Bruschetta (broo-SKEH-tah) has emerged as a very popular appetizer (running a close second to fried calamari). In the Italian repertoire of appetizers, offering bruschetta makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to prepare, it holds well (meaning it can be prepped well ahead) and it can be offered at an attractive price. The food costs are low, and that helps balance out the average food costs over, say, appetizers as a category.
The simplest definition of bruschetta is that it is toasted bread topped with one thing or another. To elaborate, bruschetta is a slice (oval or round) of toasted bread that is rubbed with a clove of garlic followed by a drizzle of olive oil, followed by whatever topping (much like pizza) that enhances its ability to sell. In the Tuscan region, bruschetta often shows up using its alias, fettunta, and is a way to salvage bread that is a day or two old or on the road to going stale. The Spanish version of bruschetta is called pan con tomate (bread rubbed with tomato). When I was doing pizza-consulting work in Spain, I cannot recall any restaurant (or tapas bar) that did not offer some version of pan con tomate.
Bruschetta is not a menu offering that you have to over think. For example, you can use whatever bread you have on hand (fresh or day old). What you top that slice of bread with is limited only to how deep into the creative well you wish to go. Common sense must prevail, however. Obviously, topping a slice of bread with costly ingredients will ramp up the menu price, and the average customer does not expect to shell out a lot of bucks for a rustic appetizer. So keep it simple, but keep it good.
Let’s start with a slice of bread –– size and shape to be determined. Then we take a look at what might work as a topping for that piece of bread. Other considerations include the toasting of the bread. Not too little, not too much. Work it so that the customer is able to pick up the slice easily and take a bite or two. Or allow for an easy cut using a sharp knife.
Garlic adds an important dimension of flavor to a bruschetta, so toasting or grilling the bread to create a coarse surface allows using the bread as a grater. As you rub the garlic clove over the bread, note the amount of garlic (it might be more than you bargained for).
Here are some topping combinations that I have used in the past with great success. If you want to put a name to each one to enhance customer appeal by all means, do so. For example the first one could be called “Caprese.”
Note: In each version below, assume the toasting or grilling of the bread and a fresh garlic rub. Add EVOO where it makes sense (over the bread or over the toppings). Top each slice of bread with: slices of fresh Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a chiffonade of fresh basil and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan; smear of pesto sauce, strips or roasted red peppers, a sprinkle of Parmesan and a few leaves of fresh basil (optional); slices with crushed (actually crushed into a paste) of cannellini beans, crushed red pepper flakes, grated Parmesan and dried oregano;
a smear of ricotta, thinly sliced Roma tomatoes, grated Parmesan; a “relish” made of chopped fresh tomatoes, red onion, olives, capers and EVOO; a mixture of finely chopped romaine lettuce, shingles of Parmesan, fillets of anchovies and EVOO (obviously, I would call this a “Caesar Bruschetta”).
You can add even more interest by shaking up the cheeses. For example, crumbled Gorgonzola with roasted plum tomatoes would be an excellent idea. Use crumbled feta with pitted and chopped Kalamata olives and tomatoes to do a Greek version of bruschetta.
If you wish to do a “grilled cheese” version of bruschetta, sprinkle shredded mozzarella (or a combination of cheeses) over the toasted and garlic-rubbed bread slices. Slide it under the broiler to melt the cheese. Serve at once.
Pat Bruno is Pizza Today’s resident chef and a regular contributor. He is the former owner and operator of a prominent Italian cooking school in Chicago and is a former food critic for the Chicago Sun-Times.