A Springtime Crostini
By Dennis Linden
This month’s featured dish is by one of Melissa’s culinary contributors, Dana Hall, who works from a home office – her kitchen in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area of Arizona. The crostini is believed to have originated from a type of Italian peasant food during the medieval ages. Italians too poor to possess ceramic plates used the surface of bread for their food instead. Edible plate! The bread was usually stale leftovers that had to be soaked in juice or wine to even chew! Crostini means little toasts in the Italian language. Today, the dish has evolved into the classic small plate appetizer of tiny pieces of toasted or grilled bread topped with a limitless array of creative combinations of toppings. The focus of all crostini recipes is on those delectable toppings; on the other hand, the bread is always either the small, crusty French baguette or the slightly larger and denser Italian baguette.
“I love this recipe because it just captures springtime for me,” explained Dana. “The colors of the dish almost explode before the eyes, while the palate receives a burst of lusciousness with the Ricotta mixture in every bite. The dish pleases all the senses, so I always feel sunny and bright every time I make it!”
Dana builds her crostini from the bottom up, starting with a light sauté of the baguette slices in olive oil, which is then rubbed with garlic pieces permeating every nook and cranny of each piece -- an excellent flavor foundation! Her topping combination uses Melissa’s most popular steamed products, our Steamed Baby Beets, sliced thin, then steeped in Balsamic. This richly beet-vinegary tang is countered by the sharp, refreshing bite of fresh radish laced with the distinctive aftertaste from a mix of fresh dill and mint leaves. Lightly peppered lemon-soaked sweet peas add an occasional pleasant change-up in texture and taste that acts as a garnish to the toppings that finish the taste experience. Each of Dana’s flavor components is distinct and also tasty as a whole unit. Each toast is a delicious celebration of spring in both color and fresh flavors!
Dana Jones has been a member of Melissa’s team, creating tasty and practical recipes with Melissa’s products for ten years. She made a career change from a sous chef in a tapas and wine bistro to Melissa’s Arizona rep demonstrating our products with practical recipes to retail customers to sample at the company’s largest chain store account in the region. That successful endeavor eventually morphed into her current role of creating inventive and sometimes stylized recipe presentations with combinations of seasonal products sent to her monthly from our corporate headquarters in Los Angeles. Dana then snaps photos of her creations (food photography being a whole art unto itself) that are then sent back to the office for educational dissemination to our sales staff. This inspiration is shared both in-house and around the country, demonstrating the culinary uses of Melissa’s products to support sales.
“I grew up in Kansas on a small ranch where my family raised cattle to butcher,” recalled Dana. “My love for cooking came from my mom and my grandmother, both full-blooded Norwegians, who were great cooks and loved to feed the family. I always loved to cook with them growing up and learned the joy of pleasing others through food from them. So when I had my own family and had moved to my own small ranch in the White Mountains of Arizona, I started catering out of our home while raising cattle, horses, chickens, turkeys, and ducks, as well as six children! So it was natural to gravitate towards the food business.”
When she is not mulling over the challenge of what to create with the latest shipment of seasonal goodies from the Home Office, Dana’s family keeps her very busy in and out of the kitchen. She still has young school-age children at home as well as two grandkids to dote over. Though it was sort of a busman’s holiday for her, we still thank her for taking the time to create yet another tasty dish using company products! This dish has now found its way to this writer’s MOST FAVORITE RECIPE file so that I can share it at my next potluck invite or cocktail party. Delicious!
Spring Beet Crostini
Makes 20 servings
1 cup canned sweet peas
1 fresh lemon, juiced and zested, divided
1 teaspoon black pepper, divided to taste
1 teaspoon salt, divided to taste
3 Melissa’s Steamed Baby Beets, sliced thin
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 fresh radishes, sliced thin
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh mint, chopped
1 baguette, sliced ½ inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves garlic, sliced in half
Preparation:Combine half of the lemon juice and zest with the peas, salt and pepper to taste. Steep the sliced beets in balsamic vinegar plus a pinch of salt and pepper. Slice the radishes. Set aside until construction.Combine the ricotta cheese with the dill and mint, plus the rest of the juice and zest. Salt and pepper to taste.
Grill bread in a pan with olive oil and then rub with the garlic pieces.
To Assemble: Spread each slice of bread with ricotta, then top a few slices of beets and few pieces of radish, sprinkle the peas over each, and then garnish with a little bit more of the herbs and enjoy!