Tuesday, March 8, 2016

nolita-style avocado toast

nolita-style avocado toast

That sound you hear is the reverberating cacophony of a thousand unfollows. I get it. A great many people rightfully find the avocado toast trend — that is avocado, smashed onto a piece of toasted bread, then discussed as if it were notable — both baffling and exasperating. But I believe there’s a time and place for everything and for me that time (currently a sick no-sleeping baby, thus no-sleeping parents, leading to utter cooking apathy and a near-clinical fixation on avocado toast on my part) and a place (a Nolita cafe that makes it better than anyone else) is right now.


what you'll need, but less bread
scooped

Depending on your perspective, Cafe Gitane, a French-Moroccan shoebox on Mott Street, is to be lauded or booed for launching the avocado toast trend in the 90s, but I came to it later, mostly thanks to you because for as long as people have been kind enough to order custom signed copies of the first SK cookbook from McNally Jackson in Soho, I’ve been sneaking around the corner when I’m done for a little toast-shaped luxury.

heap then smash then smooth


It is, hands down, my favorite place to watch skilled, uncelebrated cooks do their thing in a kitchen tinier than mine. Blink and you’ll miss them cracking two eggs and a dropping a link of sausage into a gratin dish before sticking it under a broiler and scooping it out on toast. Couscous is packed into takeout containers and unmolded in a tower to great acclaim. And while somehow when I make avocado toast at home it tastes to me like, you know, avocados on toast, when they make it, it tastes like magic — vibrant and rich and salty and sour and hot at once.

Thus, upon rounds and rounds of “study” and “research” (woe is me) this winter, I’ve come to the conclusion that theirs is better for the following reasons:

  • They use thin slices of totally unfancy seven-grain sandwich bread, you know, the kind you already have around. It doesn’t try to steal the show.
  • It’s toasted very dark and firm, darker than you see in my photos, so that it holds up to the great pile of avocado, a full half, they mound on top.
  • But they don’t just mash it messily with a fork, as I always have at home, they spread from edge to edge, leaving not a speck of bread bare, with a smooth, rounded top.
  • And this domed shape on top is essential for what they do at the end, which is to shower it heavily enough with olive oil and lemon juice that it runs right off the toast, puddling underneath it, turning that bland piece of toast into a dressing-soaked crouton worthy of your best panzanella.

Well, these four things plus a fistful of red pepper flakes. Together, these things are so, so good, so much better than any of their parts, that it’s no surprise that this launched a thousand avocado toast spinoffs, each more elaborate than the last.

nolita-style avocado toast

This brings me to my final point, which is that I only have one very strong opinion on avocado toast and it is that I wish everyone would stop making it so complicated in an effort to either upsell it. These days, finding one without extras — cheese (clashy), a runny egg (no, not here), sour cream or mayo (stop it, avocado is rich enough), crunchy things (interruptions, all of them) is frustratingly rare, and mindbogglingly expensive. The answer is obvious: we have to make it at home to get it right every time. Well, that or move to Mott Street. Only one of these things could be pulled off in the next five minutes, however.

nolita-style avocado toast

One year ago: Red Bean and Green Grain Taco Bowl
Two years ago: Broccoli Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole
Three years ago: My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits
Four years ago: Multigrain Apple Crisps
Five years ago: The Best Baked Spinach
Six years ago: Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs and St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake
Seven years ago: Meatball Sliders and Key Lime Coconut Cake
Eight years ago: Big Crumb Coffee Cake and Alex’s Chicken and Mushroom Marsala
Nine years ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Pecan Loaf

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Caponata
1.5 Years Ago: Chocolate and Toasted Hazelnut Milk
2.5 Years Ago: Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage
3.5 Years Ago: Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella
4.5 Years Ago: Peach Butter

Nolita-Style Avocado Toast
Inspired by the original at Cafe Gitane on Mott Street

Yield: 1 serving

1 1/2-inch slice seven-grain sandwich bread
1/2 a large, ripe avocado
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or more to taste
Salt
An unholy amount of red pepper flakes

Toast the bread so that it’s dark and firm. Scoop the avocado into a bowl and lightly mash/chop it, or directly onto your toast and do the same. Spread the avocado from edge to edge of the toast, leaving no bread uncovered, mounding it smoothly in the center. Drizzle olive oil over so that it rolls off onto the plate. Repeat with lemon juice. Shake or grind on some fine salt and cover with red pepper flakes. Slice toast on the diagonal and eat with a knife and fork, if before noon, with a cup of coffee or tea, if after, a petite glass of rose wine.

On the side: If trying to stretch this into a fuller meal, you cannot go wrong with David Lebovitz’s simple carrot salad on the side, or the Moroccan-hinted harissa and feta version in the archives here.


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