If you follow food trends at all, you’ll know that toast is so popular, it now has entire sections of menus devoted to it.
Instead of #putaneggonit,” it’s put it on toast.
Following any big restaurant food trend usually comes at least one cookbook, which often act as the backlash to the backlash in the trend cycle. I happened to have two friends write books about toast this year, including the aptly named Toast: The Cookbook, by Raquel Pelzel.
As an unabashed carb lover, I’m on board with this trend. Let me re-phrase: I resent paying $12 at a restaurant for toast (unless it’s truly exceptional), but I’m delighted that it’s now considered an acceptable dinner.
Of course, when I have toast as a meal, I usually set out, say, a container of ricotta, some roasted chiles and maybe some greens. Then I just tell whoever is at the table to have at it.
Raquel, who has has been a sort of fairy godsister to me since I started my freelance career two years ago, proves that the toast dinner is worthy of an upgrade. I was thrilled to test a few recipes for her book and am even more excited that the book is here.
A former Cooks Illustrated recipe tester and collaborator on seventeen cookbooks and counting, Raquel creates foolproof recipes with exacting instructions. They almost might seem fussy until you try the results.
For example, when I tested the lovely, luscious, Sweet Shrimp and Fava Smash Toast in her book, she has you halve the shrimp lengthwise. The few minutes of extra work, however, gives you the impression that you’ve doubled the amount of (expensive) shrimp you have. Plus, they cook lightning fast and the pieces are delicate, rather than clunky, so they stay on your toast.
For making toast itself, she stresses her strong preference for using a broiler so you can brush them with olive oil or butter first. It’s slightly more cumbersome than popping bread in the toaster, but you end up with bread that’s especially crisp, with a custardy center, and an almost smoky flavor.
While flipping through the book recently, the toast recipe in the photo called out to me. I love a good romesco—the Spanish roasted pepper and almond sauce that’s sometimes thickened with bread. This one appealed to me more than usual because it doesn’t call for red bell peppers (my least favorite vegetable). Instead, the base is more tomatoey, with a bit of complex fruity chile flavor and slight heat from a dried guajillo.
Like most romescos, the instructions involve a few steps: First you broil a tomato; then you cook the garlic and a chile in a pool of hot oil, before soaking the chile in boiling water. Finally, you toast bread cubes and almonds in the oil and finally blend everything together with vinegar and salt. During the process, it’s satisfying to watch and smell all of these raw ingredients undergo the effects of, ahem, toasting, taking on more delicious dimensions.
Because of the little bit of work involved, I made a double batch of the romesco. It’s never a bad sauce to have around. For example, after I ate these garlicky greens-topped toasts for lunch (so, so delicious), I spooned the sauce alongside my salmon for dinner. As I write this, I’ve got some roasted winter squash cooling on the counter that’s looking to get in on the action. Maybe with some pork chops? Or, perhaps, I’ll just put it on toast (again) and call it dinner, along with a glass of wine, of course.
Speaking of wine, let’s just say that mustard greens are a challenging pairing. I ended up focusing more on the romesco and serving these with a light, fruity Cabernet Franc from the Bourgueil region of France. Any similar red, like Beaujolais or simple styles of Spanish Tempranillo, will do. And, of course, don’t forget to share a toast. (Sorry, I had to!)
- Romesco sauce
- 1 large tomato, halved horizontally and seeded
- ½ cup (80 mil) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large garlic clove, peeled but whole
- 1 dried guajillo chile (or 1 ancho chile or 2 pasilla chiles)
- ¼ cup (40 g) lightly toasted almonds
- ⅓ cup (20 g) baguette cubes (½-inch/2 cm)
- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
- 1¼ teaspoons kosher (coarse) salt
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra from the bread and for serving
- 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 cups (170 g) roughly chopped mustard greens or kale (tough ribs and stems removed)
- ½ teaspoon plus a few pinches kosher (coarse) or flaky salt, for the bread
- Four ¾-inch (2 cm) thick slices country-style bread, toasted (see Toasting Under the Broiler)
- Make the romesco sauce: Preheat the broiler (grill) to high. Place the tomato halves on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet and broil until they start to singe, 6–8 minutes (watch closely as broiler intensities vary). Transfer tomatoes to a food processor.
- Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
- In the meantime, in a large skillet (frying pan), combine the olive oil and garlic and set over medium-high heat. Once the garlic starts to sizzle, use tongs to turn often until it begins to turn golden, 1–2 minutes. Add the chile and cook until it puffs out and the garlic is golden brown, 1–2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic to the food processor and place the chile in the pot of boiling water, using a plate or glass to submerge.
- Add the almonds and baguette cubes to the hot oil and fry until golden brown on all sides, 1½–2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer almonds and bread to the food processor. Pour the oil into a heatsafe measuring cup.
- Drain the chile, remove the stem end, and discard the seeds. Add the chile to the food processor along with the vinegar and salt and process until semi-smooth, about 30 seconds. With the machine running, add the reserved olive oil, blending until emulsified, about 1 minute.
- Make the toast: To the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the garlic, and black pepper and set it over medium-high heat. Once the garlic becomes golden, after about 30 seconds, add the greens and ½ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring often, until the greens begin to wilt, 3–4 minutes. Transfer to a fine-mesh sieve or colander set into a sink to drain.
- Top each piece of toast with a few spoonfuls of romesco sauce, followed by mustard greens. Drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with flaky salt.
Toasting Under The Broiler
Drizzle one side of each slice of bread with extra-virgin olive oil, then season with a few pinches of kosher salt.
Position an oven rack in the top third of the oven, 3–4 inches (7.5–10 cm) from the broiler element, and preheat to high. If you have an old-school broiler drawer beneath your oven, you can get a better result by setting the baking sheet on top of a muffin tin, thereby elevating the baking sheet to 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) from the heating element.
Set the bread on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until golden brown, about 2–3 minutes (watch the bread closely as broiler intensities vary—never walk away from food under the broiler!).
Flip the bread slices and toast the other side until golden brown, another 1–2 minutes.