This recipe was inspired by a recent trip to Italy. Eddie and I were in this tiny town in the hills of Le Marche, called Apecchio. They just so happened to be having their annual Truffle Festival (amazing!). On a rainy Sunday we were wondering around the town center, through an old castle made of stone. We climbed up the uneven steps to the top where a beautiful long wood table was set for lunch.
After brief inquiry, we decided to join the group of twenty Italians for a once in a lifetime meal: the world pizza champion was preparing original pies, paired with local beers. Sold.
As he cooked, he discussed the process, from the oven (electric) to the pancetta (local). It was like nothing I’d ever tasted before because the flavors were so rich and unique to the region. This was a locavores delight! One of my favorite pizzas was a fresh tomato, pancetta bianca pizza topped with fresh fennel sprigs. I would have never thought to use fresh fennel fronds to finish a dish, but I loved it!
(Dessert pizza with grapes and local honey)
Now I’m back in Seattle, the weather is cool and darkness is beginning to shorten the daylight. I wanted to create an interesting bruschetta that eased into Fall, just as we had. I couldn’t decide whether to pair the apple fennel mixture with salty, aged pecorino or creamy gorgonzola dolce, so I just did both. After bringing this to two events now, I recommend indecision. Serve both.
1) Pecorino was everywhere in Italy, fresh, semi-firm and aged. Eddie was drunk on cheese, buying it at every street market and formaggeria. When we taste tested them the flavor was vastly different, you might not even think it was the same cheese!
2) You are going to ‘sweat’ the apple/fennel mixture. That means you’re letting the moisture cook out so the flavors intensify. If you saute these in a hot pan, you’ll caramelize them, which locks in the juices.
1 tablespoon olive oil + more for bread
1 crisp apple, such as Pink Lady or Fuji
1 small fennel bulb (about the size of an apple), reserving fennel fronds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
8 slices sourdough loaf, sliced in half width-wise
.20lb gorgonzola dolce
1) Heat oven to 450*F
2) Slice apple and white part of fennel bulb to the same thickness, about 1/8″.
3) Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat, add apple, fennel, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1 tablespoon thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 8 minutes.
4) Once moisture has begun to evaporate and pan seems like it’s getting dry, add white wine. Stir again and let reduce, once wine is almost gone, turn up temperature to medium high and lightly brown apple mixture, about 7 minutes total. Once apples are cooked but not mushy, pour mixture into a bowl. Add white pepper and a sprinkle of salt. Toss to coat in seasoning.
5) Prepare the bread: on one side, brush sourdough slices with plenty of good olive oil. Place on a baking sheet oil side up and bake until bread begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Stay close and monitor.
6) Once bread is cooked and cool enough to touch, smear gorgonzola on half the bread slices. Top all slices with apple mixture.
7) Use a vegetable peeler to slice thin shreds of pecorino. Top the pieces that DON’T have gorgonzola with pecorino, tucking it between the fennel. Sprinkle all slices with thyme, top with fennel fronds and a final drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.