Crostini Amelia: Homage to the Summer Tomato
This past weekend my grandmother, a brilliant cook, wowed me with this crostini topping. It celebrates the best of summer produce available on Amelia Island, just off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida. This recipe calls for the freshest, best tomatoes you can find, because this treatment will infuse the olive oil with the dreamiest tomato, onion, and garlic flavor. She used Vidalia onions, and not just because Georgia is a few miles away. Their sweetness works in this dish because the onions don’t caramelize, they remain crisp, juxtaposing the soft tomatoes. English translation: the texture contrasts in this dish might blow your mind.
- at least four or five large, ripe local tomatoes, roughly chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
- one to two Vidalia onions, sliced thinly lengthwise and quartered
- a head of garlic, or less to taste, peeled (I am a garlic freak, but in this dish it’s mellow)
- a fair amount of olive oil
- crostini (recipe also below)
- a handful of fresh basil, cut into very fine ribbons (use scissors)
- Prep time: about ten minutes. Baking time: give or take an hour.
Spread the thinly sliced Vidalia onions and garlic cloves in a casserole or glass dish. Pour olive oil in the dish until the onions are 90% covered. Add the tomatoes on top. Bake at 275-300 F and do not stir. They’re done when the tomatoes have softened and shrunk but the onions still have a bit of crispness. Pour into nonreactive bowl and let cool. You may want to remove some of the oil and reserve it for another use before serving. (Perfect for making more crostini, or adding to cooked pasta or Northern Italian-style vinaigrette tuna salad.) Just before serving add the basil.
So, crostini. In this case, it’s convenient to make them together. Or you could pick some up at the store. Whatever. You choose your own adventure. Most recipes on the interweb, including professional ones like Wolfgang Puck’s, skimp on the proper technique for making crostini, which is a slow, low oven to dry out the bread so that it crumbles in your mouth, and serve instead toast. Nothing against toast, but it’s not crostini, capiche? Toast is flat and scratchy whereas crostini should crumble.
To make crostini slice a baguette very thinly, about 1/3 of an inch, coating both sides generously with olive oil, salt and freshly-ground pepper. Put on a baking sheet and bake it as low as you can bear –between 250 and 300 F– for about an hour.
Both ways, I promise you’ll close your eyes and thank my grandmother.
A note on seasonings: I was surprised when she told me that she did not season the mixture at any point. I’m extremely keen on black pepper, and anyway would have salted this dish without thinking, but damn if it wasn’t absolutely perfect the way it was. The tomato, onion, and garlic mix would make an excellent non-anchovy tapenade if you chose to blend it. (Don’t add the basil until serving if you wanted to store it in the fridge.)