Reading the title, you would wonder why would I term this appetizer as fusion. Throw in “little toasts” from Italy and salty cheese from the Middle East; you have an appetizer to dazzle everyone person’s taste bud, including your own. It is a little known fact that crostinis were first discovered during the medieval times, when peasants ate their food on pieces of toasted bread, instead of on ceramics. They have now firmly evolved themselves into food for the gourmet connoisseurs, served at the fanciest Italian restaurants around the world. The evolution of food is simply mind boggling.
A friend of mine was having cocktails at his house one evening and wanted me to cater the hors de ouveres. Crostinis were a must on the menu, as they were easy to eat while sipping on cocktails, not much paraphernalia required. The thought of using the same old recipes with tomatoes or mushrooms did not seem appealing to me, my quest was to find something different yet palatable. Halloumi was the first thing on my mind, as I love the strong, salty flavor of this Middle Eastern cheese, but the challenge was to find another ingredient that would balance out as well as enhance the flavor of the bread and halloumi. After experimenting, I found the answer in the pungent aromas of basil and tangy taste of sundried tomatoes. A little bit of Italian influence paired with tidings from the Middle East makes this appetizer an instant success.
- French bread/baguette, thinly sliced
- 1 pkt halloumi cheese, sliced
- 1/2 jar sundried tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 kg fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2-3 tbsp parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 1 tbsp balsamic syrup
- Spread the sliced baguette on a baking tray and brush with the oil from the sundried tomato jar (Note: Make sure the bread is thinly sliced, so they are crisp when baked. Also brush small amounts of oil, to avoid the bread from getting soggy)
- Bake in the oven at 375f for about 10 minutes or till crisp golden brown
- Leave to cool
- In a food processor, add the basil, olive oil, parmesan cheese, pine nuts, salt, pepper and balsamic syrup and blitz till the basil is reduced to very tiny pieces (Note: Add more oil, if the pesto is very lumpy. Make sure the mixture is not reduced to a fine paste as it takes away the beauty of the green basil)
- Preheat a grill, and brush with olive oil
- Add the sliced halloumi and grill on both sides till grill marks appear on the surface of the cheese (Note: Turn the cheese over only once to prevent it from disintegrating)
- Lay out the baked bread on your serving platter. Top with a generous layer of pesto and place a slice of halloumi. Sprinkle pieces of chopped sundried tomatoes on the cheese and serve
- Plate up right before serving
This fusion appetizer is bursting with color and taste. Each ingredient plays its own role in bringing out the flavor of the others. Eating this crostini can either take you to the cobbled streets of Tuscany or along the shores of the Red Sea in Lebanon, its your choice.