For those with a taste for toast


Imaginative book contains more than you'd think, from starters to desserts

January 29, 2003|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Here's the latest evidence in the cookbook world that concept is running ahead of content: a cookbook devoted entirely to toast.

Amusing, yes? What's next, the book on boiling water?

People may buy this book because the title, Toast: 60 Ways to Butter Your Bread & Then Some (Chronicle $16.95), is mildly funny. But that would be a shame because the book actually has some pretty nice recipes inside - and they don't have terribly much to do with toast.

Author Jesse Ziff Cool, owner of the Cool Cafe at Stanford University's Cantor Arts Center as well as two other organic eateries in the Bay area, has assembled a book of appetizers, breakfast foods, sandwiches, entrees and desserts that are mostly served on toast. (One quibble: Toasted cake is not really toast, so most of the desserts don't exactly meet the letter of the book, do they?)

Get past the high concept and there is imaginative cooking. Take tarragon-crusted salmon with olive-caper aioli on toast. Or a panzanella with tomatoes, chicken and, yes, toasted bread. The toast part seems kind of, well, incidental.

Recipes are illustrated with some excellent photography, but the book's graphics are more a hindrance than a help. Ingredients are listed in relatively small type and with a colored ink, (light green, yellow, orange, pink and purple) that is difficult to read, and not even all that hip.

I strongly suspect a better cookbook could have been compiled from Cool's excellent sandwich recipes, but fans will just have to wait. Just for the record, the book does contain two useful pages on toasting techniques and another two on toasting appliances. That pretty much exhausts the subject.

The author's take on white-bean dip - a chunkier, more countrylike effort than the customary whipped variety - is among the worthy appetizer ideas.

Toasted Pita Bread With Greek White-Bean Spread

Serves 6

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (divided use)

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (15 ounces) white beans, drained and juices reserved

1/2 cup finely chopped tomato, plus more for garnish

1/2 cup finely chopped cucumber, plus more for garnish

3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

2 tablespoons lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

4 to 6 pita bread rounds, toasted

In a medium saute pan over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft. Add beans and 1/4 cup of reserved juices. Reduce to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover and, using a fork, mash the beans. Transfer to medium bowl and let cool to room temperature.

Add the 1/2 cup tomato, 1/2 cup cucumber, the parsley, mint, lemon juice and half the remaining olive oil to the beans, and stir to mix. If needed, add more bean juice to make the mixture spreadable. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Mound the bean spread on a platter and drizzle with remaining olive oil. Cut or tear pita bread into bite-sized pieces and arrange next to spread. Garnish with chopped tomato, cucumber and parsley.

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