When I had the idea to share a post for crostini, I figured it might be silly to write about how to toast slices of bread in the oven. But the more I thought about it, the less silly it seemed since crostini feature heavily on the Italian antipasto table, and bread is revered in Italy (for good reason). Crostini are also on my list of “basics” recipes I want to share with you since they’re the foundation for many appetizers that can be made to suit the seasons. Although I make crostini year-round, spring and summer are my favorite seasons to set out a platter of crostini when I entertain because the produce during this time of year is abundant, colorful, and varied, so the options for fresh toppings is endless.
The word crostini in Italian means “little toasts”, and they’re simply slices of good-quality bread brushed lightly with olive oil and toasted in the oven or over a grill. It’s important to note that crostini and bruschetta are not the same thing. Bruschetta are slices of bread that are heavily toasted over a grill, rubbed with garlic while the bread is still hot, drizzled with olive oil, and then seasoned with salt and pepper. It is an appetizer unto itself, and a delicious one at that. Crostini, while perfectly delicious also eaten on their own, are used more as the crunchy vehicle for a variety of toppings. The only limit to the toppings you can create for crostini is your imagination.
For the antipasto at my first cooking class at the Italian Cultural and Community Center last week, I made crostini topped with a luscious cannellini bean pesto and a plump roasted cherry tomato. To my delight, the students loved them and kept going back for more. By the end of the evening, there were none left–the ultimate compliment! I’ll be featuring the recipes for the cannellini bean pesto and the roasted cherry tomatoes here this summer because both those recipes are keepers. In the meantime, here is a picture of the platter we set out that evening. I love how the crostini have the colors of the Italian flag!
One of the best features of crostini is that they can be toasted a day in advance and assembled right before your guests arrive. Crostini are only as delicious as the quality of the bread used, so you’ll want to make sure you buy high-quality, crusty bread with an interior crumb that is light, but still dense enough to hold your toppings once the slices are toasted. It’s important for the bread to have a thick, crusty exterior so that the crostini hold their shape. Baguette is perfect to use for crostini because its diameter isn’t too big and makes crostini that aren’t too large or too small. It has a good balance of crunchy, firm crust and a tender, airy interior crumb. I like to use both white baguette and multigrain baguette for my crostini. Multigrain baguette will give your crostini additional texture and flavor from the variety of seeds and grains added to the dough. You could also cut a large boule or pagnotta into big slices and make what Italians call crostoni (“large toasts”) to hold more substantial toppings. It’s a fun variation on the more delicate crostini, so feel free to experiment with different bread–just make sure it’s really good bread.
I’ve baked many batches of crostini over the years and quickly discovered that the best way to get evenly browned and crisped crostini is to use a pastry brush to apply the olive oil to each bread slice. I’m not a fan of the drizzle method you see so often on television cooking shows because it coats the bread slices unevenly, with most of it landing on the baking sheet instead of the bread. I don’t recommend doing it this way. Each slice of bread should have a thin, even coating of olive oil, because the oil not only helps the crostini brown, it also imparts great flavor. I take the time to brush both sides of the bread slices and flip them halfway through baking so they toast evenly. These are two extra steps that add a little more time to the crostini-making process, but they’re worth it. It goes without saying–but I’ll say it anyway– that you must use good-quality olive oil on your crostini. Good-quality olive oil will be on the expensive side, but not prohibitively so, and you will certainly taste the difference. When toasting your crostini, don’t stray far from the oven because they can go from toasted to burned in a matter of seconds. I like to keep my crostini on the light golden side so that the bread still has a balance of chew and crispness. The only hard part about making crostini is deciding what topping to add to them, but whatever you choose, you’ll have a deliciously crispy foundation for your antipasto creations.
1 French baguette
2-3 Tablespoons (30-45 mL) high-quality extra-virgin olive oil (preferably unfiltered)
Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
Pour the oil into a small measuring cup or bowl. Set aside.
Cut the ends off the baguette and set aside (save them for snacking). Cut the baguette into ½-inch (1.3 cm) slices and arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with a thin layer of olive oil on both sides.
Toast the bread slices for 5-7 minutes on each side, until the edges are light golden brown. The center of each slice may not brown but it will still crisp up.
Remove from the oven and allow the crostini to cool completely on the baking sheet before transferring to a serving platter and topping with your favorite ingredients.
Storage: The crostini can be made 1 day ahead and stored in an airtight container, although they are best eaten the day they are made.