Crusty antipasto, quickly arranged Entertaining: A flavorful appetizer begins with good bread.

June 07, 1998|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

It always pleases me to meet young people who have an interest in food, as my own career was sparked by a year of study in France when I was in college. Several weeks ago, I received a phone call from an Amherst College senior who told me of a new gourmet club that she and other students had founded at the school.

"Would you be willing to give the group a cooking class?" she asked. We agreed on a date, and on the day of the lesson eight enthusiastic beginning cooks appeared at my door.

Their ardor never waned during the three-hour session in which we prepared a simple Italian-inspired meal. When they arrived, I served a plate of warm fontina and prosciutto crostini along with bowls of black and green olives. Together we assembled a wild mushroom lasagna and a salad of mixed Italian greens in a vinaigrette dressing. We also poached pears in red wine to enjoy with scoops of vanilla ice cream sprinkled with crumbled biscotti.

The crostini were an extra dish - an uncomplicated antipasto - which I decided to add at the last minute. I brushed slices of good, crusty bread with olive oil, then toasted them in the oven. Next, thin slices of Italian fontina cheese, sauteed strips of prosciutto and a dusting of crushed rosemary were added. The crostini were completely assembled before the group arrived and quickly reheated in the oven before serving. The students depleted this plate of little treats in no time at all.

I was delighted with my creation; these delicious appetizers looked impressive but took only a few minutes to assemble.

Because they are so easy to prepare, I am planning to offer the crostini again to start some spring dinner parties. They could easily precede pasta primavera, osso buco or risotto. They would also make a fine hors d'oeuvre to pass at a spring cocktail party.

Crostini With Fontina, Prosciutto and Rosemary

Makes 20 appetizers

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

20 slices crusty French or Italian bread, cut diagonally into 3/8-inch-thick slices (see note)

3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto

1 (6-ounce) piece Italian fontina cheese, sliced or shaved paper-thin

1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, finely crushed

small bowl of black olives

small bowl of ripe green olives

several sprigs fresh rosemary for garnish, optional

Place olive oil in small bowl and brush bread slices lightly on both sides with oil. Place slices on baking sheet. Bake on center rack at 300 degrees, turning once, until crisp and lightly browned, about 5 minutes per side. Remove and set aside. (Crostini can be toasted 2 to 3 hours ahead. Cover loosely with foil and leave at cool room temperature.)

Place enough olive oil in medium heavy skillet to just coat bottom of pan. Place over medium heat and when hot add prosciutto strips and saute, turning constantly, until crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove and place on paper towels. (Prosciutto can be sauteed 2 to 3 hours ahead. Cover loosely with foil and let cool at room temperature.)

To assemble crostini, top bread slices with cheese, then with prosciutto strips. Sprinkle lightly with dried rosemary. Place on baking sheet. (Crostini can be assembled 1 hour ahead. Cover loosely with foil and leave at cool room temperature.)

When ready to serve, place sheet of crostini in oven and bake at 350 degrees until cheese has melted, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove. Arrange bowls of olives on serving platter and place crostini around them. Garnish tray with fresh rosemary sprigs.

Note: A crusty baguette about 2 1/2 inches in diameter works well for this recipe, or you could cut 10 slices from an Italian loaf, which will be wider, and then cut those slices in half.

Pub Date: 6/07/98

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