Smoked Salmon Bagel Crostini with Tomato Caper Relish

Monday, May 01, 2017

Every now and then I need an easy button. Between working on ebooks, deadlines for contracted recipe development and cooking for my client during the week, I am often feeling rushed or too worn out to do a whole lot in my free time. Having all this work coming my way is a great problem to have, it just means I need to get a lot better at managing my schedule now! Part of that means figuring out ways to cook for special occasions that are less of a time commitment than I'm used to making. A great example of this came up last month on Easter Sunday, when I volunteered to prepare dinner at a wounded veterans' retreat in my town. (It was an amazing experience personally and professionally, so more on that in another post!) With most of my day committed to working somewhere else, I wanted to whip up something for my family for brunch instead of a traditional holiday dinner. The thought literally came together the night before as I was doing some last minute shopping for the catered dinner. I needed to choose a brunch menu that wouldn't require overnight prep or creating a big mess in the kitchen since I would only have a couple hours in the morning to pull it off.

I picked up ingredients for a classic bagel platter with a couple different cream cheese flavors, smoked whitefish spread, smoked salmon, fresh tomatoes, red onions, capers and dill. To round out the meal I did a very simple ham and chive frittata and some crispy duck fat roasted potatoes. It turned out to be a beautiful spread that had a little something for everybody's taste buds. The dishes took about an hour to make and plate, giving us plenty of time to sit down as a family before I had to get started on my work for the day. It was such a simple menu compared to the kind of thing I probably would have attempted had I had a whole day to plan, but it was an "aha" moment for me in realizing that sometimes less is more. Everybody was happy, full, and I didn't have to stress out or spend a lot of money to make that happen. It gave me a ton of ideas of ways I can streamline brunch menus for my private chef opportunities too, which is always a good thing.

The second "aha" moment came after I got home that night from work. I had a successful dinner but was completely exhausted from the whole weekend, which had also included some belated birthday festivities. My family had gone out to eat for Easter dinner, so there were no leftovers to dig into...womp. But, there was a little bit of smoked salmon left from brunch which I had tossed in a tupperware container with the remaining tomatoes, onions and capers. I grabbed half a bagel, slathered it with jalapeno cream cheese and just piled the leftover smoked salmon "salad" on top. It was so ridiculously perfect and even better than what I had eaten that morning. It wasn't exactly an innovative combination, I mean these are classic bagel toppings. But the way the juices from the tomato combined with the caper brine and essentially pickled the onions as it all marinated... listen. This was definitely a better version of something that is already a good thing. It reminded me of bruschetta a little bit. I was drawn to how fresh, flavorful and simple it would be to make mini versions of my bagel as crostini for a brunch party. So that's how this recipe came about. The best part of it is that there is no real cooking involved, just popping a pan of bagel halves in the oven to toast. The tomato relish can be prepared a few hours ahead of time, and would actually be even better that way so I encourage it. This would make a fun appetizer for a spring or summer brunch, such as Mother's Day which is right around the corner! I recommend taking advantage of the heirloom tomato varieties coming into season now which come in a range of vivid colors. Also, I would not judge you at all if you made a tray of these for yourself, so no party is necessary as an excuse. They're that good, that easy, and you deserve!

Smoked Salmon Bagel Crostini with Tomato Caper Relish

8 mini bagels (plain, whole wheat or "everything" varieties would all work)
1/4 cup melted butter
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 tbsp capers with 1 tbsp reserved brine
Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped dill (fresh or dried is fine)
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced or quartered
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
Kosher salt, to taste
Cracked black pepper, to taste
8 oz cream cheese, room temperature (plain is fine or grab your favorite savory flavor)
4 oz cold smoked salmon

Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 16 bagels
Special Equipment: pastry brush, heavy duty sheet pan, silicone pan liner or parchment paper, zester

Preheat your oven to 400°F. Split the bagels open and arrange on a lined baking sheet. Brush each bagel generously with melted butter. Toast the bagels on the middle rack for 10 minutes, or until golden brown, then set aside. Ovens vary widely so keep an eye on them to avoid burnt bagels. This step can be done ahead of time, but they'd be best within a couple hours of toasting.

Tomatoes can be thinly sliced or quartered for the relish. You'll need to use a pretty good paring or serrated knife to avoid making a mess of the skins. Switch to your chef's knife to dice those onions though. I got a brand new set of fancy knives as a gift recently and I'm always excited for the little prep steps now, ha.

Combine the grated garlic (use your zester to grate it!), caper brine, lemon zest and juice, mustard, honey, olive oil and dill, whisking until you have an emulsified vinaigrette. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss the sliced tomatoes, capers and onions with the vinaigrette. This can be used immediately, otherwise refrigerate for up to a few hours in advance.

When you're ready to prepare the crostini for service, smear the bagels with a tablespoon or so of cream cheese. I opted for jalapeno for a kick, but plain would be fine. Chives would probably be my next pick for a fun variation! 

Now grab the smoked salmon, which is easy to tear or slice into smaller pieces. Fold a piece over each bagel.

Finally, spoon some of the tomato caper relish over the salmon and cream cheese on each bagel. It's okay if it spills over the sides or soaks into the toasted bagel. These will taste and look wonderful look without needing to be perfect.

I kept it simple and served these on a clean sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Another option would be a large wooden block cutting board, or get out your favorite serving platter. 

Told you this one would be easy! You don't need to be an experienced cook to pull off this appetizer, but your guests will be impressed nonetheless. I hope you enjoy and find a way to make these a part of a special occasion at your home in the near future!

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