Tips for Rookie Cooks

SNACKS AND STARTERS.Sixth part

SNACKS AND STARTERS

1-Crisped Salami and Mostarda Canapé

Lightly browned, crisped salami slices make a surprisingly perfect finger food—and serve as a tantalizing base for whatever you dollop on top. Here we pair salty salami with our tangy-sweet Plum and Currant Mostarda (page 159). If you’re feeling too lazy to make the mostarda, simply use store-bought jam or chutney instead.

  • 8 ounces Italian dry salami (about a 6-inch log), sliced into 1/ 8-inch thick rounds
  • ½ cup Plum and Currant Mostarda (page 159)
  • ½ small head of radicchio, cut into 1-inch wedges

Preheat oven to 350°F

Place salami in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake in preheated oven until slices are lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Set cooked salami on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil, and gently pat the tops dry as well. Arrange slices on a serving platter and top each with a dollop of mostarda, followed by a wedge of radicchio.

Make it ahead

  • The salami can be baked a few hours ahead and kept on the counter in an airtight container. Top with mostarda and radicchio just before serving.

2-Magical Asiago-Fig Bread

This bread is magical because it takes less than 15 minutes of active time to make, but we guarantee that your friends will be seriously impressed when you present them with these crusty loaves fresh from your home oven. No-knead bread has had quite a heyday recently thanks to folks like NYC baker Jim Lahey, whose wonderful book My Bread first inspired us to experiment with no-knead methods. Our method is slightly different from Lahey’s, but still shockingly easy and virtually foolproof. For best results, be sure to use bread flour rather than all-purpose, whole wheat, or other flours. This version using figs and cheese is one of our favorites, but the possibilities for experimentation are nearly limitless. You can also leave out the special ingredients and just make a delicious, basic loaf of bread. Be forewarned that while the recipe involves minimal hands-on cooking time, it takes anywhere from 14 to 27 hours from start to finish, so plan accordingly.

  • 11/ 3 cups cool water (from the tap is fine)
  • ¾ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 3 cups bread flour, plus additional flour (all-purpose is fine) for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 6 ounces (about 1 cup) dried figs, stemmed and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 6 ounces Asiago cheese, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Place the water in a small bowl, or better yet, a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, and sprinkle the yeast and sugar over the top. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, measure the bread flour into a large bowl. Add the salt and stir a bit to combine. Add the diced figs to the flour mixture and toss to combine, making sure to break up the big pieces so they don’t stick together in clumps. Add the cheese and toss again to combine. Stir the yeast mixture and pour it into the flour. Using a wooden spoon at first, and then your hands, mix until the flour is incorporated for about 30 seconds. The dough should come together into a slightly sticky ball. If it’s too dry to hold together, add water 1 tablespoon at a time, kneading after each addition, just until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and let rest, undisturbed, on your countertop for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours (the longer the better). At the end of this time, the dough will have grown significantly in size and the top will be somewhat dry and crusty. Place a clean dishtowel on your countertop and dust lightly with flour. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto the floured towel, using a rubber spatula, if needed, to detach it from the bottom of the bowl. Fold the crusty parts of the dough inside, forming the dough back into a flattish, round shape. Wrap the towel loosely around the dough and let sit, undisturbed, on the countertop for another 1½ to 2 hours. About 20 or 30 minutes before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475ºF. Brush a large baking sheet lightly with olive oil. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into several equal-sized pieces—you could do 12 breadsticks or 4 mini baguettes, for instance. Form the dough pieces into whatever shape you prefer by rolling them between your hands and gently stretching them. Place the loaves on the pan, brush with a bit of olive oil, and bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your loaves. When it’s finished, the bread should be a nice golden brown on the outside. Remove from oven and let cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Make it ahead

  • Follow the instructions through the first rise of the dough and then wrap dough in plastic wrap and keep in
  • the fridge up to several days. Remove from fridge about 2 hours before you plan to bake it, and follow the
  • instructions for prepping the dough for the second rise. Baked, the bread will keep in the freezer for several months. Simply set it on the countertop for several hours to defrost.

Serve it with

  • A salad of mixed greens with sherry vinaigrette, or as part of a fruit and cheese platter
  • Substitute any combination of cheese and dried fruit for the Asiago and figs. Try sharp white Cheddar and dried cherries, aged Gouda and dried apples, or blue cheese and dried apricots.

Change it up

  • For added crunch, add chopped pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds.
  • For additional flavor, try adding chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme.
  • For a more savory version, try substituting chopped olives or sun-dried tomatoes for the fruit.

To read Part Five, click here

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