I know that sounds a bit Addams Family but there are so many delicious things you can put on toast, and there are times when a mere sandwich won’t do. Times when it really has to be hot, comforting, crisp, crunchy toast, whether it’s artisanal sourdough or a sliced white. I was profoundly shocked to read recently that most Americans don’t eat toast. Can this be true? No wonder they threw such a hissy fit at that tea party.
They’re missing out on buttery, sweet cinnamon toast on a winter’s afternoon, ideally cooked nostalgically over an open fire with a telescopic fork. Toast with butter, jam, lemon curd, marmalade or Marmite (be silent, Marmite haters, you know not of what you speak), with beans, with the ubiquitous but delicious avocado and tomato and of course with grilled cheese.
Sometimes you just don’t feel like cooking anything fancy, especially if you’ve been feeding the relentless appetite of a family three times a day during lock-down or if, like me, you’ve been recipe testing for hours and the thought of cooking dinner as well kills your appetite. Happily my husband is very fond of baked beans on toast. We see no irony in eating this off lap trays while watching Masterchef contestants sweating over elaborate concoctions for a panel of food critics.
But toast doesn’t have to be boring. Look at Roopa Gulati’s chilli cheese toast, featured in her new book India:The World Vegetarian (Bloomsbury Absolute). I didn’t think anything could replace a Welsh rarebit in my affections but Roopa has shaken my conviction. I’d have bought the book for this alone and I’m afraid the page already has food stains. I await my next cheese delivery with impatience.
You could try toast rubbed with garlic and loaded with strips of roasted pepper and a few anchovies, or thinly smeared with black olive tapenade and topped with sweet and juicy roasted cherry tomatoes and a few basil leaves. Add a little crumbled feta or goat’s cheese if you have it.
Students at one of my cookery course lunches earlier this year fell on this with cries of joy. I was going to say they gobbled it up but in fact their table manners were impeccable. I don’t have a photo but it’s a toast version of this.
Smoked mackerel (or any smoked fish) pâté on rye toast, topped with a few chopped pickled cornichons is a winner, too. An artful scattering of herbs adds piquancy and disguises the fact that you threw it together in less time than it takes to drink a glass of wine (granted, I’m not including the pâté making in that estimate). A heap of salad leaves on the side is a nod to healthy eating.
My seasonal favourite right now is this one: toast thickly spread with potted cheese, topped with tender-crisp asparagus, spattered with a loose-textured pesto. Use whatever pesto you have handy and loosen it with a little olive oil if it’s too stiff.
Potted cheese is a great way of using up odds and ends or extending the life of a wedge of cheese which is starting to look a bit elderly.
Make it so, Number One
Coarsely grate your cheese (I used Pitchfork Cheddar and Sparkenhoe Red Leicester), chuck it in a food processor with rather less than half its weight of unsalted butter, a little mustard (grainy or dry English), a dash of Worcestershire Sauce, a pinch of salt and some black pepper and whizz to a fairly smooth paste.
Add a few herbs if you have them: I used chives and thyme but go easy on the onion flavours if you aren’t eating it straight away, they can become dominant. Taste and tweak. To store, spoon into sterilised pots, making sure there aren’t any air gaps, and cover with clarified butter. It’ll keep in the fridge for a week or two easily and freezes well, tightly wrapped.
What’s your favourite toast topper? All ideas welcome (except tinned spaghetti).