In the last year or so, I have become intrigued by the cooking of Bobby Flay.
Bobby is well known for his Food Network cooking shows like “Beat Bobby Flay,” as well as his acclaimed restaurants such as Mesa Grill and Shark in Las Vegas, Gato in New York, and Bobby’s Burger Palace in several locations in the United States.
While Bobby’s cooking relies heavily on the bold flavors of Spain, Mexico and the American southwest, he grew up in Manhattan in the 1970s. So, with many Italian friends and frequent trips to “Little Italy” for spaghetti and meatballs, Bobby expresses a love of Italian cooking, as well.
I have been studying Bobby’s cooking technique, the ingredients he uses, and most importantly, how to make a good margarita! When looking for an appetizer to serve with drinks, I stumbled across something that was a hit with our guests. It is a Spanish take on the traditional Italian tomato bread, a popular item at Italian bistros in South Philly.
I was so tired of hummus and pita chips, salsa and nachos, and plain old cheese and crackers (even good cheese). This appetizer relies on a unique combination of flavors. But, as Bobby noted in his introduction to the recipe, because there are so few ingredients, all of them need to be very good. I had to search for Serrano ham (found it at Wegman’s) and substituted store-bought basil pesto in lieu of making homemade parsley pesto. Prosciutto ham could be substituted, but the Serrano ham is worth looking for.
Tomato Bread with Serrano Ham and Pesto
- A container of store-bought pesto sauce (or homemade if you have it)
- 3 very ripe beefsteak tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 loaf of crusty Italian bread (ciabatta is good but any good country loaf will work)
- 2 large garlic cloves, sliced in half
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ pound thinly sliced serrano ham
- Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally.
- Place a box grater in a large bowl. Rub the cut side of the tomato halves over the large holes of the grater, using your palm to move them back and forth.
- The flesh should be grated off, leaving the skin intact in your hand. Discard the skin and season the tomato pulp with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Let sit at room temperature while you prepare the bread.
- Heat a grill or grill pan to high.
- Cut the bread into ¼ inch thick slices and grill until lightly charred. Flip the bread slices and toast a little longer until heated through and lightly browned.
- Rub the grilled bread slices with the halved garlic cloves and then brush them with olive oil.
- Spoon liberal amounts of tomato pulp onto the grilled bread slices and drizzle with some of the pesto.
- Top with the ham slices and serve at room temperature.
The colors of the dish are beautiful, and the combination of flavors is just delicious. I served the bread with drinks and no other “nibbley” was needed. Flay recommends making tomato bread in late summer when tomatoes are at their best, but as long as they are red and ripe, this recipe will work. You could try making it for a light weekend lunch, as well. If you have tomato pulp left over, you can use it to whip up a quick marinara sauce for pasta.
Flay is said to be opening an Italian restaurant in Vegas called Amalfi. I am eager to see how he puts his own signature style on Italian classics. Maybe another cookbook is in the works, too.
A little side note: On the Food Network show, “Beat Bobby Flay,” Bobby usually wins the cooking competition! But you will find tomato bread is a winner and easy to make, too.
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