What to CookHors D'Oeuvre

Up Your Crostini Game With Spicy Olives, Kale Pesto, and More

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This season, we're Making Magic, bringing you a series of easy transformations to embellish already-wonderful things, from tables to cookies to trees. Today, we're whipping up some easy hors d'oeuvres. Slide back and forth on the image below to see the magic happen.

During the holidays, I, like most people, enjoy a good brisket or roast. I'll partake in potatoes and other sides. I'll even have some dessert. But what I'm really there for is the hors d'oeuvres. In fact, I'll take it a step further and say that the hors d'oeuvres are the best part. Cured meats, deviled eggs, roasted oysters—all one outstanding bite, all boldly flavored, all relatively easy to make. There's no quicker way to my heart than a perfectly-crafted hors d'oeuvre, and there's no better or more versatile hors d'oeuvre than crostini.

Almost any ingredient can be placed atop a crostini (it means toast in Italian). From seared filet mignon to smoked salmon, the varieties are literally endless. You can make them sweet or really play around with flavors. But there's never a time when a simple crostini won't please a crowd.

My favorite base layer for a crostini is fresh ricotta. Light and creamy, ricotta takes just as well to a drizzle of olive oil and some flaky sea salt as it does to lemon zest and honey or some garlic and black pepper. But if you're feeling a little more ambitious, ricotta also provides a great foundation for more complex toppings, be they fresh fruits or vegetables from the market or something whipped up from the pantry. In the summer, an obvious pairing is fresh, ripe tomatoes and some torn basil; in the spring, mashed peas or thinly sliced radishes. Buttery roasted squash plays well in the fall, as do crispy apples or pears. And in the winter, I'll make the most of what's still around, and really lean into cured meats and other staples.

When I make crostini, I like to cut my baguette slices about ¼-inch thick (I try to get skinnier baguettes because they make smaller, easier-to-eat bites ). I toast them at 425°F for about 6 minutes so they're golden and crispy on the outside with a slight yield in the center. In the crostini above, we've started with some fresh ricotta, mixed with a little heavy cream, and brightened up with lemon zest. It's simple, but addictive, and a satisfying bite that takes no more than 10 minutes to throw together. To bump up the flavors, we've added a few specific toppings—nutty kale pesto, spicy kalamata olives, maple-roasted butternut squash, and ripe figs with prosciutto—but you can add anything you want to give it a little something extra.

I'm not advocating we do away with the big holiday meal. There's always a time for a beautiful centerpiece main, and plenty of people who save their appetites for it. All I'm saying is, set out a bunch of perfect crostini (and maybe a few other hors d'oeuvres), and I likely won't need the roast beef.

What's your favorite crostini topping? Tell us in the comments.

Ricotta Crostini with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Ricotta Crostini with Olive Oil and Sea Salt by Food52

Ricotta Crostini with Butternut Squash and Crispy Sage

Ricotta Crostini with Butternut Squash and Crispy Sage by Food52

Ricotta Crostini with Kale Pesto

Ricotta Crostini with Kale Pesto by Food52

Ricotta Crostini with Figs, Prosciutto, and Honey

Ricotta Crostini with Figs, Prosciutto, and Honey by Food52

Ricotta Crostini with Spicy Kalamata Olives

Ricotta Crostini with Spicy Kalamata Olives by Food52

Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!
Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!

Tags: Holiday, Making Magic