Romesco Toast with Mustard Greens from Toast By Raquel Pelzel

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.

Toast: The Cookbook

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!) continue reading

Tomato with Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar, Browned Butter and Steak Juices

“Burgundy is a fickle and unreliable lover. It’s the source of more heartbreak than country music radio. Burgundy is like the girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme. When she’s good she’s very very good and when she’s bad she’s horrid.”–Jay McInerney

If you drink a lot of wine, you know the quote above to be true. I feel the same way about tomatoes. Yes, even the foodie-worshipped in-season heirloom type. Especially the heirloom type.

I live in New York City, where cooks wait through months and months of root vegetables for ramps, those musky wild leeks. Then it begins–the onslaught of asparagus, strawberries, snap peas, English peas, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, zucchini, eggplant and finally, finally, tomatoes that weren’t grown in a greenhouse.

We load up our canvas bags (who cares that they’re $6+ per pound!), walk home with them as delicately as possible and slice one greedily as soon as we get into the kitchen. Sometimes, it’s perfect. The color is saturated all the way through. The flesh can barely hold all of the liquid–it’s like a juicy piece of stained glass. The flavor is that perfect blend of sweet, tangy and savory with a slightly ferny quality that reminds you why you treat tomatoes like a vegetable, not the fruit that it is.

But sometimes, I find myself at home with imperfect tomatoes even though they looked great at the farm stand. They’re a little bit cottony or the slightest bit underripe. Even sadder, they bruise from the walk home and almost immediately start to ferment.

I’ve learned a few tips for choosing better tomatoes (for example, you really don’t want the heirlooms to be soft because it usually means their overripe) but I still feel like I have to hold my breath as a slice them. Will they be salad worthy or will I have to relegate them to sauce?

Luckily, we’ve already had one transcendent tomato experience this summer. The tomatoes were from the always reliable Eckerton Farms and part of a box I buy from a company called Quinciple. Inspired by my friend Nancy Singleton Hachinsu’s excellent book, Japanese Farm Food, I dressed them with a little soy sauce and rice vinegar. Then I cooked a steak (grassfed, from Quinciple, and one of about five we eat each year), which I basted with some butter, and poured those buttery steak juices over the tomatoes. It was ridiculous.

Since then, I’ve had some tomato heartbreak, and it’s leaving me wondering whether I want to invest my precious grocery dollars in such a “cruel lover” when there are so many other great vegetables to eat right now. I guess I could always stick with cherry tomatoes, which are less delicate and more reliably delicious if not capable of producing a religious. tomato. experience.

But driven by the goose-bump-inducing flavor memories of those tomatoes with steak juices, I’ll undoubtably shell out for more $6+/lb pound heirlooms at least once more this summer. Because soon enough, the root vegetables are coming and it’ll be a long wait once again for ramp season.