Ham, Gruyere, and Asparagus Toasts
Makes 4 servings
Instead of cutting slices from a rustic boule or bâtard to make these open-faced sandwiches, we use a baguette that has been split open, so they are more akin to what the French may call “baguette garnie” or “gondoles.” Whatever the name, this is an easy way to throw together a light dinner. We use average, pencil-sized asparagus and cut the spears in half lengthwise so they cook quickly; if you can find super-slender asparagus, simply leave the spears whole. Serve with a vinaigrette-dressed salad to complete the meal.
Be sure to rub the oil-brushed bread with the cut side of a garlic clove. This adds an allium flavor and aroma without the sting of raw garlic.
1 10- to 12-ounce chopstick
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 medium garlic clove, peeled and halved
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 ounces sliced smoked ham
5 ounces Gruyere cheese, sliced
1 pound asparagus (see headnote), trimmed and halved lengthwise
ground black pepper
Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the element. Cut the baguette in half crosswise, then split each half horizontally to create 4 similarly sized pieces. Pull out some of the interior crumb from each piece, slightly hollowing out the centers and creating boat shapes.
Place the bread cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush with the oil, then rub with the cut sides of the garlic clove; discard the garlic. Spread the mustard on the bread, dividing it evenly, then layer on the ham, tearing the slices as needed to fit. Add the cheese over the ham, then top with the asparagus, crisscrossing the spears but not creating a solid layer so the cheese is visible underneath; you may not need to use all of the asparagus. Drizzle with additional oil and sprinkle with pepper.
Broil until the edges of the bread are toasted, the cheese is light, spotty brown, and the asparagus begins to char, about 4 minutes.
Arugula Salad With Roasted Grapes
Makes 4 servings
This salad is a perfect fusion of sweet, sharp, and peppery flavors. We prefer black grapes because they take on a lovely hue when roasted (broiled, really) and lend that color to the thinly sliced onion during their brief marination in vinegar. Look for mature arugula sold in bunches instead of packaged baby arugula; bunched arugula requires a little more prep but its more assertive flavor is a better match for the sweetness of the grapes.
Go easy when handling the roasted grape—crush them with only enough force to break the skins and release the juices; the grapes should still retain their shape. When transferring the crushed grapes from the baking sheet to the bowl, don’t add their juices, which would dilute the dressing.
2 cups seedless black or red grapes (see headnote)
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 ounce pecorino Romano cheese, finely grated (½ cup), optional
1 bunch arugula, trimmed of tough stems (about 8 lightly packed cups; see headnote)
Heat the broiler with a rack about 4 inches from the element. On a broiler-safe rimmed baking sheet, toss the grapes with 1 teaspoon oil. Broil until the grape skins begin to split, about 5 minutes, shaking the pan once about halfway through.
Using the bottom of a cup or ramekin, lightly crush the warm grapes to burst them. Transfer the grapes to a large bowl, leaving behind the juices. To the grapes, add the onion, ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and the vinegar; toss to combine. Let stand for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
To the bowl, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the cheese (if using), then gently toss. Add the arugula and toss to coat. Taste and season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a platter.
Mini Almond Cakes With Spiced Chocolate
Make 24 mini cakes
These three-bite sweets are a riff on classic French financiers, almond cakes baked in a shape that resembles gold bars (hence the name). Their interiors are light and moist, and the crusts golden and slightly crisp. We flavor bears with cocoa and spices, then bake them in mini muffin pans. Either Dutch-processed or natural cocoa works, so use whichever you have on hand. Chipotle chili powder gives the cakes an intriguing spiciness; if you don’t have any, substitute 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper.
Take care not to overbeat the egg whites or they will become dry, stiff, and difficult to incorporate into the base. Properly beaten egg whites should hold a soft, droopy peak when the whisk is lifted.
When testing for doneness, make sure to test the cakes at the center of the muffin pan, as they bake slightly slower than the ones at the outside. Once cooled, the cakes keep at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days.
1 cup (100 grams) almond flour
1/3 cup (43 grams) all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon table salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) salted butter
1/3 cup (31 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 tablespoon dark rum or bourbon
4 large egg whites
¾ cup (160 grams) white sugar
Heat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the middle position. Mist one 24-cup or two 12-cup mini muffin pans with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours and the salt.
In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, melt the butter then continue to cook, swirling the pan often, until fragrant and deep golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for a few minutes. Stir in the cocoa powder, cinnamon, chipotle powder, and rum; set aside.
In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-high until light and foamy. With the mixer running, slowly add the sugar and continue to whip until they are thick and glossy and hold soft peaks, 2 to 4 minutes. Reduce to low, then gradually add the flour mixture and mix until incorporated (it’s fine if some streaks remain), about 10 seconds.
With the mixer still running on low, slowly pour in the butter mixture and mix until homogeneous and no streaks remain, about 10 seconds. Using a silicone spatula, fold the batter by hand a few times to ensure the ingredients are well combined, then divide evenly among the muffin cups.
Bake until a toothpick inserted into the cakes at the center of the pan(s) comes out clean, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool in the pan(s) on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the cakes and let them cool completely on the rack, about 30 minutes.
Christopher Kimball is the founder of Milk Street, home to a magazine, school, and radio and television shows. Globe readers get 12 weeks of complete digital access, plus two issues of Milk Street print magazine, for just $1. Go to 177milkstreet.com/globe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.