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'Polpo' cookbook brings Venetian foods to U.S. tables

These goat cheese, roasted grape and walnut bruschette (plural of bruschetta) are inspired by Venetian cuisine.

ILEANA MORALES | Special to the Times

These goat cheese, roasted grape and walnut bruschette (plural of bruschetta) are inspired by Venetian cuisine.

You weren't supposed to see this yet. Neither was Danny. The book that provided this recipe for goat cheese bruschette with roasted grapes and toasted walnuts was delivered on a day he was home and I wasn't. Curiosity killed one of his Christmas presents.

But it's not so bad. It meant I was able to make this bruschette (plural for bruschetta, by the way) and share it with you way before Christmas.

The book is Polpo, and I knew Danny would love it. It's a beautiful book with exposed binding on its spine and a stunning cover with a 19th century illustration of an octopus. It contains photos of Venetian food and markets as well as recipes for things such as cod cheeks with lentils and salsa verde, warm octopus salad, fried stuffed olives and tiramisu pots. I could not resist.

The book features recipes from a trendy London restaurant of the same name where owner Russell Norman translates his fascination with the food of Venice into small plates known as cicheti, which is served (as bacari) in the backstreet bars of the real Venice.

The food in this book celebrates simple and honest. Norman is guided by the well-known mantra of less is more. Get the best ingredients you can find and don't do too much to them, he urges.

He calls it a Venetian cookbook (of sorts) because it also offers recipes from elsewhere, including a recipe for a whole roasted sea bream (a freshwater fish native to Europe) that reminds him of a meal he shared with his wife in Greece.

As for the bruschette, they're a crowd pleaser and easy to make, which is perfect for holiday entertaining. In the end, I'm glad Christmas came early.

Ileana Morales is a freelance writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be contacted at alittlesaffron@gmail.com.

>>Moderate

Goat Cheese, Roasted Grape and Walnut Bruschette

The smell of roasting grapes and thyme will lure people to your kitchen. The aroma of garlic melting into toast completely wins them over. These would make a great weekend snack or appetizer to serve with wine and share with friends. I prefer to use red or black grapes, and you may want to make extra, especially if you've never tried a roasted grape. They tend to disappear before the toast is ready. This recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

16 grapes, any seedless variety

1 small handful of fresh thyme leaves

Extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Black pepper

10 walnut halves

2 half-inch slices of good sourdough or soda bread, each cut in half

1 garlic clove, with one end cut off

4-ounce log of goat cheese

Honey

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Scatter the grapes on a small baking sheet with almost all of the thyme, a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Shake to coat. Roast in the oven until the grapes are starting to blister and color, 10-15 minutes. Coat the walnuts with a little olive oil and roast on another small baking sheet until fragrant and toasted, 5-6 minutes.

Set the oven to the broil setting and toast the slices of bread until browned and crunchy, just a couple of minutes. Flip the bread about halfway through. Take the cut side of the garlic clove and rub it over the toasted slices of bread. It'll melt into the hot bread and smell amazing. Drizzle the bread with olive oil.

Crumble the goat cheese with a fork onto the toasted bread. Top the slices of bread with the grapes and walnuts. Drizzle bruschette with honey and garnish with the rest of the thyme leaves. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 bruschette.

Source: Adapted from Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts) by Russell Norman

'Polpo' cookbook brings Venetian foods to U.S. tables 12/04/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 4, 2012 3:30am]

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