I’ve always thought of crostini as small bruschette but this isn’t completely correct, as they are usually made with white bread instead of sourdough. I’m told that in the old days the bread would have been so stale that it would have to be soaked in a little stock or juice to make it chewy and edible again, but don’t worry. In this day and age you don’t have to do this. In Italy they simply grill a half-inch slice of ciabatta, rub it with a cut clove of garlic, drizzle it with oil, and season it with salt and pepper. Crostini are a great aperitivo with a drink, especially if you offer a few different toppings. Here are a few of my faves to get you into the spirit of things — each one will make enough to top 12 slices of crostini.
Grill your slices of ciabatta.
While they’re still hot, rub them gently with the cut side of the garlic and drizzle with good-quality extra virgin olive oil.
Finish with your favorite topping. Here are some suggestions:
Get any mixture of soft herbs like fennel tops, green or purple basil, parsley, mint, chervil, thyme leaves, or sorrel and roughly chop them. Take six cherry tomatoes and halve them, then rub one of the halves into each of your hot crostini. Grate some pecorino or Parmesan over the top and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle over your chopped herbs.
Squashed Cannellini Beans with Garlic
Pick the leaves off a couple of sprigs of rosemary and pound them gently in a mortar and pestle with a little salt. Add a glug of extra-virgin olive oil and stir, then put to one side. Fry two sliced cloves of garlic in a little olive oil until lightly golden. Add 1 ¾ cups of good-quality drained and rinsed cannellini beans and continue to simmer gently for seven minutes. Season the beans well with salt and pepper and a swig of red wine vinegar, then mash them up using the back of a fork until you have a coarse purée. Smear your hot crostini with the bean purée and spoon your rosemary oil over the top.
Buffalo Mozzarella and Chili
Tear three five-ounce balls of buffalo mozzarella into quarters, then top each of your hot crostini with one of the quarters. Deseed and finely chop a fresh red chili and sprinkle this over the mozzarella. Add a little seasoning and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Lovely with a little fresh basil torn over.
Take three large handfuls of cavolo nero, cabbage, or Swiss chard and strip the leaves off the stalks. Add three cloves of peeled garlic to a pan of salted water and bring to a boil, then add the greens. Cook until tender, then drain well in a colander and allow to cool. Squeeze out any excess water from the greens, mush up the garlic, season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Toss around and divide onto each of your hot crostini, drizzled with more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
Prosciutto, Figs, and Mint
Get yourself six large ripe figs, 12 slices of prosciutto, and a small bunch of fresh mint. Tear the figs in half, then drape a piece of prosciutto over each of your hot crostini and squash a piece of fig on top. Finish with mint leaves and serve drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil, a drop of balsamic vinegar, and some freshly ground black pepper.