Za’atar with summer’s cherry or grape tomatoes, slow-roasted, are incredibly good! These delectable little bites of za’atar roasted tomatoes and labneh atop crostini stole the show at many of my events promoting my cookbook when I was on tour, and often make their appearance for cocktail hour at our house. Try substituting the crostini with a cucumber round for a gluten-free option. This post first appeared on my blog in 2012, and I’m happy to share it again!
When my parents bought the house on Main Street in Harbor Springs back in the mid-‘70s, we discovered a wonderful irony: our next door neighbor was, like us, Lebanese. Latifi Huffman made us a big Lebanese dinner to celebrate our newfound, and unlikely, Lebanese connection in Harbor Springs. It was a feast that no doubt took her days of painstaking preparation, her way of affirming our shared culture and, in the tradition of many a Lebanese woman, her way of expressing her love. Latifi often joined us on the front porch in the evening before going out for dinner, a force to be reckoned with at 4 feet tall. She rivaled our pink gladiolas with her own glad, bright pink dresses and matching lipstick, telling stories of herself as a girl (“I was beautiful, honey, and I didn’t know it!”).
What double-irony, then, are we experiencing this week. There is a new home in the family, here in Harbor Springs. It’s in an enchanted spot on the Bluff, looking out over the bay as if to both keep careful watch over it and to sit back and let the bay keep watch over you. My sister christened the house the very day she took hold of the hard-earned keys last week with her favorite thing to do: bring everyone together to celebrate. The new neighbors came out and we all lingered on the porch sipping good wine and eating good food as the sun went down over Little Traverse Bay.
Among our group were two Nigerian priests, one of them a bishop, in town just for a couple of days. They made a melodious, gorgeous blessing of the house at my sister’s request, that this will be a sacred place of smiles and dreams and joy and family for many years to come. They never stopped with their own smiles, these two, despite the horror of terrorism they face at home daily in Nigeria. (You smile despite your troubles, Peg said to Bishop Oliver. Ohhhhhhhhh YES! He said, practically singing. The smile is the gift of God! And we must use it!)
The double-irony of the house on the Bluff is that our neighbor happens to also be…Lebanese! Understand that there aren’t too many others of us for a good hundred miles of here, and twice we are neighbors to the Lebanese in this little hamlet. Our new kindred neighbor is the artist Pierre Bittar, who is French born and raised, but with Lebanese blood. Somehow we all manage to find each other in the end.
What pleasure I had, then, offering him the very small spinach fatayar we made for the occasion (nothing says a party like little fatayar), and the crostini with labneh, roasted tomatoes, and za’atar that threatened to steal the show from the glowing bay, and that disappeared just as quickly as the deeply hued evening light.
This moment was especially sweet for Peg, and for all of us—my brother Tom’s text to her when she sent him a picture from the Bluff that day was simply: Dreams really do come true.
Za'atar Roasted Tomato Crostini with Labneh
Make your crostini by toasting thin slices of good baguette brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. Or buy them—up north, Crooked Tree Breadworks bakes a crisp, perfect herbaceous crostini that makes appetizers a snap. Assemble the crostini just before serving.
To roast the tomatoes, heat the oven to 275 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment and place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the sheet. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Bake for about 2 hours, until the tomatoes are slightly shriveled and meltingly soft. Remove and cool to room temperature.
Just before serving, stir the labneh to loosen and smooth it out. Dollop 1-2 teaspoons of the labneh on each crostini. Top this with one or two roasted tomatoes, then dust them with za'atar. Make lots! They go fast.... Serve immediately.