It's not everyday that you find yourself on a sun-kissed terrace in Argentina looking out at a few stray clouds dancing around the tip-tops of the Andes Mountains. It is the best kind of theater. I found myself standing, and staring, and then letting my eyes come back to close range when someone generously offered me a bite-sized treat. A small cracker topped with what looked like zucchini relish, a tiny kiss of creme fraiche, and a couple flecks of black pepper. I reached toward the platter with the hand that wasn't holding a crisp glass of Chardonnay. The crostini had a pronounced lemony tang, and the snap of the cracker played nicely with the relish-like toppings. This was the start of what amounted to a wonderful meal with both old and new friends at Bodega Ruca Malen in Luján de Cuyo.
This version is a "broad-strokes" recreation based on my (somewhat) hazy memory, and a nearly illegible scribble in my notebook. The scribble said - cracker, zesty saute of apple and zucchini, creme fraiche, pepper. I got a third hand account of the ingredients when I was there (chef --> waiter --> friend --> me), the culinary version of telephone. I used thinned out goat cheese and in addition to that I'm sure I have other ingredients in this version that weren't in the original, and one or two that might have been in the original that escaped me. Anyhow, this version is going to be a keeper and might very well (finally) dethrone the lentil and goat cheese crostini I've done to death. The apples and zucchini paired nicely with the un-oaked Yauquen Chardonnay we were drinking, which in turn paired perfectly with the idyllic, mountain-framed sunny skies.
Here's a photo Wayne took of me as I was waiting for a taxi to pick me up and take me to the airport. I also uploaded a little snippet of video to You Tube. Here you can see what the Andes Mountains look like just after sunrise, on a clear day, as our flight crossed from Santiago, Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. Watch it in high-quality if you can.
Apple Zucchini Crostini Recipe
Be sure to get your bread nice and toasted and assemble as close to serving time as possible. You can certainly do the components ahead of time, but the delayed assembly fend off any sogginess of the cracker. I love love the zucchini apple component, it's a late summer relish of sorts and I might even use it in another recipe I have in mind later this week. Feel free to make a larger batch of it and use it on goat cheese tacos, in salads, as an omelette topping, etc, etc. And as far as size goes - I made these a bit too small 1-inch bites would be perfect and these we just shy of that.
5-7 slices whole grain bread, very thinly sliced
3 ounces goat cheese or chevre, crumbled
tiny splash of milk or cream
splash of extra virgin olive oil
two big pinches of salt
1/4 cup apple, cut into 1/4 inch dice (place in a bit of lemon water if not using immediately)
3/4 cup zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
a bit of freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces (or use a cookie cutter), brush with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake until golden, roughly 14 minutes, flipping once along the way. Remove and let cool.
In the meantime, whisk the goat cheese in a small bowl with just enough milk to make it fluffy, light, and easily dollop-able. Spoon into a piping bag, or alternately a small plastic bag with just a bit of the corner cut off) and set aside in a cool place.
To make the zucchini-apple component, heat a splash of olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Stir in the salt and the apples. Saute for about 15 seconds and then stir in the zucchini. Cook for another 15-20 seconds - things should really be sizzling. But keep in mind, you only want to heat and soften things up a touch, not turn everything to mush by overcooking. Quickly remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and a tiny drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Toss and taste, add a bit more salt if needed. Transfer the zucchini mixture to a large plate to cool a bit.
To assemble take one piece of the toasted bread and spoon a small amount of the zucchini mixture on top of it. Squeeze a little bit of the goat cheese on top of that and a few flecks of black pepper. Repeat and arrange on your favorite serving platter.
Makes about 3 dozen bite-sized crostini.