This recipe, which Annie and I served at Heather's party, comes from Nancy Silverton's book A Twist of the Wrist. You might remember Nancy from the La Brea Bakery. Or from Campanile, famous for their high end grilled cheese nights. Or from her stint at Jar, where she created "Mozzarella Mondays." Or her desserts at La Terza. And lest we forget her brilliant union with Mario Batali and their resulting progeny, the Mozza twins - Pizzaria and Osteria, two of the biggest things to hit LA since Wolfgang Puck and his exciting new take on the pizza at Spago. She may not be a household name like her bearded and becroced partner, but here in LA, she's a cheese-making doyenne.
And then there are her cookbooks. She has a pair of cookbooks each focused on bread baking and pastery making. Since I have little interest in either (other than eating them), I've not read them. I have do however have her book of recipes for sandwiches, many of which take hours to prepare, require in excess of thirty ingredients and entail step after step after step. For a sandwich. Recently I reluctantly bought her newest book, mostly out of my love of Pizzeria Mozza, and I have to say, I have issues with it. Serious issues. First of all, the whole concept of the book, that you can make a delicious meal using ingredients that come from jars, cans, boxes, etc. veers uncomfortably close to the work of a woman I like to call "Aunt Sandy," one Sandra Lee, perhaps the most hated woman on the Food Network.
You can imagine my disappointment in Nancy's new book as I paged through it and discovered recipes for desserts that use canned peaches. Aunt Sandy would totally use canned peaches in a dessert. Another recipe calls for canned potatoes. One recipe calls for "jarred onions" as well as fresh garlic, zucchini and basil. Why? Just use a fresh onion. You have to walk right past them to get the zucchini and the garlic. She has a recipe for a fancy butternut squash soup where one of the ingredients IS butternut squash soup in a carton. Another recipe includes radish sprouts, French breakfast radishes, smoked salmon, fresh dill and RITZ CRACKERS. Come on Nance. You're better than this. And admit it. You would never make two-thirds of these recipes. You make your own cheese for God's sake.
The book has a sort of browbeaten and apologetic tone. "Starting with canned beans, which I'd never done before writing this book, makes the preparation incredible easy... I've never heard of bottled rosemary-infused olive oil, but my editor Leyla, says it exists." It's almost like she wrote the book against her will, perhaps out of some sort of legal obligation, possibly while being held at gunpoint.
So why did I buy the book, you're asking. Well some of the recipes really do look good and the canned, boxed or packaged shortcut ingredients are things like canned beans and cartons of chicken stock - things that we all use on a daily basis. This recipe in particular, they serve at Pizzeria Mozza and I've made sure to order it every time I've gone. Nancy would make this. She wouldn't make something with Ritz Crackers.
(for the rosemary olive oil)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
(for the white bean puree)
1 15-ounce can cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
(for the crostini)
1/2 inch thick slices of baguette
1 garlic clove, sliced in half
1 cup arugula
good olive oil
aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
fresh thyme leaves to scatter over
To make the rosemary olive oil, combine the olive oil and rosemary in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and continue to gently simmer the oil until the rosemary sizzles. Turn off the heat and let the rosemary steep in the oil for 1 hour.
To make the crostini, place the bread slices on a baking sheet, brush with the olive oil and bake until lightly toasted and golden brown. Rub the oiled side with the garlic and set aside. Alternately, you could brush the bread slices and grill them in a grill pan over high heat. The latter is the method I prefer, as the result is crispy on the edges while the middle is still a little soft. I find baking them just makes them crisp all the way through.
To make the white bean puree, combine the beans, 2/3 cup of the rosemary olive oil, garlic and kosher salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle or in a medium bowl and using a potato masher, mash everything together until everything is combined. The texture should still be slightly chunky.
To assemble the crostini, place a few arugula leaves on each crostino and spoon about 1 tablespoon of the white bean puree in a generous, even layer, over the arugula. Using the back of the spoon, make a small crater in the puree and spoon in a little of the rosemary olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt and scatter with the fresh thyme.
Now I'll admit, these are a bit involved to assemble, especially for a largish cocktail party. It would probably be better and more manageable as a start for a small dinner party. Also, it's a little tricky using baby arugula. When you spoon the puree on the smaller leaves they sort of stick to the spoon or fall off. Although I love how the baby arugua looks, curling out from under the beans, using larger arugula leaves might be easier.
Having said that, these crostini are so worth the small amount of effort it takes to prepare. The bean puree, flavored with the rosemary infused olive oil is thick and velvety but with a wonderful, rustic texture. Honestly I could just eat it by the spoon. The crunchy grilled bread contrasts with the creamy puree perfectly as does the peppery arugula, balancing out the saltiness of the beans. The drizzle of more of the olive oil helps bring out the rosemary in the puree while the balsamic sort of cuts the richness with a little sweet tang. Finally topping each crostini with just a sprinkling of thyme compliments the rosemary while adding a of depth of flavor.
Makes about 12 to 14 crostini