I remember the first time I ever heard “tartine.” My office was having a birthday lunch to celebrate the Leos in the group, and we were sitting at a cozy table at a new restaurant down the street. I was in the mood to be virtuous, so I requested that our waiter inquire as to the vegetarian dish of the day. He informed me that he could do that, but that there was a tartine on the menu as a vegetarian option. I asked what the heck is a tartine, and he told me, but I wasn’t sold, so I requested again that he go ask the chef what her vegetarian option of the day would be. He snippily replied, “well, I know it’s going to be the tartine.” I stared up into his hairy nostrils, skin burning a bit knowing he wasn’t being truthful, but nonetheless, I told him I shall try this salad atop a toast thingy. And oh, I am so glad I did. The roasted baby vegetables tossed in a light vinaigrette piled on crispy bread quickly became my favorite dish, but, it being a a seasonal restaurant, the item is not currently on the menu. Ah well, there’s always spring.
In the meantime, while binging on the Food Network, I watched Ina demonstrate her version of a tartine, and I thought, holy moley, I must make this immediately. And soon, the opportunity arose: our office New Year’s party, which we celebrated with another PR firm. Our respective company presidents decided to hold the party at my boss’ home, and each staffer was to bring an appetizer. My first reaction was “sh*t, what do I make?!?” But then, I remembered my dear Miss Ina, and my plan was set.
I arrived at Paige’s house, bread, goat cheese, arugula, and sliced tomatoes in tow. Most everyone else brought dips or pre-assembled items, but I proceeded to take over the kitchen (as I do), to make my contribution. I asked Paige if I could borrow her toaster, but she offered her broiler instead.
Lola: Ummmm… how do you use a broiler?
So, to make my appetizer, my boss had to show me how to use a broiler, which, to be honest, I’m kind of in love with now. It’s so cool! Who knew you could just turn the dial to broil, put the rack on the top row, keep the door ajar, and then, bingo— toast! Oh, let me never know a day when I do not learn something new, for that would be a sad day.
As I assembled the Arugula and Goat Cheese tartines, the party goers kept filtering past the kitchen, peeking over my shoulder to watch the show. I do imagine watching me make a mess in the kitchen is something of a sight to behold. And as I placed the tartines on the table, I watched in delight as they disappeared before my eyes. These suckers are GOOD. And such a wonderful party trick!
On the TV episode, once Ina put the cheese, tomatoes and arugula on the toast, she put the tartines back under the broiler for a moment. This tip is not in the online recipe, but I suggest you follow suit. However, don’t wander away from the oven because that arugula burns quickly. So, I just stand there with my face up to the cracked door, impatiently (per usual) waiting for the arugula to wilt down.
After the party I stopped by my parents’ house to watch the BCS Championship and to show off my new dish. This go-around, I put salt and pepper on the cheese before putting the veggies on top. Ina doesn’t do this, but I think it’s a nice touch. Mom and Dad were uber-impressed and gobbled up their share with pride. Taking advantage of my mom’s happy tummy, I decided I’d politely ask to take her cookie sheet home with me since the one I purchased previously was a wee bit too big for my oven. And since I was on a tartine roll, I made the tartines as an appetizer for some girlfriends the next night. Once again, clean plates all around. Huzzah!
Accompanying the tartines, I offered my Friday guests a mix of garlic(mmmm)-marinated olives and olives with chile peppers, as well as harvati with dill cheese and crackers. For the main course, I made one of my go-to soups from my favorite TV nutritionist, Ellie Krieger. I’ve made this soup probably five times or so, and it is truly a simple dish to make, and really tasty, and, apparently, healthy. Since it’s pretty basic, I’ve put my own spin on the recipe each time I’ve made it. This time, instead of using a can of tomatoes, I put in two cans of mild Rotel, which actually made it a teensy bit too spicy. Fortunately, we all had stuffy noses and too much wine, so the zest was a welcome touch by the time we got around to finally eating dinner. The girls devoured the soup, and I glowed from the vino and accomplishment.
I came home tonight, my je ne sais quoi a little limp after a long day and a sinus infection, and I cooked up some comfort, heating leftover vegetable lentil soup, and making what I decided is a sophisticated grilled cheese. Ma, look at me now! Instead of Campbell’s condensed tomato variety, I’m soothing my soul with my very own homemade soup, and an open-faced grilled cheese made of goat cheese and tomato. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Velveeta —probably way more than I should, actually — but damn, I felt so smug standing in my kitchen, eating my snooty comfort food. I can only assume my waiter once had a similar experience, and if so, he is now forgiven.
Novice tip: for the tartines, I sliced the tomatoes the night before to cut down on prep time at the party. Ditto for the soup; I did all my chopping Thursday night since that’s the most time consuming part of the process. I just stored all the veggies in Tupperware so all I had to do was open them up and toss in the veggies. I highly recommend that you do this as well if you’re going to be entertaining.