words, you must go to there.)

It's too upsetting to comtemplate, really, so instead let's just get down to what actually matters: How to cook salsify yourself.

First of all, find the salsify. Not such an easy task! You're looking for what basically look like black carrots. Black as night, with little white roots emerging from their spindly ends. Here's a visual aide, since I wasn't able to find any to photograph for you (the season is ending, even in Berlin, but remember this for next year!). Buy four or five or six salsify roots. Go to the butcher and get some real Black Forest ham, which should be the cured and smoked German kind, not the cooked American kind you see in sandwiches. You could also use prosciutto or jamòn Serrano, I suppose, though those are sweeter, unsmoked hams.

At home, take out a pot with a lid and pour a couple of inches of water into it. Add a splash, just a splash, of white wine vinegar. Next, peel the salsify. This is a little unpleasant. The salsify, upon peeling, excrete the oddest sort of goo that makes your hands rather tacky and can be a little tough to wash off (though using the scrubber side of a sponge did the trick for me in a matter of seconds). The second you've finished peeling a salsify root, cut it in half and drop it in the pot of water. When you're finished, the salsify should be entirely submerged in the water.

You parboil the salsify, then wrap them in the Black Forest ham you've painstakingly sourced. (You won't regret it, I promise you!) These little packages are laid lovingly in an oil-smeared baking dish (does the oil actually do anything here? I'm not entirely sure) and then roasted for about 20 minutes, until the ham has crisped and the salsify is satiny-fudgy in texture.

Good luck plating these: I guarantee at least three of them will not make it from the dish to the plate. Somewhere in mid-air, you will swoop in, your mouth agape. You will chew and taste sweetness and salt and the faintly mysterious flavor of the salsify, balanced somewhere between this world and the next. You will, quite unlike you, not offer anyone else the last one, but take it as your divine cook's right to finish it.

And then you will give your inner Italian peasant a hard look and contemplate attending cooking school, if only to learn what Stephen knows.

Salsify in Black Forest Ham
Serves 2 as a side

5 salsify roots
1 glug of white wine vinegar
5 slices real Black Forest ham
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Fill a saucepan with a few inches of water and add the vinegar to the water. Peel the salsify quickly, cut each root in half after peeling and drop into the acidulated water.

2. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes. Drain the salsify. Oil a baking dish large enough to fit all the salsify in a single layer. Cut the ham slices in half lengthwise. Wrap each piece of salsify in a slice of ham and place, seam-side down, in the prepared pan.

3. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the ham has crisped and the salsify are entirely tender. Serve immediately.


Akhtar Nawab's Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing

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Five weeks and counting. Five weeks and something like two days, I think. Oh, who am I kidding, like I don't know down to the minute. To be precise, 37 days. 37 days as of tomorrow. 37 days and one more evening, I guess, if I'm going to be totally exact. Is what I've got left in New York, of course.

I've been doing this thing which is totally maddening and kind of makes me want to smack myself gently in the face to snap out of it, but I can't seem to help it, this thing where I'll be somewhere, not even somewhere special, maybe just on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street, which is sort of Nowheresville compared to other glimmering parts of this city, but who cares, I happen to love it. Anyway. The light will fall just so on that random little corner while the strangest accumulation of beautiful creatures will emerge from the subway moving like jungle cats and some cab driver will be screaming epithets from three lanes away while leaning on his horn and the cars will be moving along gracefully in this perfect symphony and a homeless dude will smile at me sweetly and I'll see the Rafiqi's cart guy pulling into his regular space and the wind will whip through my hair and suddenly I'll just lose my breath, it'll just get caught in my throat and my heart will stop and I'll find myself thinking This is it, this is the last time I'll ever be on the corner of 7th Avenue and 28th Street when the light falls just so with that crazy cabbie yelling over the din and the Rafiqi's guy setting up his cart, The Very Last Time, OMG, I must be crazy if I think I can leave, how on earth can I ever leave? Help.

And because I'm sentimental and in love with my city, the kind of love that I don't think will ever die, this happens to me on almost every street corner, at almost every moment. Don't get me started on when I see my friends. Let's just say I'm walking around with a perpetually clenched heart these days.

