Of all foods, toast has been my most constant companion. The humble slice of bread – be it from a sliced loaf or 36 hour sourdough – is always there in the freezer when I need it and once grilled, never fails to satisfy. Lightly scratched with a clove of garlic, smeared with equal quantities of butter and marmite, rubbed with a ripe tomato and drizzled with olive oil – a piece can go from frozen to plate in less than the time it takes to make the accompanying beverage, be it builder’s tea or a splash of something cold and dry. Reliable, efficient and solid; to me, there is a more poignant reason that we call strips of grilled bread soldiers.
Toast marches on, whatever the weather, adapting to its season and surroundings with unflappable poise. It will shoulder whatever burden you lay on its surface, complementing oozing flavours with a satisfying robustness in its crust and crumb. You’re never in danger of going hungry with a slice of bread in your freezer. In winter, drag whichever greens are straggling at the bottom of your salad drawer around a pan with olive oil and chilli flakes, fry an egg in their juices. Tip the contents of the pan onto toast. Supper in minutes. Last minute dinner guests and no pudding? Roast some halved fruit – plums, pears, peaches – with honey, throw on any nuts you have in the cupboard and pile on a slice with a dollop of creme fraiche.
My dependency on toast reaches its height in summer, when leaning over a hot stove becomes unbearable and my only wish is to be outdoors. Happily for me, this coincides with the time of year when food is naturally at its fastest, bursting with flavours that require little adulteration. Crostini – essentially the Italian way of saying toast – are summer’s fast food, charred bread piled high with whatever fruit or vegetable smells best at the moment of conception: meaty chunks of tomato tossed with basil and olive oil; crumbled goat’s cheese topped with grated raw courgette; grilled peaches with torn mozzarella. Follow your nose, cover the bread board in toppings and go ten rounds with toast, it’s a match made in food heaven.
Summer Crostini – Broad bean & ricotta, radish & anchovy, tomato & garlic
By the beginning of June, the first ripe tomatoes and broad beans are starting to appear at the market, along with crisp new garden radishes. All bursting with flavours designed by nature to be paired with a glass of something crisp and dry.
Serves at least two with a green salad for lunch or a few for aperitivo hour.
3 slices of bread – the best loaf you can lay your fingers on
50g broad beans
A ripe beef tomato
A garlic clove
At least two anchovy fillets in oil
Two thick slices of butter
Extra virgin olive oil
- Place the bread under the grill on a tray. Toast for three minutes on each side until golden brown. Remove and leave to cool slightly.
- For the broad bean crostino: Mix the ricotta with a generous pinch of salt and a good covering of black pepper. Using a fine grater or microplane, zest the lemon over the ricotta and mix well.
- Bring a small pan of water to the boil, season well and drop in the broad beans. If using fresh boil for three minutes, six for frozen. Drain and put back in the pan, covering with the juice of half the lemon and two tablespoons of olive oil.
- Roughly spread the ricotta onto the toast, sprinkle with the broad beans and drizzle over the remaining juices.
- For the tomato: Cut the tomato into 1cm slices lengthways. Lightly scrape the toast with a peeled garlic clove, drizzle with olive oil. Place the tomato on the bread, season generously with seasalt and finish with another glug of olive oil.
- For the radish crostino: Slice the radishes as thinly as possible. Lay a good slab of salted butter on the bread, cover with radish and then drape over an anchovy fillet. If your fillets are nice and thick, you’ll only need one per half slice. Otherwise, I’d go for two.
Follow our Seasonal Cook Clementine Hain-Cole on Instagram: @chaincole