As a rule, I try not to be too precious about my cookbooks. They’re meant to be practical, after all, and the best ones should bear the stains of cooking: the pages a little warped from sauce splatters, little smudges here and there on the edges, even pages escaping the binding after years and years of use. When I pull a book from the shelf and sit down on the couch to browse it, those little signs of wear and tear remind me of successful (and even the less-than-successful) meals.
My practical outlook was almost turned upside down when I unwrapped a copy of Polpo on Christmas Day, because in my hands was quite possibly the most aesthetically pleasing cookbook I ever had the pleasure of owning. I instantly loved everything about it: the typeface, the photography, the paper used for the pages. But the absolute neatest visual aspect about this book is the spine::
How cool is that? And then I found this fantastic article from The Paris Review a few days later on the evolution of the bookshelf and that back in the days when books were primarily found in monasteries they would be placed with the front edges out, all ornately illustrated. But I digress.
As pretty as this book is, the recipes are even better: simple and unpretentious. Some conversions need to be made as these come from two London restaurants so everything is in metric units and oven temperatures are expressed in Celsius/Gas, but those are easy enough to switch over. (Especially if you or someone you live with is adept with converting Celsius to Fahrenheit in their head quickly.) The recipes are so straightforward, in fact, that we were able to make a three-course meal for the two of us in about two hours, with nary a stressful moment between us. And that includes making a tomato sauce for the meatballs and sweating onions for the pasta dish for about an hour.
And those meatballs and the pericatelli came out quite well, if ever so slightly under-seasoned. (A quick hit of sea salt took care of that issue.) But what came out really well was our antipasti: a bruschette with goat cheese, garlic, roasted red grapes, walnuts, pistachios, and honey. Given the work ahead of us I thought a nice snack would be a good idea, and this was just the right size to fuel us through the rest of dinner prep. It’s light but flavorful, and could actually probably work as a dessert course if you are in the mood for something savory and sweet in one dish.
Roasted Grape and Goat Cheese Bruschette
adapted from Polpo by Russell Norman
Makes 2 bruschette
- Half of a small baguette, split lengthwise
- 10-20 seedless red grapes (I really like grapes so I went higher than the recommended 10)
- A handful of thyme leaves or oregano leaves (I used the former the first time, but I only had oregano handy this time around and it worked well)
- A tablespoon of olive oil
- Small handful of walnut halves and pistachio nuts (for the non-walnut fans out there)
- 1.5 oz goat cheese
- 1 garlic clove
- Kosher salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil. Place the grapes on one half of the pan and toss with the herbs and some salt and pepper. Roast for 10-12 minutes. Halfway through roasting, shake the pan to toss the grapes, and place the nuts onto the other half of the pan. (I make little wells using aluminum foil for easy placement). Take the pan out, let cool, and either grill or broil the bread for 2-3 minutes to get some color.
Rub the garlic clove over the bread, then spread the goat cheese over each slice and top with grapes, nuts, and a drizzle of honey. Serve immediately.