Which is all sort of ridiculous, of course. First of all, my reason for leaving is the kind of thing that still has me waking up with a disbelieving grin on my face most mornings. And second of all, New York is not exactly going anywhere. As most kind people tell me these days, I can always come back. I can always come back. I can always come back. Thirdly, while New York is without a doubt the Greatest City in the World, fully deserving of every tear I shed for its wondrous, sparkling, incredible self, I think I tend towards the slightly hysterical when it comes to saying goodbye, no matter where I am, let's be honest.

Anyway.

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One of the loveliest things to happen in these last few weeks was finally seeing what my friends Francis and Ganda were like in real life. Which just makes me laugh, really, since I can still remember those Stone Age days when I thought that people who made friends online were just totally strange and definitely a little suspect. And now I'm the kind of person who has dinner with her friends from the Internet, and it's practically like we've known each other for years. Which we have! Sort of. You know what I mean.

Anyway.

Francis made his famous koshary, Ganda brought positively addictive French Mint Bars from Li-Lac, so good they inspired a surprise visit from my strange disappearing sweet tooth (let me tell you about that unnerving phenomenon another time), and I made Akhtar Nawab's pork meatballs, finally, after hoarding the recipe carefully for two years.

Don't wait that long, is all I can tell you. These meatballs are wonderful. Even better, they come with two little sauces that catapult the meatballs from Very Tasty into Totally Delicious. Two sauces may seem like overkill to you (well, they did to me in any case), but I say think of them as a reason to pull out those adorable sauce dishes you might have been given as a wedding present, or the little bowls you bought at a flea market in Paris years ago and never seem to use.

The meatballs are flavored with everything from ground coriander to minced oregano. Interestingly, instead of mixing soaked bread into the raw meat in clumps, Akhtar has you sweat an onion until it's soft and translucent, then purée that onion with milk-soaked bread into a fragrant paste and mix that into the raw meat. Clever! The meat is shaped into balls and then fried in butter and oil until browned on all sides (mine went from rounds to triangularish domes in the pan, but no matter, they still tasted good). They're savory and herbal and crunchy and deeply wonderful.

The sauces are meant to be drizzled and dripped on the meatballs - first the yogurt sauce, which is so thick it can only be dolloped, and then the mint sauce, which is so good I could have sat down on the floor with a spoon and made it my dinner. (I'm having this weirdly intense thing with vinegar lately. I can't get enough of it. Even pickles don't seem to cut it. Maybe it's related to my disappearing sweet tooth? I don't know, I don't even care. I just want more vinegar, please. Straight from the bottle is fine, too.) If you're serving these as an appetizer, I think it'd be cute to arrange the meatballs on a platter, each stuck with a little toothpick, then drizzled and dolloped in advance by you before your guests set themselves upon the toothpicked meatballs like hungry Visigoths. If you're serving these as part of a meal, then pass the sauces in their bowls and let your guests dress their meatballs as they wish.

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(Look at these sweethearts, would you?)

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Pork Meatballs with Yogurt Dressing
Yields 50 1-inch meatballs (serves about 12 as an hors d’oeuvre)

For yogurt dressing
1 cup high-fat Greek yogurt
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For mint dressing
1/2 cup finely sliced mint leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For meatballs
1 cup crustless country bread, torn into pieces
2 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
Half a large onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes
2 1/2 pounds ground pork, chilled
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
4 tablespoons butter

1. For yogurt dressing, combine yogurt, cumin, and sugar. Slowly whisk in oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

2. For mint dressing, combine mint, shallot and vinegar in small bowl. Slowly whisk in oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste, cover and refrigerate.

3. For meatballs, combine bread and milk in a bowl, and stir until bread has absorbed milk.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon of oil and onion in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until sizzling, then cover, reduce heat to low and cook until onion is softened but not colored. Transfer to food processor, add bread mixture and purée.

5. Combine coriander, cumin, fennel and hot red-pepper flakes in small skillet over medium heat and stir until lightly toasted and fragrant. Remove from heat and grind to a powder in a spice grinder.

6. Mix meat, the bread mixture, spices and salt in a large stand mixer with paddle attachment. Add parsley and oregano, and mix again. With wet hands, roll into 1-inch balls.

