Thursday, March 01, 2007

Would you like some crunch with your soup?

Winter is the season for slow-cooked soups and stews. But at some point, along about now when winter seems endless, I definitely start craving something with crunch to counter that baby food mouth feel. But, please, something with more taste than romaine lettuce.

For a quick, cheesy crisp to serve with soup or salad, use up the ends of a baguette to make Parmesan croutons from the first Barefoot Contessa. Or use the whole baguette -- the crisps keep perfectly in a sealed container. You could also use them like a cracker with dips... but they are so much tastier than most crackers.

Barefoot Contessa's Parmesan Toasts

one baguette
1/4 C good olive oil, plain or flavored with basil or garlic
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3/4 C freshly shredded Parmesan cheese (3 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400F.
Slice the baguette diagonally into 1/4 inch slices. You get 20-25 slices per loaf.
Lay the slices in one layer on a baking sheet and brush each with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan. Bake the toasts for 15 to 20 minutes, until they are browned and crisp. Serve at room temperature.

I usually rotate the baking sheet halfway through, since my oven seems to have distinct hot spots at higher temperatures.

Ina Garten, by the way, is just as cheerful, fun, and real in person as she is on her show. I first traded emails and phone calls with her when the book came out in 1999, and I was editing the Shepherd's Garden Seeds catalog (which it turned out Ina knew and loved. She's a real gardener AND a cook). We offered a few cookbooks, and I convinced our product manager to add Barefoot Contessa, and I'm so glad we did. Ina, of course, has gone on to bigger and better things, and the Shepherd's catalog, alas, is no more.