Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
These crostini showcasing Tuscany's favorite winter vegetable, cavolo nero, may seem simple -- even too simple. But this is what makes the crostini so wonderful.
“These little dishes are comforting in the cold weather, are good at lunch or supper, and facilitate life for the cook," writes Elizabeth David in her 1954 Italian Food cookbook, when introducing her readers to crostini as part of the hot antipasto. "But they should, I think, remain simple and small. Enlarged to the size of hefty Welsh rabbits (rarebit) or club sandwiches, they lose their point and their charm.”
Usually playing just one small part in the antipasto -- the opening act of the whole meal -- these crostini might be served alongside some paper-thin slices of prosciutto, wedges of pecorino cheese, and even other crostini (chicken liver paté being the favorite in Tuscany). This is all before you even make it to the primo, the first course.
In a way, these are just an elaboration of the most elemental of all crostini, Tuscany's fettunta (literally, the “greasy slice”): a slice of rustic Tuscan bread, char-grilled to toasty perfection, rubbed with a raw garlic clove, seasoned with salt flakes, and drenched in a rather lavish amount extra virgin olive oil. When done properly with good, thick, green olive oil and just the right amount of garlic, this is surely one of the most satisfying dishes on earth.
Add some long, bubbly, cypress-green leaves of cavolo nero, brighten it up with a squeeze of lemon, and in under ten minutes you have a delicious and healthy starter that tastes of a Tuscan winter. Try it also on crostini made of grilled or deep fried slices of polenta.
1 large bunch (about 2 pounds) cavolo nero (Tuscan kale)
4 slices of Italian country bread
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus an extra drizzle
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper
Photos by Emiko Davies