Let’s talk about hazing for just a minute. I don’t mean the kind that covers the skies down here in Southern California – that filmy grayness that hangs a little thicker the closer to get to the skyscrapered center of Los Angeles. I don’t mean the kind that fills your brain when you remember there’s still a week of school left, and who knows how much grading after that. I mean the kind that happens when you’re the new guy. Being the new guy at my job means, through none of your own doing, that you are the party planner. At the department meeting in November, with no previous knowledge of customs or expectations, you suddenly get told that you (with any other new hires for the year) are in charge of planning the holiday party.
You do it. It turns out fine. And in my case, you end up with some funds left over. And suddenly the hazing becomes self-inflicted. You find yourself sitting in your boss’s office suggesting we organize something for the end of the spring semester as well because, well, why not? We work hard. We might want a party to celebrate the close of the school year. So when May rolls around, you remember that suggestion, and those leftover funds, and suddenly you’re planning a happy hour for the colleagues you can’t believe you’ve grown so fond of in just a year, and feeling, under the weight of the grocery bags, again quite lucky to have landed this position.
When I plan a party, I have a tendency to go overboard. Potlucks N. and I hosted during graduate school became theme parties. We were late to our graduation party because I wanted to make sure the pulled pork I’d made to share was perfect. Though I was determined to keep this work function a casual, easy-to-throw-together affair, I still found myself sketching out a shopping list two weeks in advance, when we weren’t even sure where the party would take place yet.
And then I was suddenly not just adding ready-to-serve items to the list, but ingredients. I was menu planning.
It seems to me that a gathering of the sort I executed this past weekend – a casual happy hour in a gorgeous community clubhouse in San Pedro – is perfectly lovely with entirely purchased snacks. A selection of red and white wines, good cheeses, some crackers and a vegetable platter, and perhaps some nice briny olives and hard salami, more than does the job. But adding one or two homemade items really makes things special. For me, these included some spring rolls and peanut sauce (I may share the recipe at some point, if I can get my act together), some freshly baked sourdough bread spiked with rosemary, and a crostini combination I am crazy for that was gone within the space of an hour.
This crostini blends salty and sweet in a tremendously successful way. It’s pretty, it smells fantastic, it looks impressive, and it is so easy there’s barely a recipe at all. That’s what we all need, I think, for the end of the semester.
You slice a baguette, drizzle the slices with olive oil and pepper, and toast them. No salt, since we’ll be adding cured meat and cheese in a moment. You spread them with fig jam, nestle a half slice of prosciutto atop each, and then add a sprinkling of gorgonzola cheese. Then you shove the whole tray under the broiler for a few minutes until the edges of the prosciutto are crinkling and toasting with heat, and then you scoop your little toasts onto a platter and send them out to watch them disappear. Done. If you want, you can add a little wisp of baby arugula to the top for greenness and another peppery punch. As you can see, I did a tray without prosciutto, to allow vegetarian snackers to partake as well.
*Note: these quantities are approximate. Depending on how well oiled you like your bread, how peppery you want your toasts to be, and how thick a layer of jam and cheese you want to offer, you may need slightly more or slightly less than I’ve suggested here.
Fig, gorgonzola, and prosciutto crostini
Makes 24-30 toasts, depending on how thick you slice your baguette
1 french baguette
¼ cup (approximate) olive oil (or olive oil spray)
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup fig jam
10-12 slices prosciutto, halved into fat rectangles (as opposed to long, skinny ones)
¾ cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese
1 bunch baby arugula, optional
- First, preheat your broiler.
- Slice your baguette on a bias into ½ – ¾ inch discs. Arrange on two baking trays in a single layer. Brush (or spray) with olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper. Broil for 2-3 minutes or until the top of each slice is golden. Flip over each slice and broil another 1-2 minutes until these, too, are golden. Set aside to cool slightly.
- When the toasts have cooled enough to handle without toasting your fingertips, spread each one with a thin layer of fig jam, being sure to get all the way to the edges.
- Top the jam with a slice of prosciutto, fluting it a bit as you set it on the bread so that it sits up like a rumpled napkin, rather than lying flat. This will ensure a bit of crisping, and it looks awfully pretty.
- Sprinkle some gorgonzola crumbles atop the prosciutto, trying to keep them on the toasts as much as possible, rather than on the baking tray around the toasts.
- Place your loaded sheet trays back into the broiler and let them go for just a minute or two, until the edges of the prosciutto are sizzling and crisp, and the gorgonzola starts to wilt and bubble slightly.
- Remove from the oven, settle on a serving platter, and top each with a curl of baby arugula, if desired.