Wednesday 8 October 2014

Crostinis 2 Ways and a MasterChef Canada Reunion

From Right: Derrick Nantes (crew), me, Danny Raposo, Dean Hennings (crew), Andrew Lawton, Carmela Campolargo, Brooke Feldman, Narida Mohammed, Mylene Facchini, Marida Mohammed & Sarah Nguyen

This passed weekend I attended a potluck hosted by fellow MasterChef Canada top 50 homecook, Carmela Campolargo. Other contestants from the show were there too: Danny Raposo (top 13 who brought his food truck to the event), Andrew Lawton, Brooke Feldman (who is now a private chef) Mylene Facchini, Sarah Nguyen, and twins Narida & Marida Mohammed (owners of Twice de Spice). Dean and his husband, Derrick, who were part of the crew also attended and I brought my friend and fellow food blogger, Fouad Makadsi. As I'm sure you can imagine, the food was incredible! It was a fun night and what a pleasure to see everybody again. Friends for a lifetime, I tell you!

Danny & I in the Big D's House of Munch food truck
(Photo: Andrew Lawton)

Danny's food truck business has exploded since the show. He has a contract with The Beer Store and you can find his truck at certain locations across the Greater Toronto Area. Danny specializes in burgers, "sangwiches", poutine, piri piri chicken, salad and much more. Check out his web-site to learn more and follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

A few other photos from the night...

Myself with beloved host, Carmela (complete with epic photobomb)

Fouad with MasterChef Canada runner-up Marida

Face time with Brooke

Narida & Mylene

"But first, let's take a selfie!" Dean, Mylene, Narida & Brooke

Narida & Myself

You may have noticed that many people are wearing shirts with the same insignia on them. The shirts were designed by Carmela. They say "Liberation Army for MS (Multiple 
Sclerosis)". Carmela is one of about 100,000 brave Canadians living with the disease. It affects the nervous system of a person, generally beginning in their adulthood. So far there is no known cure and the cause is not fully understood. If you'd like to learn more about MS and how you can donate to help benefit those with it, please visit the MS Society of Canada web-site. As Carmela said on the first ever episode of MasterChef Canada, "I have MS, but MS doesn't have me." 

For my contribution to the potluck I made two kinds of crostini. A crostini is an Italian appetizer consisting of a small piece of grilled or toasted bread and miscellaneous toppings. A popular crostini that most people are familiar with is bruschetta. I made a version of bruschetta with heirloom cherry tomatoes, red onion, micro basil, extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Parmigiano Reggiano. I made a second style of crostini with a rosemary goat cheese and a cranberry-walnut chutney. Both were a big hit and I'd like to show you how I made them.

Let's start with the goat cheese crostini. First you'll want to make the chutney. If you can spare it, make the chutney a day or two in advance to give the flavours time to build. This makes a great sweet-n-sour relish and it would make a fantastic cranberry sauce to accompany a Thanksgiving or Christmas turkey. In this recipe I used the zest and juice of an orange. It was delicious, but I was talking about it with Sarah and she made a great suggestion. Instead of the fresh orange juice, you could use the same amount of brandy or cognac instead. You could use Grand Marnier which is an orange flavoured cognac (perfect). That would give the chutney a real boost in flavour and robustness. If you make this and decide to use booze instead of the orange juice, use 1/3 cup. Otherwise, this is what I did...

Cranberry-Walnut Chutney


2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries

Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange

3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

Warm a heavy bottom pan over medium heat and add the orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon stick and star anise. Let the spices infuse the liquid for about a minute as it warms up. 


Before the liquid starts to simmer, add the sugar, cranberries and walnuts.

All you need to do is stir the mixture occasionally while it reduces for 10-12 minutes.

As the chutney bubbles away the liquid will thicken. The skins of the cranberries will begin to burst and make a popping noise. Don't be alarmed when that happens. It's perfectly normal.

After 10-12 minutes you will end up with a jammy texture. Remove from the heat and leave to cool (it will be piping hot). Once cooled to room temperature, remove the spices, store in the fridge and consume within two weeks. It has a tangy, sweet, slightly citrusy flavour with the sporadic crunch of walnut and the lingering hum of autumn spice. 