7. Place large skillet over medium heat. Add butter and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When butter has melted, reduce heat slightly and begin adding meatballs, allowing them to brown on the bottom, then turning gently to continue browning on all sides. Work in batches, transferring meatballs to a platter when they are cooked. To serve, drizzle with yogurt dressing and sprinkle with mint dressing.


How to Fry Zucchini Blossoms

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You know what's disappointing? Clipping a recipe Nine Whole Years Ago (9!), saving it meticulously for Just The Right Occasion, finally getting to That Blessed Moment, and realizing that the recipe is A Total Dud. D. U. D.

Oh! There was so much potential. First of all, the recipe came from Molly O'Neill, back when she had a column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Illustrious provenance, for sure. Second of all, it involved whole fish, Greek yogurt, red lentils, and marjoram, roasted in the oven. I know! Does that sound good, or what? Third of all, I'd been saving it for nine years. That's practically a third of my life! That number alone should have guaranteed deliciousness, I think.

But instead, after smearing yogurt all over a bunch of fish (red snapper because there was no striped bass to be found), stuffing them with marjoram and garlic, salting and peppering them well, arranging them on a (perplexing) bed of cooked red lentils, and roasting those suckers until they were crispy and browned, all they ended up tasting like was...nothing.

Now if you know anything about red lentils, you'll know that once they're cooked, they look nothing like their cute, coral selves from the package. They turn into a pallid yellow mush that one of my friends kind enough to share the meal last night actually likened to baby poop. (Oops! I swore to myself last night I wouldn't reference that on this website. I think I might have had too much to drink last night, too.) Now, of course, they can taste rather nice, provided they've been cooked with something, like minced onions and tomatoes and curry powder, or, I dunno, a few sweet potatoes and ginger. But just boiled? Boiled red lentils? Taste like nothing. Roasted in the oven at 500 degrees Fahrenheit? Nothing, crisped.

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Then there's the matter of the Greek yogurt. What on earth did smearing it on and in the fish do? I still don't know. The fish sure didn't taste like the yogurt. In fact, once the fish were done, you could barely even see the yogurt anymore. It's like it evaporated into thin air! Or into very hot oven air. As for the eight whole garlic cloves and twelve sprigs of marjoram? I don't know if you'll believe me, but you must: I couldn't taste any of it. And I don't have a cold, either. The fish tasted like...red snapper. Roasted in the oven. Plain. As in, PLAIN. So it was edible, I guess, but oh, so disappointing.

Very luckily for all of us at dinner last night, my friend Betsy had the eminently sensible idea of overruling me at the market a few days earlier (I said they'd be too much work. Readers, I am a fool!) and buying a big package of zucchini flowers, which she stuffed with mozzarella and a dab or two of olive paste and fried into crispy, crunchy, golden deliciousness. With a cool glass of Sancerre, they made for a far better dinner.

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Okay, so a quick recipe for those of you who have yet to fry your own zucchini blossoms:

Buy a bunch of fresh zucchini blossoms from an organic farmer so you don't have to worry too much about washing off chemicals. They should not be wilted or browned, but rather look like they were just picked, all vibrant with color. Buy a nice, firm mozzarella. This is not the time for bufala, which is too wet and milky. If you want to be totally traditional, buy some salted anchovies. If not, get a bit of olive paste, also known as tapenade. Oh, and you'll need some nice flaky salt, a few eggs, a plate of flour, and a couple of inches of frying oil (you can use olive oil, but not extra-virgin, or just regular vegetable oil).

Pour the oil into a saute pan with sides, like this one, to the height of one or two inches. Check the blossoms to make sure they're clean and brush off any dirt you might see. Cut the mozzarella into little batons. Rinse the anchovies and cut them in half, if you're using them. Beat 2 eggs in a shallow dish, and pour flour into another dish. Working with one blossom at a time, gently open the blossom end and push in a baton of mozzarella. Then slide in half an anchovy, or a small spoonful of olive paste. Twist the top of the blossom shut. Repeat with the remaining blossoms. Turn the heat on under the pan and while the oil heats up, dip each blossom in the egg to coat, making sure the top of the blossom remains twisted shut, and then dip it in the flour to coat. Repeat with as many blossoms as you'd like to prepare (as an appetizer, consider two or three per person).

