In North America many of us who consider ourselves food-savvy would frown at the notion of using canned foods. Not so in Spain! Spain has the franchise on quality canned and preserved foods; they are genius at taking the best quality products and turning them into delicious preserved and pickled treats. Spanish seafood is the star and if you’ve ever tasted canned Spanish tuna, anchovies, squid, clams, or octopus, you know what I mean. The snack pictured here is based on another Spanish treasure: the piquillo pepper. You can purchase them, fire-roasted and peeled, in jars from specialty food stores. They are great as is, but when you fry them in garlic oil they take on a more concentrated pepper flavor. Layered over burrata cheese and basil leaves on grilled bread, these peppers make a delicious open-faced sandwich that’s perfect with a glass of Spanish wine. Add a garnish of golden garlic chips and the layers of flavor are amazing. All the components can be prepared ahead of time, making this an ideal dish for entertaining.
Grilled Bread with Fried Piquillo Peppers and Burrata
(makes 4-6 servings)
3 or 4 garlic cloves, cut into about 20 paper-thin slices
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 jarred or canned Piquillo peppers (about 6 ounces), or 1 8-ounce jar roasted red peppers, or 2 large roasted red bell peppers
1 teaspoon sugar
1 pound burrata or fresh mozzarella cheese
kosher salt, to taste
4 slices white or whole wheat sourdough bread, cut from the center of a round or oval loaf
1 garlic clove, peeled
8-16 whole fresh basil leaves
To fry the garlic: Place the garlic slices in a small saucepan with cold water to cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Drain the garlic, return it to the saucepan, and cover with cold water again. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Drain well and pat dry. In the same saucepan, over medium-high heat, warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil until just below a boil. Fry the garlic slices quickly, stirring constantly (being careful not to burn them), until they’re a pale-golden color. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Reserve the oil for frying the peppers.
To Fry the Peppers: In a 10-inch skillet, warm the garlic oil, the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, and the sugar over medium-high heat, until very hot, but not smoking. Fry the peppers, turning them from time to time, until they are darkened and the edges begin to caramelize, about 5 to 6 minutes. Take care not to burn them. Remove to a rack set over a plate and allow to cool. Cut the burrata into 1/2- inch-thick slices. If you’re using mozzarella, bring it to room temperature and slice it into 1/2-inch-thick slices; pour warm salted water over the cheese to cover, and allow it to sit a few minutes, until softened, drain the slices on paper towels. Brush the bread lightly with olive oil and grill on a gas or charcoal grill, or toast in the oven. Rub one side of each slice of bread with the garlic clove, and cut in half on the diagonal.
To Assemble the Sandwiches: Center 2 or 3 slices of cheese over each half-slice of bread, and drizzle over a little of the pepper oil. Place 2-4 basil leaves over the cheese, allowing the leaves to hang over the edge. Tear the piquillo peppers open and rumple the pieces casually atop the cheese. Drizzle with a little more of the oil, and sprinkle the garlic slices on top.
(from “Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book” by Nancy Silverton with Teri Gelber)