The goat cheese portion is even simpler. I ended up making so much more than I needed so feel free to cut this recipe in half but there are endless options that you could use any excess for. Use it as a savoury spread for just about anything, add depth to a cream sauce or enrich a frittata....

Rosemary Goat Cheese


600 grams of goat cheese, room temperature
4 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Plenty of fresh ground black pepper

Being Canadian, I sometimes speak in metric and imperial. It's just the price of being a Commonwealth country with our only neighbour being the United States. I know I used 600 grams because of the label on the packaging, but if you don't speak in grams, use 21 ounces of goat cheese.

All you need to do is mix the ingredients together. Goat cheese is plenty salty so you don't need to add any. I recommend a generous amount of fresh ground black pepper to compliment the saltiness. Using goat cheese at room temperature will make mixing easier but adding the olive oil will not only help to loosen it up a little but will help to carry the rosemary flavour through the cheese. Store in the fridge, but remember to bring it back up to room temperature before serving. 


Bruschetta is great because it is a combination of a few fresh ingredients that is dead simple but creates a brilliant flavour combination. Traditionally you would dice Roma tomatoes and chiffonade some fresh Genovese basil but this version is a little more contemporary by using heirloom cherry tomatoes and micro basil. 

Bruschetta Topping


2 cups heirloom cherry tomatoes, chopped
1/4 medium red onion, finely diced

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Fresh micro basil, for garnish

Begin by chopping your tomatoes. This part can be slightly tedious because creating 2 cups of chopped cherry tomatoes is a decent amount of chopping. Any larger ones can be quartered and the smaller one can be halved. Aim for generally even sized pieces. An easy task, but it will take a few minutes. Then toss with the diced red onion. It's important to get a fine dice on the onion because if the pieces are too large they can easily overpower the palette.

Then toss in the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper (to taste). I did half of the prep at home and the other half at Carmela's house before serving, in case you were wondering why the containers change in the photos. This is your basic bruschetta topping. Keep the Parmigiano and the micro basil aside as they will be used as garnish at the end of assembly. 

Now that we have all of our toppings ready, it's time to prepare the bread. For crostinis I recommend a good ol' white flour, French baguette sliced diagonally to increase the surface area. I used one whole baguette for each kind of crostini. Evenly toast each slice of bread to your desired doneness. You could use a toaster and do this in batches or lay them evenly on the rack of your preheated 400F/204C oven and keep an eye on them. As I mentioned, Danny brought his food truck to the event and it has a charcoal grill. You'd better believe I took full advantage of that. I was impressed. It barely took a minute each side.

You may have noticed that there is no garlic in the bruschetta topping. Garlic is an integral ingredient in bruschetta. Once the bread is toasted, the surface area will have become crispy and rough. The traditional way of making garlic bread is taking a fresh garlic clove and lightly rubbing each piece of toast with it, kind of like you're using an eraser against a piece of paper. Raw garlic packs a powerful punch so you don't need much (2 or 3 light strokes on the side facing up). I recommend doing this for both the bruschetta and the goat cheese crostinis.

The rest of the process is pretty self explanatory. To assemble the bruschetta crostinis, take your garlic toasts and spoon some of your marinated tomato/onion mixture on top of each one. 

Then garnish each crostini with a pinch of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the micro basil. There is no need to chop the micro basil. A couple of leafy stems on each crostini is perfect. Serve immediately.  

The goat cheese crostini is even easier to assemble. Take your garlicky, toasted slices of baguette and smear a bit of the rosemary goat cheese on each one. Having the goat cheese at room temperature is ideal.

Dollop about a tbsp of the cranberry-walnut chutney on the goat cheese. For colour and garnish, I topped each crostini with a single leaf of fresh rosemary. 

Now that fall is officially upon us the only fresh herbs I have left at my disposal are rosemary and sage so this gave me a great opportunity to use up a lot of the rosemary in its final few weeks. 

A big thank you to my friend, Fouad, for taking most of the assembly photos! I hope you all enjoyed this post. Please consider making a donation to the MS Society and spread awareness for a very worthy cause.

See you again soon!


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