Crostini in quattro maniere | Crostini four ways

Baguettes, sliced into rounds - many varieties of French or Italian bread will do, but the baguette shape is ideal for bruschette
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Variation No. 1: Halloumi and quince
Membrillo (quince paste)

Variation No. 2: Taleggio, chicken and cherry
Sour cherry jam
Black cherries, pitted and sliced in half
Brown sugar
Boneless chicken breast

Variation No. 3: Fontina, prosciutto, red pepper and apricot
Fontina Val d'Aosta
Apricot jam or apricot mostarda, if you have it
Prosciutto, as thinly sliced as your deli can provide - prosciutto di Parma is lovely, but prosciutto americano from La Quercia is also excellent and responsibly raised (check out their website) and you could also substitute thinly sliced Serrano ham
Red peppers (bell or another sweet variety), roasted, with skin removed, and sliced into 3x3 inch pieces (or roughly the size of your baguette rounds) - although I tend to prefer to do everything from scratch (even baking the bread and making the jam if you have time, though admittedly I've never tried to make cheese), using red peppers roasted and packed in olive oil will not seriously compromise this recipe

Variation No. 4: Brie, pecans and pear
Triple-crème brie - I like too many varieties to specify just one, and most go well with these flavors
Pecans, halved and coarsely chopped
White sugar
Brown sugar
Double or heavy cream
Pears, Anjou or Bosc, thinly sliced

Brush baguette rounds with olive oil and toast lightly in the oven at 350˚F.

Variation No. 1
1. Heat olive oil in a pan until shimmering.
2. While it's heating, slice the halloumi into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Fry them lightly into the oil until brown around the edges.
3. Spread rounds with membrillo and top with halloumi. Depending on the shape of your block of halloumi, each round may need two pieces.
4. Place back into the oven for 5 minutes.

Variation No. 2
1. While the rounds are toasting, lightly rub your chicken breast(s) with olive oil, salt and pepper. Heat a grill pan or panini press with grill plates (or George Foreman-type grill, whatever you have available) and grill chicken until cooked through. (You are on your own for anything beyond this - I'm neither a cookbook writer, as previously stated, nor a cookbook cook, so my job is mainly to share ideas and inspire.)
2. While the chicken is grilling, toss the cherries with brown sugar until lightly coated and sauté in butter. Set aside.
3. Slice the grilled chicken diagonally into pieces, about 1/2-1/4 inch thick. As with the halloumi, the shape and size of the breasts will determine whether you need more than one piece to cover your baguette rounds.
4. Spread the baguette rounds with a generous quantity of sour cherry jam.
5. Spread an even more generous layer of Taleggio over the jam.
6. Stud the Taleggio layer with sautéed cherries.
7. Top with grilled chicken.
8. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes or less - you want the cheese just barely beginning to melt.

Variation No. 3
1. Drain your roasted red peppers on paper towels well in advance to avoid making the bread soggy.
2. Spread the baguette rounds with the apricot jam or mostarda.
3. Place a 1/4-inch thick slice of fontina on top of each round.
4. Place a piece of roasted red pepper on top of the fontina.
5. Gently fold a small piece of prosciutto (you will need to cut the slices) on top of the red pepper.
6. Place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes - just until the cheese is melting but not running over the edges of the bread and the prosciutto is beginning to crisp.

Variation No. 4
1. Carefully heat the sugars in a pan until melted. Don't stop stirring!
2. Stir in the pecans.
3. Lower the heat and stir in the cream. (I promise I will eventually supply more specific instructions - I do these three steps mostly on instinct.)
4. Allow to cool slightly, until just beginning to firm.
5. Spoon the pecan mixture onto the baguette rounds (about 1 1/2 tsp per round).
6. Place a thick layer of Brie on top of the pecans.
7. Press a slice of pear onto the Brie.

Serves: As many people as you invite - adjust quantities as you see fit!

The story: These were gradually invented over the course of a dozen cocktail parties that I hosted between 2007 and 2010. They can all be adapted into exceptionally delicious fillings for panini and toppings for pizza as well. For panini, I suggest a good crusty Italian boule, thickly sliced and then sliced in half. Instead of briefly toasting the bruschette at the oven, place the other half of the slice of bread (also spread with jam) on top and then press briefly in a panini press (brief is key, as is toasting the bread in advance, to avoid sogginess).

Years ago, before I became a parent, I was a mostly-miserable medical resident. I left my house around 5:30 in the morning and didn't get home until 7 o'clock most nights. I had one weekend off a month. I lived in a city far from my family and was nearly always too exhausted to do the things I loved (like skiing, hiking and rock climbing).

But nearly every day, I dragged myself up five flights of stairs to my home and headed straight for the kitchen, where I'd pour myself a glass of wine and spend the next couple hours making an elaborate dinner - sole meunière, farro with hazelnut pesto, seared scallops with risotto milanese, and many other recipes that I'll eventually post here. At the height of my therapeutic cooking, I prepared a five-course dinner (with a choice of ten cocktails to accompany it)  for 15 of my friends and colleagues, complete with printed menus with (what I thought were) catchy titles. I served these bruschette for the second course, "Grilled Cheese, Three Ways." The complete menu appears in the next post (and as I blog more, I'll try to include complete menus from some of my better dinner parties and holidays over the years).

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