Sometimes A Great Notion, Sometimes Not: Boiled Asparagus with Anchovy Spread and Tomato Basil Bruscetta

I had a strange craving the other night, a craving based on a picture. The picture’s in my River Cafe cookbook and it’s a picture of boiled asparagus with anchovy spread and garnished with Parmesan shavings. It looked something like this:

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That’s a picture of my version, a version I made based on the very simple instructions. In my mind this would taste delicious because anchovies are in Caesar salad and Caesar salad is delicious. The asparagus is boiled until its tender and then the spread is made by combining butter, anchovies (about 3 or 4), lemon juice and pepper. Here’s the ingredients pre-assemblage:

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To some people that may look like the nastiest picture ever, to others it may look like a potentially sophisticated combination. I mashed it all up and tasted it. Do you know what it tasted like? Butter and anchovies with lemon and pepper. In other words: kind of gross. This did not taste like Caesar salad. This was not delicious.

I tried to correct it a bit but it was what it was. I assembled it the way you see in the picture above and ate the asparagus which tasted fine and the anchovy butter gave it a very mild umph. Maybe my anchovies (which were oil packed) weren’t pungent enough? Maybe I needed salt-packed anchovies? I’m not sure. But I’m not sure I’ll ever find out because I’m not so eager to make this again.

And so sometimes a great notion–such as making anchovy butter–isn’t such a great notion at all. Other times, though, you have a great notion without realizing you’re having a great notion. I’m not sure what propelled me to buy tomatoes and garlic and basil and sourdough bread while shopping for the asparagus dish, but I did. I came home and used the Babbo cookbook to assemble a bruscetta topping.

Folks, I am frequently effusive here at the Amateur Gourmet. Some might say I gush too much (I’m seeing a doctor about that). And so you may want to take this with a grain of salt but this was dynamite delicious. And so simple! Check it:

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That’s 5 plum tomatoes cut in half and cored and seeded (I used a soup spoon), cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and tossed with 3 cloves of chopped garlic (I like it garlicky), a bunch of basil leaves chiffonaded and then a splash of red wine vinegar, a heavier dose of olive oil (but not too much), salt and pepper. It’s that easy and it’ll knock your socks off. As my great-grandmother Helen would say: “It’s the cat’s pajamas and the snake’s hips.”

And as if that weren’t enough, though, I decided to have the hardcore bruscetta experience and I whipped out my portable electric grill.

“Yo Adam!” you say in my head. “I’ve been reading your site a long time! You have a portable electric grill?”

It’s true. A few years ago Cooks Illustrated (or was it Bon Apetit) reviewed a bunch of electric grills and voted this reasonably priced one the very best. I purchased it at Crate and Barrel and kept it on top of the fridge in Atlanta. Then one day I accidentally knocked it on the floor and the frame cracked but it still worked. I took it with me when I moved to New York and never took it out of its box. Until now!

Boy, is this a fun contraption. You just plug it in, it heats up (much like those George Foreman thingies only this is an open grill, not a press) and you’re ready to go. Here’s a slice of sourdough enjoying the grilling process:

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It was great because the bread had those professional grill marks on it and it got all toasty and I barely had to do anything, except once or twice I pressed down.

The final assembly took very little effort. I took the bread off the grill, put it on a plate, drizzled some olive oil on it and then dressed with the tomatoes. Look mommy no hands!

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Who’s your daddy? I am! And just to contextualize my effusiveness, I know I told you to make that cherry tomato sauce the other day but I think you should make this bruscetta even MORE than the tomato sauce because I liked it that much. You don’t need to do the whole grill thing, though it is a nice touch. Just chop those tomatoes and smack your lips. Unless you prefer anchovy butter in which case, you’re on your own!

(PS: I just had an idea for a bruscetta party! I can toast up lots of bread and make lots of toppings. Fun fun fun! I am a domestic goddess.)

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