Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.
Among the best things to come out of the new Italian cuisine revival in America is the notion that you can dress up basic toast with a few simple toppings, call it bruschetta and make a meal out of it. How easy is that?
Creamy, fresh, whole-milk ricotta makes an ideal base for experimenting with this template through the seasons. Add fresh cherry tomatoes in the summer, sautéed mushrooms in the fall, roasted root vegetables in the winter or, as with this recipe, the first asparagus of spring. Throw in a side of arugula salad dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and parmesan shavings, and you’ve got yourself a solid weeknight dinner that can be ready within a half hour.
Starting with three ingredients—toasted baguette, ricotta and asparagus—I had Sauvignon Blanc in mind for a suitable pairing; the varietal boasts the acidity to balance the richness of the cheese and citrus notes to manage the green flavors of the asparagus. I found a bottle of the Viña Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Root: 1 2012 in my local market for $13 and began thinking about how to fine-tune the pairing.
In the first trial, I added a couple tablespoons of lemon juice to the ricotta and roasted the asparagus in the oven until browned. The results were promising. Roasting tamped down some of the green flavors in the asparagus, and the addition of lemon juice highlighted the appealing citrus notes in the wine. Still, I wondered if there wasn’t more to be done.
I had found purslane, a lemony tasting green, in the market the same day and wondered if its herbal qualities might counter some of the more exuberant green notes common to Sauvignon Blancs. Sometimes by matching flavors in food and wine, you can tone down unwanted elements—the theory of canceling out. Not so here. Chopped purslane mixed in with the ricotta amped up the herbal qualities in the wine. Back to the drawing board!
Looking to give the dish a warmer character and more dimension, I added a scant half-slice of crisped pancetta to each bruschetta. (A tip: When making pairings with white wine, choose pancetta over bacon, whose smoked notes go better with oaky reds.) On its own, the crisped pancetta highlighted the steely flint notes in the wine. When added to the bruschetta, it didn’t necessarily create a better match with the wine than my first trial, but it did improve the dish overall. As such, I’ve included it in the recipe here. Don’t go overboard though: A little goes a long way.
Viña Ventisquero Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca Valley Root: 1 2012 (87 points, $12)
Total time: 25 minutes
Approximate food cost: $28
1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Brush the bread slices with olive oil, season with salt, place on a sheet tray and toast in the oven until just browned, around 5 minutes.
2. Coat the asparagus with cooking oil, season with salt, place on a sheet tray and cook in the oven until browned, around 20 minutes. When cooled, cut the spears in half.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the lemon juice, ricotta and two tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and reserve.
4. In a large sauté pan, cook the pancetta slices over medium-high heat, turning occasionally until browned, around 5 minutes.
5. Assemble the bruschetta by smearing 2 or 3 tablespoons of the ricotta on a toasted crouton and adding 3 or 4 halves of asparagus spears and half a crisped pancetta slice. Serve immediately, with at least 3 bruschetta per person depending on the size of your croutons. Serves 4