I’m here to tell you that the current toast craze did not originate in San Francisco. Alas, northern California’s hipster den is merely responsible for the resurgence of toast, and the fact that people are now clamoring to order out what home cooks and food writers have been savoring at their kitchen tables for ages.
A voracious reader of food memoirs, I’ve come across a recurring theme—one that has appeared in book after book by food writers of all ages and culinary backgrounds. That theme? Toast. And I’m not talking buttered slabs of processed bread clutched in a paper towel on the way out the door. This kind of toast, the kind that our San Francisco friends currently worship, is a spiritual awakening. The sumptuous, indulgent transformation of an oft-tossed aside meal into something that leaves you in awe of the explosion of flavors that have just graced your plate. I mean have you had avocado toast with melted coconut oil, flaky sea salt and chili flakes, topped with a slow-poached egg? Or crisp, seedy bread piled high with garlicky asparagus and a creamy almondaise sauce? If you’re not making gourmet toast as frequently as all the time, you are seriously missing out. But don’t take my word for it. These famous foodies already have you covered, recipes and all.
In one of my favorite food writer memoirs of all time, James Beard Award-winning writer Elissa Altman shares a recipe crafted by her partner, Susan, who came home from her Connecticut farmer’s market with a 75 cent bag of baby kale the same day Elissa emerged from the Union Square Greenmarket with kale that cost 15 dollars a pound. Above the recipe for Susan’s Spicy Baby Kale on Garlic Toast, Elissa notes, “There’s a lot that Susan has taught me about cooking, but one of the most important is the fact of toast; toast is the saving grace of otherwise humdrum food everywhere, and, rubbed with a clove of garlic and drizzled with a bit of olive oil, almost anything that you set down upon it will be delicious.” Agreed. Although this is one of my favorite recipes in the book, Elissa also encourages both gourmet toast consumption and illegal foraging in her recipe for Ramps on Toast with Eggs. I support of all this.
American chef, cookbook author and veritable veggie expert Deborah Madison traveled the country with her husband, artist Patrick McFarlin, to find out just what exactly people eat when they eat alone. Although saltines crumbled into milk represent one of the less elegant offerings, a handful of individuals shared that they love the simplicity of lightly cooked vegetables served atop toast. One woman, Rosalind Cummings, said that her family often ate toast with sautéed mushrooms topped with a bit of sherry. It was only when she went to a friend’s house and requested sherry for her mushrooms that she realized not all families had “sherry shakers” on their dinner tables.
In this passionate ode to elegant yet simple food, chef and writer Tamar Adler dedicated an entire chapter to seasonal cooking, piled on toast and drizzled with good olive oil, freshly chopped herbs, cracked pepper and other luscious additions like crème fraîche, sour cream, or your favorite vinegar. The chapter is titled “How To Have Balance,” and it shames society’s denigration of bread and the scarlet letter we’ve pinned onto nourishing carbohydrates, causing us to miss out out on the simple pleasures of a healthy feast, spiked with fresh vegetables. “I can think of no better way to get good, healthy vegetables, lush, ripe, and in season, to the middle of your plate than to let them balance on freshly toasted bread,” she says.
There’s your order, friends. Get to the market, pick up the crustiest loaf of bread you can find, toss it under the broiler, and load it up with the season’s brightest jewels. Toast is here to stay.
Poor Man’s Feast: poormansfeast.com
What We Eat When We Eat Alone: deborahmadison.com
An Everlasting Meal: tamareadler.com