Monday, May 30, 2011

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Montaditos

I recently returned from a fabulous two-and-a-half-week vacation to England. English food isn't exactly my favorite cuisine (it's too bland), but immigrants to England certainly know a thing or two about flavor (or if you're British, flavour). There's a fabulous Indian restaurant in Harrogate called Sar Taj. Oh my. Its tikka masala was out of this world! But, that's not what this post is about. This post is about the montaditos I had at La Tasca.
La Tasca is (admittedly) a chain restaurant, but it was my first real tapas restaurant experience. We tried all sorts of dishes, but my favorite (or favourite) was the goat cheese and balsamic onion montadito -- basically a bruschetta-style sandwich topped with the aforementioned ingredients. I asked one of the guys from the kitchen how to make it. He explained it to me -- in Iberian Spanish, no less. I understood most of what he said (the accent was a little heavy) and I recreated the dish for a neighborhood get-together. It tasted just like the ones at La Tasca, so I was pleased. Here's my version. Buen provecho!

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Montaditos

1 loaf French bread or baguette
2 tbsp butter
3 Vidalia onions, very thinly sliced
2-3 tsp sugar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (aged at least 25 years)
2 whole garlic cloves
Olive oil
4 oz (or more) creamy goat cheese

1. Caramelize the onions in butter over low heat, stirring every few minutes. Add sugar partway through the cooking process. (Gauge according to taste.) This caramelization process will take 30-45 minutes. Once it turns a light golden color, add balsamic vinegar and remove from heat. Set aside.
2. Slice bread into 3/4-inch slices. Set on a large baking sheet and toast in 350-degree oven until lightly browned. Remove from oven.
3. Rub each piece of bread with fresh garlic (you may need more than one clove), then drizzle each piece with 1 tsp. olive oil. Spread generous amount of goat cheese over each piece, then top with the caramelized onions. Return to oven only long enough to melt cheese. Serve warm.

Substitution Suggestions: Any montadito (or bruschetta-style sandwich) starts with this same preparation -- toast bread, rub with garlic, drizzle with olive oil, then top with whatever topping. I tried one with a tomato-cucumber-onion salsa and another with manchego and eggplant (abergine). Simply divine!
I don't think cream cheese would work here. The goat cheese has a particular texture and flavor that melds very nicely with the onions.
The balsamic vinegar should be a full-bodied vinegar. Don't use the weak $2 stuff from the supermarket shelf. You want something thicker. I like Williams Sonoma's Olivier brand, which runs about $25/bottle. Pricey, but well worth the investment because a little goes a very long way!

Lessons Learned: You don't want to bake the goat cheese, just melt it slightly. It'll dry out around the sides and it just doesn't look pretty. It's also served better warm instead of sitting out for a few hours. If you don't like balsamic vinegar, omit it. But, I like the pungent sweetness that the vinegar adds. If you're using a good quality vinegar, a little really goes a long way. Taste as you go.
I used 2.5 onions and wish I'd had more. They cook down to almost nothing, volume-wise. If you use a smaller onion than a Vidalia, you'll need to use more onions. You don't want to spend 45 minutes of your day cooking down the onions and end up with just a 1/2 cup of onions. You really need a good cup (at least) if you're slicing up an entire loaf of bread. I used a French baguette from Costco, which was about 16 inches long.