On Monday and Tuesday of this week, we had toast for dinner. Now when I say “toast for dinner,” you may be imagining a stale piece of bread, smeared with a little butter and jam. That wouldn’t be a very filling dinner, now, would it?
No, the toasts that I made for dinner were hearty affairs; so filling, in fact, we almost couldn’t finish them. Consider them close cousins of bruschetta; they’re the kinds of toasts that you see sometimes at trendy restaurants, like ABC Kitchen in New York which serves a famous butternut squash toast. The premise is simple: a very thick slice of bread, toasted until very dark around the edges, and then topped with something rich and decadent.
I had the idea of toast for dinner because of the beautiful loaf of Sonora sandwich bread that I bought from Roan Mills at the Hollywood Farmer’s market. It just seemed like the kind of bread you want to cut into thick slices and top with something creamy. So that’s precisely what I did.
It’s very important, when making toast for dinner, that you do it this way: buy a whole loaf and slice the bread thickly. If you use pre-sliced sandwich bread, you won’t get the same robustness; it won’t feel like dinner, it’ll feel like a diner breakfast. That’s not what we’re going for here.
The next inspiration that led to toast for dinner was these assorted mushrooms that I also bought at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market.
They were just begging to be cooked in lots of butter, then flavored with garlic, chopped rosemary and thyme.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m going through a real mushroom phase in my life right now. I think it’s because we’re trying to eat less meat and mushrooms feel meaty when you cook them like this. And to cook them like this, you simply add them to a pan of hot fat (butter, olive oil, bacon fat), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and let them rip. Just keep going and going until they look like they spent the day at the beach without sunblock. Then add your garlic, chopped rosemary and thyme, and, finally, for this particular toast, cream.
You want to lower the heat when you add the cream, and you want to add enough to fill the pan. Then you just let simmer on low heat until it looks like this.
At this juncture, I tasted and felt like it could use a little fruity acid, so I added a splash of balsamic vinegar. If I had to do it all over again, I’d add the vinegar before the cream, but it really didn’t matter. Just be sure to taste here: add more salt, pepper, balsamic, as you need to in order to make it taste dreamy.
To finish: toast the toast, top with the creamed mushrooms, and make a little salad. I used little gem lettuce also from the farmer’s market (okay, okay, we get it, you go to the farmer’s market), tossed in a Dijon dressing made with just Dijon, white Balsamic, olive oil, salt and pepper.
That was toast one! Now for toast two, the Tuesday night toast: Baba Ganoush Toast with Scarlet Runner Beans.
It’s a pretty sophisticated looking toast dinner, if I do say so myself, and it’s made entirely with vegetables and bread.
The first vegetable, or legume, I should say, was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever encountered: Scarlet runner beans.
Taking them out of their pods while listening to Porgy and Bess (because I listened to a vintage Desert Island Discs with Stephen Sondheim where he said it was a perfect musical) was a highly soothing experience.
To cook them, I put them in a pot with water, salt, chopped garlic, a few sprigs of thyme, and a dried red chili. I brought to a boil and simmered for 45 minutes, until they were creamy.
Sadly, they lost some of their color in the process but tasted so fresh and velvety, I didn’t mind.
To finish, I strained them, saving the liquid, then cooked onion and garlic in that same pot, added the beans back in, added a splash of white wine, and half of the cooking liquid to finish cooking in.
But you’re not here for beans, you’re here for toast! So behold my eggplant.
Three Japanese eggplants purchased at the… okay, okay, you know… rubbed with olive oil and placed under the broiler. You want to broil until they’re black all over and squish when squeezed with tongs. Place in a bowl like this, then cover with aluminum foil so they continue to cook.
To turn them into baba ganoush, scrape off as much of the skin as you can (though not all of it; the burnt skin adds a smoky flavor), and add the eggplant to a food processor, with a few tablespoons of tahini, a few cloves of garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a good pour of olive oil, plus a big pinch of salt.
Puree that for a few minutes until it’s smooth and thick. If it’s not thick enough, add more tahini. And taste for acid and salt (more lemon juice and salt never hurt a baba ganoush). Look how smooth.
To turn this into toast, I just toasted more of that thickly sliced bread, slathered this on top, and then topped with smoked paprika, za’atar, and Urfa chili powder. As for the beans, I ladled them into little bowls and topped with Parmesan and lots of chopped parsley, which I sprinkled on to the toast too. Oh and I also drizzled the toast with a little olive oil first.
It was such a surprising and delightful dinner, it may enter our repertoire as an alternative to the obligatory chicken breast dinners I usually make on a typical Monday or Tuesday. Why kill a chicken when you can toast bread instead?
Toast for dinner: it’s a thing now.
Squash Toasts with Ricotta and Cider Vinegar (Smitten Kitchen)
Chanterelles on Toast (New York Times)