When the oil is hot but not smoking (you can gently drop something into the oil to test if it's hot enough - if it is, it'll start fizzing and frying), gently slip the battered blossoms into the oil. Don't crowd the pan (the 10-incher we used last night fit five blossoms at a time). Fry for three to four minutes on each side, turning only once with tongs. While the blossoms fry, line a few plates with some layered paper towels. When the blossoms are golden brown on both sides, remove them to the paper towels. Sprinkle them with flaky salt and eat them immediately. Well, wait a minute so you don't burn the roof of your mouth, but not more than that. (Oh, and make sure you have a glass of nice, cold white wine nearby.) I think you'll find they're difficult to stop eating and not nearly as much work as you think they are.

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There! I've already forgotten about that silly fish and those silly, silly lentils. My work here is done. Have a lovely evening, folks!

Oh, wait, one more thing. If you often find yourself wondering (which I'm sure you do, right?) what on earth I eat on those days when I'm not slaving away in the kitchen or munching on fried zucchini blossoms, head on over to Gourmet.com (!), where I talk with the lovely Sari Lehrer about rancid butter, Canadian yogurt, the glory that is Mexican salsa verde, and the cheapest meal in New York City.


Florence Fabricant's Moroccan Carrot Soup with Mussels

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I know, I know, I just got back from Paris. The traveling itch should be scratched. But I can't help it. I'm already thinking about the next thing I'd like to do, which is go to Morocco. Morocco! Land of couscous and camels and souks and deserts. I have sand in my shoes, I guess. But it's not my fault. I'm blaming it all on this soup.

This soup! So unassuming. So simple. And yet. With just one spoonful, something steals over you. A strange and piercing Wanderlust, almost impossible to battle with. You close your eyes and as you eat, you feel yourself transported to a cool, tiled courtyard, with a tiny fountain babbling quietly and the scent of rose petals in the air. It was all I could do, once my spoon scraped the bottom of my bowl, to keep myself from booking a flight, right then and there, to Morocco.

I don't know about you, but I find this happens often with Moroccan food. Good Moroccan food, I guess I should say. There's something transporting about it. It's familiar, in a way: the ingredients seem regular enough. But there's always something a little exotic about the combination of spices or flavorings that makes me feel like I'm having the most special meal. I can't really explain it any better than that. Call me bewitched.

The recipe comes from Florence Fabricant's Pairings column (which I'm having success after success with, deliciously) and is as close to fast food as fine home cooking gets. Cheap? Check. Speedy? Check. Delicious? Oh, ho ho ho. Check.

All you have to is whip up a simple soup (fry an onion and cumin in olive oil, add a bunch of peeled, chunked carrots, boil, puree, done). Then you purée that into a smooth soup, and add fresh lemon juice. The lemon juice truly is an Oscar-winning supporting actor here. Without its bright acidity, the soup would meander off into rather boring territory. If you wanted to stop cooking here, you could. All you'd need to do is fold in the chopped cilantro, drizzle over a bit of olive oil and you'd be done. Served hot or cold, the soup is a minimalist triumph.

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If you find you need a little something something in your soups in order to be happy, quickly steam some mussels. Strain their fragrant juice into the soup, and mix the shucked mussels - plump and sweet and only $5.99 for 2 whole pounds at Whole Foods right now - with the cilantro and olive oil. A spoonful of these at the bottom of each soup plate, surrounded then by the carrot soup, is quite something.

I can already tell that the carrot soup (without the mussels) is going to be a regular in my kitchen. Which makes me wonder at how far I've come. Just a few years ago this post would have been filled with whinging about how the cilantro was a nightmare and how I simply had to replace it with flat-leaf parsley. Not anymore. Florence is right: you can make this soup without the mussels, but you cannot make it without the cilantro. The alchemy of the sweet carrots, bright lemon juice, cumin and cilantro is truly magical: as you eat, you taste all these things and more: flowers, earth, cross my heart.

