You weren’t supposed to see this here. Neither was Danny. Not yet. The book that provided this recipe for goat cheese bruschette with roasted grapes and toasted walnuts shipped to our front door on a day he got home before I did. Curiosity killed my Christmas present.
But it’s not so bad. I didn’t have to wait more than a month to make this bruschette (plural for bruschetta, btw) and share it with you. And as my mother and sister like to remind me, I’m a very bad wrapper anyway.
The book is Polpo, and I forgot how I came across it, but I knew he’d love it. It’s a beautiful book with interesting binding exposed on its spine and a stunning cover with a 19th-century illustration of an octopus. I could not resist.
Polpo is a restaurant in London built around Russell Norman’s fascination with the food of Venice. That includes a lot of small plates known as cichèti, which is served in the backstreet bars of the real Venice; they’re called bàcari.
The food in this book celebrates simple and honest food presented in recipes with few ingredients. Norman is guided by the well-known mantra, less is more. It’s the kind of simple food I like best, and it’s worth being reminded of. Get the best ingredients you can find and don’t do too much to them, he urges.
He calls it a Venetian cookbook (of sorts) because it also offers a few recipes from elsewhere, including a recipe for a whole roasted sea bream (a freshwater fish native to Europe) that reminds him of a meal he shared with his wife in Greece. I love a whole roasted fish but have yet to serve one from our kitchen. Consider it added to the list.
I want to make almost everything in this book. Almost is an important clause in that claim because I can’t say I’m eager to seek out pigeon breasts, and then actually cook and eat them. Ham hock terrine is also nowhere near the top of my queue of things to try and make at home.
Still, all the pictures and recipes are lovely. There are several pages with scenes of Norman’s real Venice, and a map. Here are a few things on my list from this book: cod cheeks with lentils and salsa verde, warm octopus salad, fried stuffed olives, tiramisù pots, a blood orange and campari cake, and a light pink drink of lemon sorbet and Prosecco called sgroppino.
In the end, I’m glad Christmas came early.
goat cheese, roasted grape, and walnut bruschette
Soft goat cheese with roasted walnuts and grapes is a fantastic combination made even better with the addition of thyme. These would make a great weekend snack with a little wine.
16 grapes, any seedless variety
1 small handful of fresh thyme leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
10 walnut halves
2 thick slices of good sourdough or soda bread, each cut in half
1 small garlic clove
Heat oven to 375°F. Scatter the grapes on a small baking sheet with almost all of the thyme, a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, and shake to coat. Roast in the oven until the grapes are starting to blister and color, 10 to 15 minutes. Coat the walnuts with a little olive oil and roast on another small baking sheets until fragrant and toasted, 5 to 6 minutes.
Set the oven to the broil setting and toast the slices of bread until browned and crunchy, just a couple of minutes. Flip the bread about halfway through. Take the cut side of the garlic clove and rub it over the toasted slices of bread. It’ll melt into the hot bread. Drizzle the bread with olive oil.
Crumble the goat cheese on the toasted bread. Top the slices of bread with the grapes and walnuts. Drizzle bruschette with honey and garnish with the rest of the thyme leaves. Serve warm.
Makes 4 bruschette. Adapted from “Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (of sorts)” by Russell Norman.