Crostone di salsiccia & stracchino
Melbourne’s winter is certainly making itself felt with what feels like a constant, grey drizzle. Thankfully the sun has come out today to warm our shoulders a little and put a smile back on people’s faces, but the chill in the air remains. To be honest, the cold, wet days remind me of early winter in Florence and although I’ve been complaining about it, there is something comforting in the nostalgia that the weather brings.
One of our favourite past times on a particularly cool, wet evening was to warm up with a glass of wine in Le Volpi e L’uva, a wine bar tucked away next to the church of Santa Felicità. One of the only real enoteche of Florence, ‘Volpi’ (as we affectionately call it) is that perfect spot to stop off on your way home for a glass of wine and a little something, like the mini brioche buns with anchovy, butter and a paper thin wedge of lemon, or the grilled crostone with truffled sausage and asiago.
Ah, those crostoni! Crostoni (plural; crostone is singular) are simply an open-faced toastie, usually grilled. The –one suffix implies that it’s a big one, while you also have crostini, with the –ini suffix indicating they’re small and you can finish them in about two bites. Truffled sausage is hard to be beat, but if I’m feeling even more decadent, the lardo crostone is the way to go – transparent and salty slices of lardo di Colonnata (think the most flavoursome, melt in your mouth cured pork back fat) are toasted on Tuscan bread, then quickly drizzled with Tuscan honey and black pepper before heading straight for your mouth.
What I love about Volpi is not just the food and the carefully selected, ever-changing list of wines by the glass, but it feels like home to me. When I first moved to Florence many years ago, I was living alone in a shoe-box sized apartment down the street from Volpi (so stopping there on my way home was all too easy!). It was where I’d come when I got myself locked out of my apartment, or when I needed some advice on something. They were my second family. That local feel to the place is even more apparent when you are guaranteed, at any time of the day or evening, to walk in there and know at least fifty per cent of the faces at the bar, if not more, and bump into a friend.
Even though I’ll be frequenting my favourite wine bar in the next couple of weeks for an entire month, with the cold Melbourne winter settling in, I’ve been getting cravings for those grilled crostoni with sausage. Truffled sausages are pretty hard to come by in Melbourne but in Tuscany my absolute favourites ones are from Sergio Falaschi’s butcher shop in San Miniato, white truffle country – look out for them especially in Tuscany’s white truffle season from November.
The next best thing that I have found in Melbourne is my butcher’s pork and fennel sausages. You could use really any good melting cheese for this, but I absolutely have to praise the wonders of stracchino cheese in this recipe – this fresh cheese can be hard to find outside of Italy unless you have an artisan Italian cheese maker nearby. It’s best eaten the day it’s made. La Latteria in Melbourne have a very similar cheese, typical of Emilia-Romagna, squacquerone, which would be a perfect substitute. Failing that, a fresh (as in young and soft) Asiago or a similar melting cheese would be my next preference.
The idea of the balsamic vinegar, which adds a delightful zing, comes from another wonderful little wine bar in Florence, Casa del Vino. I go there for their panini, which, for me, are the best in town. Their salsiccia, stracchino e balsamico filling (mixed together until it becomes a sort of paste) on schiacciata bread is out of this world. Tuscans will and do eat their sausages raw when it’s on bread like this, but don’t worry, this crostone is very much grilled.
Crostone di salsiccia e stracchino
For 2 crostoni
- 2 long, 1cm thick slices of Tuscan bread,‘casalinga’ or other similar crusty bread
- 1 Italian pork and fennel sausage
- 80 grams of stracchino or squacquerone cheese (or grated Asiago)
- A splash of aged balsamic vinegar
Remove the casing of the sausage and place the sausage meat in a small bowl. Add the cheese and vinegar and, with a fork, blend the mixture together to form a paste. Spread onto one side of each bread slice and place under a hot grill until golden brown on top and cooked through.
Serve immediately with a glass of red wine for the perfect snack, antipasto or aperitivo.