When reading about Medieval cuisine, I was struck by a serving concept known as a trencher. In 16th century Medieval Europe, trenchers were pieces of stale bread used as plates. The trencher was both a serving piece and a food item. When the food on top of the trencher was consumed, the trencher itself could be eaten– but it was quite stale and stiff, so it was more often given as alms to the poor or to hungry dogs. The most important members of the household and distinguished guests were granted more trenchers for their enjoyment. The higher your status, the more trenchers you were given. At the end of a meal, a clean trencher was often served topped with cheese as a dessert. The trencher concept eventually evolved into wooden plates, more like the plates we use today, and the trencher tradition faded into history.
When I first read about trenchers, I liked the idea of using a slice of bread as a plate. I was inspired to create my own trencher–not with stale bread, but with whole-grain artisan bread and yummy toppings. In its modern incarnation, I see a trencher as a sort of open-faced sandwich. I can get as creative as I want to with the toppings; it’s like a full meal on a bread plate. Because it has less bread than a traditional sandwich, I like to generously mound on the toppings. Using fresh, colorful toppings can create a beautiful presentation.
During the winter, trenchers are best enjoyed with hearty meat stews. But during the summer, light salad-like trenchers are the way to go. In this week’s trencher, I used some harmonious Italian flavors to create a Mediterranean-inspired dish. It’s reminiscent of a tuna salad that I enjoyed on a summer trip to Tuscany a few years ago. The combination of tuna, fresh basil pesto, cannellini beans and tomatoes is so summery. The hummus was a last-minute Middle Eastern addition (I always have a little in the fridge), and it worked so well with the other flavors. What a treat! You never would have seen a trencher like this is in Medieval Europe… but hey, it’s 2011 and I’m feeling creative.
Make your pesto fresh if you can, it tastes so much better that way. I have both dairy and pareve recipes for pesto on my website: click here for the recipes. No tragedy if you need to use a jar from the grocery store, but if you have the time and ingredients fresh is the way to go. By the same token, you can make your own hummus or use a tub from the store. If you’d like to try my Classic Hummus recipe (one of my favorite recipes!), click here.
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- 4 slices of bread (I like to use a fresh-sliced artisan whole grain or sourdough bread)
- 1 can or jar of tuna packed in olive oil (about 6 oz.)
- 1 tbsp fresh minced parsley
- 1/2 fresh lemon, juiced
- Salt and pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsp hummus
- 2 tbsp basil pesto
- 2 small Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced
- 1 ripe red tomato, seeded and diced
- 1/4 cup small white cannellini beans (canned), drained and rinsed
- Arugula (optional, for garnish)
- Sliced radishes (optional, for garnish)
- Drain olive oil from the tuna and place tuna inside a small bowl. Shred the tuna into small flakes with a fork.
- Add 1 tbsp fresh minced parsley. Add fresh lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Stir till combined. Add olive oil to moisten the tuna salad, if desired.
- Place your bread slices on a plate. Spread each slice with ½ tbsp of hummus and ½ tbsp of pesto.
- Place a few slices of Persian cucumbers on top of the spreads.
- Mound a quarter of the tuna mixture onto each slice of bread.
- Top each trencher with 1 tbsp of cannellini beans and ½ tbsp of diced tomato.
- Garnish the trenchers with arugula, sliced radishes, and the leftover sliced Persian cucumbers. Serve.