Tuck into the Comfort of a Bread Bed
Embrace the new season with something soft and luxe spooned over a thick slice of crunchy toast
I bristle at the idea that comfort food must be soft. Two textures are more calming than one. First you gnash in to meet the resistance and gravity of everyday life teeth-on with a crunch — desperate to find the balm you know must be there — then mid-bite a soothing ooze takes over and all is right with the world. Now that’s the kind of hug we all need to be eating right now as the days grow darker.
So when summer suddenly ends but you’re not quite ready for the straight-up heartiness of Mushroom-Barley Soup, try making bread beds. Start with plant-driven quick braises and saucy stir-fries — maybe soupy beans or mashed vegetables and a fried egg. Then meld the casual vibe of warm-weather cooking with the first nip of fall by eating a generous spoonful of whatever you’ve got over thickly sliced toast. You know, like a firm mattress topped with a cozy comforter.
Without telling you exactly what to do (what happens on a bread bed stays on a bread bed), I hope the following tips and recipes provide some inspiration to see you through Halloween and into the holidays. Read on for:
A Lesson From Bruschetta
Recipe for Juicy Fruit and Sausage on Toasted Whatever
A Vegan Spin on French Onion Soup
Bittman Project Recipes to Blanket Over Toast
Since we agreed I would free you to use any bread you like, let this photo remind you about English muffins. We actually call the whole wheat sourdough version shown here (from Bittman Bread) “American Muffins” and I’m slipping the photo in as a subliminal message to lean toward whole grain breads whenever possible. But again, you do you. I don’t even care how thick the bread is sliced. The most important thing is that it be assertively toasted so some crispness survives the comforter.
A Lesson From Bruschetta
The big takeaway from what we know about this iconic Italian toast is that it’s dripping with olive oil. (I love this photo that makes a stack look like drizzling syrup on pancakes.) Bottom line: Make sure your toast topping is plenty moist. And if it’s not, add olive oil or melted butter.
Juicy Fruit and Sausage on Toasted Whatever
Makes: 4 servings
Time: about 30 minutes
When my friend Travis got back from visiting Kansas a couple weeks ago, he sent me an excited text about how he and another pal, Becky, had adjusted a classic Bittman recipe for sausage and grapes to use late summer plums. (Another version of the recipe with broccoli rabe is linked below.) That got my gears turning and actually inspired this piece. The fruit — and note that there’s as much of it as there is the sausage — changes with the seasons. Think tomatoes, plums, or grapes in summer; apples or pears in fall; citrus segments in winter; and rhubarb or berries in spring. I used a super-crusty rosemary bread but anything would work here, including a semolina loaf or cornbread.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 pound sausage, like Italian or bratwurst (loose or in casing)
1 pound fruit (I used prune plums)
3 to 4 scallions, trimmed
3 to 4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup red wine or balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper
4 thick and broad bread slices
1. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. If you’re using sausage links, cut them into chunks. When the oil is hot, add the sausage chunks or loose meat to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally until the sausage is browned in places and no longer pink, 15 to 20 minutes.
2. While the sausage cooks, halve and pit the plum and cut them into wedges if the pieces are big. (If you’re using other fruit, trim, peel, and slice it as you like.) Slice the scallions, keeping the greens and whites separate. Smash the garlic cloves on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife.
3. When the sausage is done, transfer it to a plate. Spoon off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat. Return the skillet to medium high heat and add the scallion whites and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the aromatics soften and brown in spots. Add the plums and wine or balsamic and cook, stirring constantly, until the pan is dry, about 2 minutes.
4. Add 1/2 cup water to the skillet and return the sausage and any accumulated juices to the pan. Keep cooking, stirring once in a while, until the plums release some juice and everything gets saucy; add a little more water, wine, or balsamic if the mixture is looking too dry. Cover and keep warm.
5. Toast the bread, transfer to plates, and drizzle with some olive oil. Stir the sliced scallion greens and a sprinkle of salt and pepper into the warm fruit and sausage mixture in the skillet and taste and adjust the seasoning. Blanket the bread with the saucy mixture and serve.
— Recipe developed by Kerri Conan