I always imagine what chef’s and other food writers eat when no one is looking, when their fridges are almost empty save for a bit of produce and pantry basics. In my mind, they use these few ingredients to whip up extravagant dishes, the way MacGyver might tunnel his way out of a sticky situation with nothing but a paperclip and coffee spoon.
After interviewing a few chefs for other publications and learning that the meals they have once their aprons come off are less than gourmet, I realize that maybe I’m not alone in my pursuit for simple, but satisfying meals when the rare downtime happens. Eggs typically play a primary role in most of my quick meals, but while I was prepping to make lunch last week and realized the fridge was egg-less, I felt a little panic in the pit of my gut. What does one DO without eggs?! A thought I’m rarely faced with. I peered into the crisper and saw the bundle of broccoli rabe I’d purchased a few days ago and figured that, some greenhouse cherry tomatoes and a few leftover anchovies would have to suffice. What I didn’t realize was that this meal would become one of my favourites to date. The salty, rich anchovy butter, spicy-sweet tomato jam and bitter rabe make for a a mouth explosion I really wasn’t expecting. I’ve made it twice since and it’s still not let me down. This is one for the books and I hope you agree!
Anchovy Butter Toast with Spicy Tomato Jam & Broccoli Rabe
serves 4 as an appetizer or snack
I used a white country loaf because I had it on hand, but Rye bread would be a nice substitution, too!
4 thick slices of crusty country bread
2 tbsp Anchovy Butter, recipe follows
4 tbsp Spicy Tomato Jam, recipe follows
1/2lb garlicky broccoli rabe, recipe follows
Fresh ground pepper
Parmesan cheese, shaved into big pieces (optional)
Preheat oven to 400.
Spread 1/2 tbsp anchovy butter on each slice of bread. Top with tomato jam. Place on a baking sheet and bake until bread is crisp and golden around the edges. Remove from the oven and top with rabe.
Top with fresh ground pepper and Parmesan shreds.
3 anchovy filets (packed in oil), strained
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
In a food processor, add the anchovies and give it a couple whirls so they break down. Add the butter and blend until anchovy is well incorporated into the butter. Keep at room temperature until you’re done with this recipe, and then put it in the fridge for anytime you want a salty, savory bite.
Spicy Tomato Jam
3 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups grape/cherry tomatoes
generous pinch red pepper flakes
salt, to taste
drizzle of honey
Add the olive oil and tomatoes to a heavy pot over med-high heat. Cook until tomatoes start releasing their juice and slumping down into a sauce-like consistency. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and a squeeze of honey and let cook until the sauces reduce and it’s slightly thickened., 10 minutes. Spoon into a sealable jar and set aside for toast. The rest will keep in the fridge for a week or two (and makes a great accompaniment for eggs - surprise, surprise!).
Garlicky Broccoli Rabe
1/2lb broccoli rabe (rapini, broccolini)
1 clove garlic
salt, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Trim the thick ends of the rabe off and cut into small tree-like piece. Plunge them into the boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and drain.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Add the drained rabe and toss until fragrant and bright.
I’ve never been much of a gardener. My green thumb is more of a green fist of fury that wipes out anything that comes into contact with it. Ferns, flowers, vegetables, or otherwise. Once they’ve entered through my front door, their fate is set. I water too much. I water too little. I love too hard. And ultimately, they end up sagging, sickly and void of life. For shame.
With the sun rising bright on Friday morning, I found myself feeling hopeful. Feeling assured that this was the summer that I would plant something that would grow. Something I could plant from a seed, nurture and love. Something I could pull from the ground, eat and finally understand what it’s like to grow my own food. A skill I find often find myself feeling envious of.
With hope on my side, I strode confidently into the Home Hardware and picked up a bunch of seeds, soil and pots. Before 1pm had hit, I had planted seed upon seed, making sure to do so lovingly so as not to upset the horticulture Gods, and said a little ‘please oh please just let one of them sprout, grow and mature!”. With any luck, sometime in late July or early August, I will have bushels and bushels (maybe one plateful?) of cucumbers, jalapeno peppers, 5 varieties of tomatoes, spinach, sweet basil, wild flowers, green onions, and, my golden ticket, radishes.
I call them my golden ticket because radishes take 3-4 weeks to mature from seed to harvest. Instant gratification is something I am very fond of. Especially since I find myself staring at all the little pots, wondering when something will peek through the soil. Of course, it’s a futile effort. And a little pathetic on my part. The funny thing about my radish excitement is that as of Friday, I wasn’t ever sure if I liked radishes. They’re one of those vegetables that I’ve tried time and time again, but are never really memorable. Forgettable, mostly. With all this in mind, I figured if I was 3-4 weeks away from pulling the pinkish oblong orbs from the soil as my first real gardening success, I had better figure out if I liked them or not.
Because everything tastes better on a disc of thin, crunchy dough, I decided to add the peppery little bulbs to a pizza. Add to that a little anchovy-lemon relish, radish greens and some sharp, nutty Parmesan and I think it’s pretty safe to say, that no matter how many radishes my garden might throw at me, I will find a use for them. Especially if it means making, and better, eating more of this pizza!
Radish Pizza with Anchovy-Lemon Relish and Greens
makes two medium pizzas
Anchovies can usually been purchased packed in oil or salt in or around the seafood section. In this case, I used fillets packed in oil since I wanted to make use of the oil.
I wasn’t especially fond of the dough I tried out for this, so use your favourite dough recipe.
1 lb favourite pizza dough
Zest from two lemons
5-6 anchovy fillets
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (1 tsp if you prefer less heat)
2 bunches radishes, cleaned and sliced thin
2 bunches radish greens, cleaned and dried
Anchovy oil from tin
1 1/2 cups Parmesan
Place a pizza stone into the oven and sprinkle with cornmeal. Preheat oven to 450.
Add the lemon zest, fillets, and red pepper flakes to a mortar and pestle and grind to a coarse paste. Set aside.
Place dough on lightly floured surface and roll out the dough. One at a time, assemble the pizza on a cutting board sprinkled with cornmeal (this makes it easy to move the pizza from board to oven). Top each pizza with half the anchovy-lemon relish, half the radishes, half the greens and half the Parmesan. Bake each pizza, one at a time, until crust is deep golden and cheese is melted, about 6-7 minutes.
I served with some green olives on the side, which was lovely, but a cold beer or iced tea will do just fine.