Tartinas, our Saturday Morning Treat
This Saturday morning treat at Grandpa’s house has assumed the role of favorite appetizer at our dinners. And this is the one thing that Grandpa made that we never really lost track of over the years. Any time I could get Italian bread and brick cheese throughout my adult life, I would make these open-faced treats. There’s really not much of a recipe and though we all remember how Grandpa prepared them, we’ve modernized his technique a bit.
One of the clearest memories I have of Grandpa is seeing him bending over, peering into the cook-stove oven, having a look at the Tartinas, checking the status of the melting cheese. If he thought they were close, he’d drag the flattened pot lid (which served as his baking sheet) on to the open oven door and poke his index finger into the molten blanket which was the determining factor of their readiness.
If they weren’t quite done, he’d say, “nah chet,” slide them back into the oven, close the door, sit back down on his wooden chair at the table and have another sip of wine. It’s like a movie I’ve seen a hundred times, etched into my mind’s eye as deeply and as permanently as the burned in black on Grandpa’s pot lid.
1 loaf Italian bread
1 pound mild Brick cheese
Depending on where you live, Brick cheese is not always easy to find. As I write this at least, we can always get it in the deli section at Schnuck’s. Also, Pottstown Deli in the Metro Center in Peoria normally carries it, as does Lindy’s in Washington. Grandpa would get his from Giago, a traveling produce salesman out of Chicago who catered to the Italian population in Central Illinois. We always planned to be home the Saturday after Giago’s visit.
With a sharp knife, slice the bread into ¾ inch thick pieces. Place on a baking sheet. Slice the cheese into 1/8-inch thick pieces and place onto the bread. Place the sheet into a 425° pre-heated oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the cheese begins to brown.
Now that’s how we make them today. Based on my memory and on a comment Dad made at one of the dinners, I would say Grandpa sliced the cheese thicker and baked the tartinas at a much lower temperature. In fact, I’m not sure Grandpa’s cook-stove oven could achieve 425°. And, I think he called them done when the cheese was melted, not browned. Experiment on your own and see which way you prefer. In any case, serve them with mass quantities of black pepper sprinkled on top and wash them down with a nice Zin. Salut!