Cilantro-haters, don't fear. If I could become a convert, I who used to compare that green stuff to rat poison, so can you. All it took for me was one trip to Mexico. Maybe all you need is a trip to Morocco. If so, can you let me know? I want to come, too.

Moroccan Carrot Soup with Mussels
Serves 6 as a first course

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bunches carrots, peeled, in 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pound mussels, scrubbed
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves

1. Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a 3-quart saucepan. Add onion. Cook over low heat until starting to soften. Stir in cumin, cook briefly, stirring. Add carrots and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool briefly. Purée in a blender in two batches. Return soup to saucepan, season with salt and pepper and add lemon juice. Set aside until shortly before serving.

2. Place mussels in a shallow 2-quart saucepan or sauté pan. Add 1/2 tablespoon oil, toss over high heat about a minute, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until mussels open, 7 to 8 minutes. Remove mussels, draining well so juices stay in pan. Discard any that do not open. When mussels are cool enough to handle, shuck them into a bowl, discard shells and toss mussels with remaining oil and the cilantro. Strain mussel broth and add to soup.

3. Reheat soup. To serve, place a few mussels in each of 6 warm soup plates. Serve plates to guests. Ladle soup over mussels at the table. If not using mussels, fold cilantro into soup, ladle soup into bowls and drizzle each portion with remaining oil.


Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati

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This is my friend Alessandro. Yow! I know, right? My goodness. Artist, funnyman, and eater extraordinaire - he's an all-around Renaissance man. Last week he taught me, the self-anointed No. 1 Fan of tomatoes, bread and olive oil, a little something new about that holy trio. I didn't think it possible. But it's true! Hallelujah! Besides, look at that face. Would you not eat anything it told you to? Sigh.

Where were we?

Okay, now Alessandro's father, Giancarlo, happens to be the World's Expert on stuffed tomatoes. And yes, I have eaten my weight in stuffed tomatoes and I can say with certainty that he is indeed the World's Expert. He should probably be teaching classes in them. But I haven't yet convinced him of this. Don't worry, it's just a matter of time. Alessandro's mother Gabriella will also one day be on the Food Network. Keep an eye out for her.

Here's a visual aide:

 

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Roughly speaking, Giancarlo halves those impossibly red, ribbed-bottomed, flattish tomatoes that I only ever see in Italy (sort of like these), probably salts and drains them, then dries them out in a grill basket over hot coals briefly (upside down, I think?) before filling them with a mixture of breadcrumbs, wild fennel, parsley, salt and olive oil. I'm sorry if this is all a bit vague, but you get the idea, right? Then he fills the grill basket again and grills them until their skins are wrinkled and blackened and the garden fills with fragrance.

This is the garden:

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These are the tomatoes:

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And this is Giancarlo (not only a tomato wizard, but an amazing talent at blowing bubbles):

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Just to give you a sensory nudge. Are you there yet?

Alright, so here's where Alessandro's tutorial begins. Once you have a platter, or two really, of these tomatoes ready, you should slice a loaf of country bread and grill those slices too. Then pass them around the table. Each person gets one slice of bread. Then you pass around a peeled clove of garlic for people to lightly (lightly! come on!) rub across the bread. After that, they should drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the toast, just a bit. Like so:

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Now start handing out tomatoes. Each toast gets one plopped, filling-side down, on top of it.

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Remove all that charred skin. The better you are at removing it one full sweep, the more points you get, according to my friends. I failed miserably. See? That doesn't matter. Still tastes good.

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Okay, you're almost there. Now give that soft little tomato another oil drizzle. And, if you're daring, a sprinkle of salt. I find this essential. Then, using your fork, mash that tomato down into the bread. Go on, it's the best part.

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And you're done! Ooh, you're in for a treat. Smoky, rich, and savory, unctuous and crunchy at the same time, you will want to eat nothing but one after another of these for dinner, no matter what other kinds of dishes are offered to you later in the evening. Grilled octopus so tender it melts in your mouth? Feh. Spaghetti with clams in the most wonderful sauce ever? Who needs it. Give me more tomatoes, bread and olive oil.

Wait! I forgot something. Before you take a bite, cut the bruschetta in half. There, there. The best bites, says Alessandro, are the ones in the middle.

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