Servings: 16 appetizers
4 Dutch Crunch bread rolls, sliced in 4 even thick slices
3 tablespoons puréed roasted garlic
(click on the link for the recipe)
1 pound baby spinach leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon red chili powder
1 (28-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained
2 small roasted red bell peppers (see tips), seeded and finely chopped
1 cup fromage blanc
¼ cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, warm
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground
Preparing the shallots, spinach and hearts of palm:
Cut 8 hearts of palm into thick slices lengthwise, then cut the pieces in half crosswise. Set aside for garnish later and cut the rest into rings and break them apart.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pan. Add the shallots and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 6-7 minutes, until the shallots are softened. Add the hearts of palm and spinach. Cook until all the leaves are wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For the topping:
In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat; you don't want it to burn. Bring the heat back up to medium-high (the butter should be hot and golden) and add the flour. Keep stirring manually with a whisk for approximately 3 minutes. When a thick paste is formed, add the milk in 3 stages and stir well until fully incorporated. Increase the heat while constantly stirring for about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Add roasted garlic, fromage blanc, mozzarella and 4 tablespoons Parmesan. Season with red chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix well.
Chop the shallot / spinach / hearts of palm mixture very finely and add it to with the red bell peppers to the creamy mixture. Mix until even distributed. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
For the grilled bread: Lightly drizzle the bread slices with olive oil. Place the pieces on a hot grill. Cook until you get grill marks (about 2-3 minutes on each side) over medium heat. Remove from the grill.
Spread a spoonful of hearts of palm topping in the center of the bread slices. Top with the reserved hearts of palm and generously sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Place the crostini on a baking pan sprayed with oil (for easy clean up) and place under the broiler (low setting) in the oven for 10 minutes until golden.
I buy fromage blanc at a local market, called the Milk Pail Market. The address is 2585 California Street, Mountain View, California. If you can't find it, you could substitute low-fat cream cheese for the fromage blanc.
Don't forget to rinse the hearts of palm before draining or the dip could turn a little too acidic.
I like to use crostini as a base for vegetable spreads. Slightly toasting the bread prevents the appetizers from getting too soggy even when a moist topping is added.
If you have a big gathering, grill the crostini in advance. Store them in a zip-top bag and spread the topping about 30 minutes before finally placing them under the broiler.
You could also serve the hearts of palm dip hot with baked pita chips on the side, for example.
Roasting garlic softens its flavor and it's easier to digest than eating it raw.
Little reminder on how to roast a bell pepper: Wash the bell pepper and pat dry. Place it on the grill and char all the skin. Wrap in aluminum foil. Let cool for about 10 minutes. Wash under running water and the skin will come right off. Seed and coarsely chop. If you want to store roasted bell peppers, drizzle with oil and season with salt; set aside in the refrigerator until needed.