I had a lot of big ideas when it came time to prepare for this feature. I had cookbooks scattered across my dining table for days, pages turned down, dog-eared favorites pulled for inspiration. I had so many options racing through my mind, I was a little paralyzed. Not a single one seemed right.
Isn’t that how it goes with entertaining sometimes? You look forward to gathering with friends and family but feel overwhelmed by the logistics. What do you make? Will the recipe work? What if no one likes it or the recipe flops?
After an epic fail involving stringy overcooked rhubarb, crushed pistachios and a lip-smacking amount of bitter lemon rind, I had a little epiphany. Less is more. I appreciate a fancy, complicated meal, but what I love the most is a simple meal made from fresh ingredients. I want the ingredients to get all the glory, and my job to be assembling them, knowing the flavors can stand on their own.
This recipe comes in two parts. The first is a loaf of bread. Yes, bread. I’ve had a bit of a love affair with sourdough for the last year or two, tinkering with it in my kitchen. I’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s been a fun learning process. But there is nothing more decadent, special or delicious than a warm loaf of fresh bread.
I won’t subject you to the nuances and science of making a sourdough starter. Don’t get me wrong, if I can do it, I promise, you can too. But no-knead bread has taken the Internet by storm the last couple years and it truly couldn’t be easier. The only thing to note is the length of time it takes from dough to actual loaf. I suggest making your dough in the evening, letting it rest overnight and baking it the next day.
The second component of the recipe is using the homemade bread to make a tartine. Tartine is just a fancy word for an open-faced sandwich. These little bites work beautifully as an appetizer before the main meal, as a light lunch or a tasty addition to a potluck or buffet.
Tangy goat cheese and sweet figs get a boost of flavor from a crack of black pepper, a drizzle of honey and the brightness of fresh basil. You will come back to this fresh and flavorful combination again and again. Certainly, as spring gives way to summer, look for fresh figs, but dried figs are available year- round at the grocery store.
Entertaining, in its best moments, reminds us that gathering at the table to share a meal (no matter how simple or elaborate) with people we love is the good stuff in life. So don’t overthink it. This recipe is a good place to start.
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon yeast
1 ¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Start by mixing all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the water to the flour mixture and using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir until combined, about a minute.
In another bowl, coat the inside with a tablespoon of olive oil. With floured hands, shape the dough into a ball and place in the coated bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp hand towel. Set aside on the counter for 8 to 12 hours.
After dough has rested, remove from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes more in the bowl uncovered.
On a well-floured surface, fold the dough again, reforming into a ball. Place dough, seam-side down, on a piece of parchment paper. Move the ball of dough on the parchment paper into a large 6- or 8-quart pot with a lid. Let dough rest another hour or two.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pot with the lid on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 25 minutes with the lid on. After 25 minutes, carefully remove the lid, and bake the bread for another 25 minutes until the bread is a deep golden brown.
Remove pot from oven, and carefully take the bread out of the pot. Allow the bread to cool completely.
This isn’t much of a formal recipe. There are no quantities, just a list of ingredients. Layer the flavors as you prefer and don’t be afraid to add or swap ingredients based on your own preferences.
Goat Cheese & Fig Tartines
Good bread, sliced into ½ inch thick slices
Dried figs, sliced in half
6 or 7 fresh basil leaves, minced
Preheat the oven to broil. Make an even layer of the sliced bread on a baking sheet and lightly toast the bread on both sides under the broiler. Keep an eye on the oven — the bread will toast quickly, and you don’t want it to burn. Allow about a minute on each side.
Remove bread from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Using a knife, spread the goat cheese on one side of the bread. Layer with sliced figs, about 2 or 3 pieces per slice of bread depending on size of bread. Sprinkle generously with freshly cracked black pepper. Drizzle the bread lightly with honey and garnish with minced fresh basil. Serve immediately.