Buffs in the Kitchen: Midterm crustino

No time to run to the store? Read on to learn how you can still eat well during the midterm crunch.

During a midterm crunch, the last thing I have time for is a grocery store run. However, even with little to work with, a good meal still can be made in order to power through late night cramming sessions.

Chop up whatever you have, sauté it, and top your creation on a toasted slice of bread for a collegiate crustino (crustino is the Italian word for “little crusts” or grilled bread served with toppings.) This technique can work with anything from apples to zucchini, but a personal favorite is a tomato cabbage sauté. If you don’t have any of the ingredients, no stress, use what you have and learn from these techniques.

Ingredients:

Bread or cracker (Multigrain Wasa crackers are my personal favorite.)

Balsamic vinegar

Onions (Yellow is best for cooking, but use any you have.)

Cabbage

Tomatoes

Cheese (Any will do, but feta is the best.)

Spices and herbs

Process:

Chop first! Get everything ready before the heat hits the pan. Scrambling for that jar of fennel seeds while your onions burn is no way to make good food.

Take an onion and slice it in half with the roots on either end. That is where most of the tear-inducing chemicals lurk. Slice off a few thin rings, then stack and rough chop to create evenly chopped sticks. Do the same with the cabbage and cube your tomato. As a general rule of thumb, make sure there are two parts onions for every one part of the other veggies.

Next, put a non-stick pan on high heat.

While the pan takes the heat, arrange your herbs and spices next to the stove. My philosophy on spice is more the merrier, but if all you have is black pepper, that will do just fine.  

Hold your hand over the pan and when you feel heat, pour in the fat. The fat can be butter, olive oil or lard. Wait until the fat moves quickly as you swirl the pan. It should begin to shine. Pay careful attention to your fat, because this is a simple step, but one that can easily go wrong. Or put in the language of my house, “Don’t burn the butter, idiot.”

When your fat shines, add the onions along with herbs and spices. For this dish, I recommend fennel seeds, cilantro, rosemary or thyme. But really anything will do, so take this in any direction your palate desires. Let your battuto (battuto is the Italian term for chopped onions and herbs) sizzle for a beat. Give them a turn with a spatula or quick flick of the wrist, then turn the heat down to medium/medium high. If the heat is left at high, your fat and onions will burn.

The moment an onion hits heated fat and begins to sizzle is one of my greatest joys in life. As the heat makes the onions translucent, your battuto becomes a soffrito, or mirepoix as the French call it. This is the base for all flavors. Without a fully sautéd onion, the veggies will never reach their full potential. Equally, overdo it and you have a burnt mush. But don’t fret, it’s very easy, just watch the pan.  

Keep turning the contents of the pan over, and once the onions are fully translucent (5-7 minutes,) add in the rest of your veggies.

As the veggies sizzle in the pan, select your cheese. If your parents recently visited and bought you feta, use it! If not, parmesan, swiss or even cheddar will add a nice bite and help stick the dish together.   

Continue sautéing until all veggies are at your desired tenderness. If you really want your cabbage to cook down, try adding in a touch of a wine/cider-based vinegar, but just a touch. When ready, use your spatula to push all of the veggies to the side and slide in a piece of bread. Add more fat if needed.

Spoon the veggies on top of the bread and top with balsamic vinegar. Crack some pepper and sprinkle any fresh herbs you have. Cover and let cook for a minute, or until the bread is toasted on the bottom. A trick to determine when it is toasted is to swirl the pan close to your ear and try to listen for the little scraping of the toasted bread against the pan. This takes some practice, but will come eventually.

Lastly, enjoy. You just made a delectable meal that cost less than anything on The Hill, and hopefully you had fun while doing it.

Contact CU Independent Visuals and Grapevine Contributor Jackson Barnett at Jackson.Barnett@colorado.edu.

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