Bruschetta is an Italian word that simply refers to toasted or grilled bread that has been rubbed with garlic and drizzled with a little olive oil. Bruschetta is usually served as an appetizer, but can also be served as an accompaniment to a salad or, if prepared with a variety of toppings, as a meal. We have generally come to serve bruschetta pomodoro-style, meaning with a tomato and basil blend served on the crustini (toasted bread). Fresh basil or freshly made pesto tossed with some diced ripe tomatoes with chopped garlic and a drizzle of olive oil and pinch of salt is such a gorgeous blend of simple ingredients that truly define the pure flavors of Italy. I absolutely love when you can take some simple fresh ingredients that are nice on their own, but when blended together as in this case, create such a textural, visual and flavorful masterpiece.
Remember, however, that creating such a wonderful topping doesn’t have quite the appeal it should unless what it sits upon is equally great!
Of course, Italian bread would be my first choice, but a great French baguette would also be perfectly suitable. Now, there are different techniques that can be used in preparing the bread crisps, and I’ll share the two most typical ways to do this.
You can slice the bread fairly thin and rub the slices with garlic and drizzle a little bit of olive oil and then bake them in a 350 F oven to dry them out to make them crispy. This is the technique I would suggest if you want to prepare the crisps in advance to be served much later. You do want to have a finished product that is crispy but fresh. Remember to let them cool completely if you plan on storing them in a container.
The other technique would be to slice your bread a little bit thicker, ¾ inch perhaps. Use the same rub of garlic and drizzle of the oil but then grill your bread over a char-grill or even a hot flat-top grill. Be sure to spin the bread while grilling it and then turn it over to finish grilling the other side. If your grill is very hot, this should only take about 30 seconds per side. If you don’t have a grill you may broil this bread in your oven. This technique is much quicker than drying the bread out in the oven to make it crisp. This style of bread will have a nicely golden charred outside, but still be soft on the inside. It’s a totally different style of serving bruschetta, and I would only suggest doing it this way if you will prepare the grilled bread just before serving it. It is truly spectacular when it is served shortly after it comes off the grill. In addition, only place the toppings on the grilled bread just before serving so the bread doesn’t get too soft and soggy.
Now, let’s talk toppings! Bruschetta can be created with virtually anything your culinary imagination can concoct. Olive tepanade is a great choice along with roasted vegetables (zucchini, eggplant and red peppers), artichoke pesto, goat cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and sautéed baby spinach. A Mediterranean blend of Feta cheese, Kalamata olives, roasted garlic and artichoke hearts is a real crowd pleaser. To go the cold route, how about piping on some herbed cream cheese topped with thinly sliced proscuitto ham, smoked salmon or even cooked shrimp. If you want to use a cold cheese like this, I would recommend using the crisp version of bruschetta. The list of toppings and combinations can literally go on forever.
3 ripe plum tomatoes, finely diced
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 ounce fresh basil, finely cut
4 ounces fresh buffalo style mozzarella cheese diced.
1 loaf of French or Italian bread sliced horizontally
Toss the diced tomatoes, cheese, oil, salt and pepper together and place a tablespoon of the mixture on each slice of toasted bruschetta. Bake the topped crustini’s in a 450 F oven for about 4 minutes. Just before serving, garnish each crustini with the cut basil and serve immediately.
Chef’s Note: If you make your tomato and fresh mozzarella mixture a little bit in advance, the salt will extract some water from the tomatoes and you’ll want to drain that excess moisture before placing the topping on your bread crisp.
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