“I dream in crostini,” Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen cook Amanda Frederickson likes to say. So when pulled together hors-d’oeuvres for the cocktails served at blogger Ashley Rose’s holiday cocktail party, the little toasts were a natural fit.
She developed four different crostini for the party: one with white beans and broccoli rabe; another starring butternut squash, goat cheese and sage; a third with beef tenderloin, caramelized onions and blue cheese; and a sweeter bite with ricotta, pears and spiced walnuts. “I kind of like old school toast appetizers,” she admits. “So I’m bringing back the eighties and nineties.”
We asked the crostini queen herself to spill all her secrets, from her jumping-off points for crostini ideas to her make-ahead tactics. Keep reading for the recipe to crostini success.
- Use the seasons as a starting point. “Look at what’s in season,” Amanda says. “For example, butternut squash is in season, and it’s easy to think about what goes with that—some sort of creaminess, plus an earthy herb like sage. Winter’s coming up, and crab’s in season. Mangoes are starting to come into season in Florida. If you were, say, in that area, you could do a mango and crab crostini with a wasabi mayo.”
- You can also use your favorite dishes as a jumping-off point. “Think about main courses that you like. Many of them translate well into crostini—you just shrink them,” she points out. Love bagels and lox? Shrink it down by topping squares of rye toast with cream cheese, cured salmon, pickled red onion and dill fronds.
- Keep your assortment varied. “I like to have a mix of sweet with savory—or if your crostini can be both sweet and savory, that’s even better—but I have different flavor combinations,” Amanda explains. “And in addition to having a meat crostini, always have a vegetarian one, so all of your friends can enjoy the appetizers.”
- Make sure there’s a mix of flavors and textures in every bite. . . “With finger food, you only get one bite, so you have to have all of the different components together,” she says. “Think of having different flavors and textures: creamy, crunchy, chewy. They should be layered throughout.”
- . . .But keep it to two bites, tops. Says Amanda: “Preferably, your crostini would be just one bite, especially because you’re going to be standing around without utensils, and you’ll be having a cocktail, too.”
- Prep everything ahead—even the steak! Just about every component of crostini can be made in advance. (The exception: fried sage, although you could swap that with a sprinkling of fresh leaves instead.) Amanda suggests toasting the bread up to 24 hours ahead, then wrapping it and leaving it out at room temperature. Sear meat an hour or two beforehand, and don’t worry about serving steak crostini hot: “Steak actually tastes delicious when it’s at room temperature,” she points out, adding, “If your crostini’s being served at room temperature, it’ll be even easier.” You can also roast or purée squash or other vegetables at least a day ahead.
- Factor in headcount. Amanda suggests accounting for three to four crostini per guest. “Some people will eat less, and some people will eat more, but if it’s just appetizers, don’t worry: You have the next course that’s coming, too,” she reminds us. “Everybody worries that every single guest has enough to eat, but don’t stress. It’s too much to put on yourself!”
- Don’t overlook the bread. Amanda’s first choice is pullman bread for its ideal thickness, with the crusts cut off, cut on the diagonal into quarters, because it makes the toast points look even more stunning. “You can easily slice a baguette, but I love toast points; they’re a little more eighties,” she says. Also on her preferred bread list: dark ryes and thick, seeded breads.
- Get inspired by your surroundings. Amanda’s butternut squash, goat cheese and sage crostini was inspired by one she had at a restaurant, but she tweaked it to suit her own palate. “ABC Kitchen had this amazing butternut squash toast, and they served it before the toast craze started. It was one of those food memories that you love,” she recalls. “They used ricotta instead, but I like the tanginess of goat cheese.”
- Even pantry items make nice toppings. Don’t forget that humble everyday ingredients make for equally fabulous toppers, too. “I love hard-boiled eggs with chives on top and and an anchovy butter,” she says. “It’s really simple and pretty with the sliced eggs on top, and the anchovy adds an umami flavor to the butter.”
To see more, including the holiday cocktails that were paired with these crostini, head to our Open Kitchen: Cocktails + Crostini page.