It’s been three weeks notice, about 27 texts, and four menu swaps in the making, but tonight is Friend Dinner around the big table at my house. We call it Friend Dinner because, well… I poorly named it two years ago well… we are in fact friends who dinner, so. Just be careful what you call things. It could be lame but stick.
Everyone has a task around the big table at dinner – not to bring a dish but rather, one person is in charge of the record player, someone is on water duty, someone helps me finish setting the table. I’ve graciously learned to take people up on their offer of ‘is there anything I can do to help?’ because most people want to help, but also…don’t we all want to ease out of our social anxieties with a small dinner party task? (It’s me. I do!)
We settle in and catch up. I most look forward to the moment when everyone’s plates are full and the bubbling laughter turns to quiet as we all enjoy our first bites. We all make it back up to rowdy as the plates empty and clear, and another bottle of wine uncorks.
We should do this more, we lament. But we do it – and that’s what it takes.
This crostini is on the menu tomorrow for its comfort and simplicity. For its skillet service. For its function as both appetizer or side dish.
I hope this skillet makes it to your table, along with a big rowdy bunch soon soon soon.
Here’s what you’ll need:
• a small loaf of bread – something crusty from the grocery store bakery.
• finely diced pancetta – I love the smoky fat addition. If you want to keep this dish vegetarian you could certainly add extra olive oil and tender, diced sun dried tomatoes.
• a can of white beans – cheap and easy and healthy and I forever love beans.
• a clove of garlic – it’s minced. Lots of fresh herbs and lemon – I used fresh oregano, fresh thyme, parsley and chives. If you have another mixture in mind I’m here to support it.
• gruyere cheese – I feel like this needs no explanation.
• sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. I think adding smoky paprika would also be lovely but I’ll leave that up to you.
Slice up the bread. I went for 1-inch thick slices cut in half so they were about three bites per slice.
Brown up the pancetta in a pan – specifically a large oven-proof skillet.
We’ll use the fat that’s rendered from the pancetta plus a glug of olive oil to pan fry the bread before it’s topped.
Cozy as many bread slices as you can into the pan to brown in the pan. Flip em over to grill on both sides.
As I was lightly burning my fingers on these bread flips I thought back to the actual 5 pairs of tongs I own… waiting for me in a kitchen drawer like WTF?
White beans are my favorite bean to appetizer because they’re soft and tender and even ‘I don’t like beans’ people find them palatable where grilled bread, pancetta, and cheese are involved.
To the beans and pancetta we’ll add fresh oregano and fresh thyme.
I was exceedingly frugal with my energy and simply stripped the leaves from the stem and tore them roughly with my fingers. Let’s call it rustic and judicious.
I always like way too much flat leaf parsley. Garlic, too.
With another good glug of olive oil and a toss to combine – the bean mixture is ready to go!
It’s going to feel very tempting to eat all at once on the spot and I’m going to suggest that you don’t.
Cover the grilled bread in a pinch of cheese each.
And top each piece of bread generously with the bean mixture. A heaping spoonful on each piece of bread will feel right!
You’re absolutely right we’re adding more gruyere!
And off to the oven – the whole dang pan to melt and meld. Just about 8 minutes or so.
I like these served with a spritz of lemon juice and a sprinkle of fresh chives.
I’m the girl that will yell to my friends that THE PAN IS HOT and serve these slices warm from the pan. That’s the style we go for at the big table.
And let me tell you, I’d just as soon serve this as a dinner for one (meeeee) as I would at a dinner party. Happy gathering!
Photos with Jon Melendez, as per usual.Print
- 2 ounces finely diced pancetta
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 small loaf of crusty bread, cut into 3-bite size pieces
- 1 (15-ounce) can cannelloni beans, drained
- 1 clove of garlic, minced – about 1 heaping teaspoon
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, leaves torn from the stem
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, leaves torn from the stem
- sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
- 1 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives, to top, pretty optional
- lemon wedges, to top after baking
- Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Place a 10-inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the pancetta pieces and toss around the pan until they’re browned on all sides and cooked through, about 6 minutes.
- Remove the pancetta from the pan and place in a medium bowl. Leave the fat from the pancetta in the pan – it should be about 2 tablespoons. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add the bread, fitting as many pieces of crusty bread into the pan as you can. They can be cozy and touching one another – that’s great! Grill the bread on one side, and keep and eye on the pieces as you stir together the bean mixture. You’ll need to flip the bread pieces and add one more tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
- To the pancetta bowl add the drained beans, minced garlic, fresh herbs and parsley, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper to taste.
- Once both sides of the bread are toasted, remove from the heat. Add a pinch of cheese to each slice of bread. Top each slice of toast with a heaping spoonful of the bean mixture. Top with more cheese, generously covering the beans.
- Place in the oven and bake until the cheese is well melted, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm in the skillet or remove the bread pieces to a platter. Top with chives before serving – if you’d like. Definitely drizzle with a dash of lemon juice and enjoy!