In the Middle Ages – long before the 4th Earl of Sandwich purportedly brought two slices of bread together to encase ingredients – the open-faced sandwich was preferred. Its influence still resonates today in versions traditional and nouveau.
At tapas bars throughout Spain, slices of baguette feature prominent as the lidless vehicle to transport ingredients for the ultimate snack.
Called montaditos, pinchos, pintxos or just tapas, the toppings can be anything from mayonnaise-laden ingredients to marinated prawns or the exceedingly simple pan con tomate, where a ripened tomato halve is rubbed onto bread with a bit of olive oil and salt.
The baguette in general is a cook’s best friend, especially for quick and easy appetizers.
An herb-flecked cream or goat cheese works as a wonderful foundation topped with thin slices of radishes, blanched and thinly sliced asparagus, or smoked salmon with capers. Or try ricotta topped with smashed fresh peas or edamame. Drizzle with a bit of flavourful olive oil and salt – and voila!
The Danes call the single-slice vehicle smorrebrod with helpings of cold cuts, smoked fish and cheeses served on dense rye bread, with similarities devoured throughout the Scandinavian and Baltic countries.
In Britain, dainty tea sandwiches are rolled out for afternoon tea – cucumber being a big feature – and the cheesy Welsh rarebit, or cheese on toast, is a national comfort food. There are many examples of “toasts” in early modern Britain from veal kidneys with egg yolks to scrambled eggs and anchovies. The tuna melt and tomato melt are close relatives to the rarebit, and I’m going to add plain old toast to this list – dark, thank you very much – slathered with crunchy peanut butter, or any topping you might desire.
Larger slices of bread, which the French call tartine, makes for an easy lunch with half the calories associated with that extra slice.
In Mexico, the mollette is a halved portion of a crusty bun slathered with black bean paste and topped with cheese before being toasted until the cheese melts. Topped with a fresh salsa, it is a delicious morning repast.
Bruschetta, and to a lesser extent, crostini, that thinly sliced crouton, are Italy’s contribution to this topless treat. Rustic and simple, slices of bread are lightly grilled or toasted and brushed with olive oil, or rubbed with garlic, before an application of chopped fresh tomatoes and basil, sautéed and Marsala-ignited chicken livers, or other seasonal ingredients.
At Time Winery in Penticton, chef AK Campbell takes the bruschetta on a culinary adventure. Four versions fuel the sharing section of his menu, each with its one unique profile, far flung from its rustic roots.
Dig right in with his take on boquerones. Campbell subs in smelts for the lightly pickled anchovies. Filleted and lightly pickled, they’re marinated in fragrant Italian olive oil, garlic and chilie flakes before being layered on a toasted slice of Petrasek Bakery’s baguette. Roasted red peppers are added for colour, along with green arugula, bright yellow cured egg yolk – adding a salty note - and shaved pecorino cheese.
Another offering sees a medley of cultivated and wild smoked mushrooms straddling fresh arugula, aged gouda, pine nuts and a sherry gastrique, a subtle French sweet-and-sour syrupy sauce.
Yet another version finds grilled artichokes buoyed by wilted spinach and melted Upper Bench brie finished with a shower of garlic chips for textural balance surrounded by a lively citrus vinaigrette.
Finally, the roasted tomato bruschetta pays homage to its Italian roots with basil-flecked housemade ricotta, a smear of garlic confit, fragrant olive oil and a dark and sweet balsamic reduction.
Beautiful to behold, the only issue is which one to order and deciding whether to share these one-slice wonders.
With fork and pen in hand, and a passion for culinary adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. adventure, Shelora Sheldan, writer, cook and curious traveller, goes in search of the delectable. This column runs every other Tuesday in The Herald.