May is Grilling Month at Tasting Table.
"The best avocados come off my neighbor's trees," Ben Ford says, then adds with a laugh, "Whatever's on my side of the wall is mine."
Whether or not he's an avocado smuggler is up for debate, but the L.A.-based chef of Ford's Filling Station and author of Taming the Feast ($35) knows how to make your next avocado toast a little more daring: Throw the green-fleshed fruit facedown on the grill (or even your favorite grill pan).
"Grilling brings out different aspects of food. When you warm up an avocado, it coaxes out its nutty qualities," Ford says.
It's a trick he employs for his avocado and morel tartine (see the recipe). Ford starts by oiling and grilling a substantial slice of artisan whole-wheat bread, sprinkling it with salt when it's nice and charred (an important step, to make sure everything is seasoned). Then he grills the avocado: Once it's warmed and mashed, it's spread thick on the bread, along with sautéed morels, chopped hazelnuts and crisp snap peas and pea shoots that have been dressed with lemon. A drizzle of honey finishes it off.
Every bite gets a little bit of earthiness from the morels, brightness and crispness from the peas and, of course, nuttiness from that rich, creamy avocado mash.
"It's a little more than a crostini, because you can make a whole meal out of it," Ford says. "And this dish really bridges the time from spring into summer."
His neighbor had better watch those avocados.
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