Bruschetta (pronounced “broo-sketta” ) and its relation, crostini, is one of my favorite snacks, especially now that summer is here and there is such a plethora of likely toppings. When most people think of bruschetta, they think of the classic starter of toasted bread served with a topping of chopped tomato and basil. Actually, bruschetta refers to only the bread, and it can be served alone or with any number of toppings, so don’t limit yourself to tomatoes when making it.
Bruschetta with tomatoes and roasted poblano chiles.
To make bruschetta, slice a large loaf of Italian, French or peasant bread into thick slices. (If all you have is a baguette, call it crostini — it will still be very good.) It doesn’t matter if the bread is a little stale; in fact, bruschetta was probably invented to use up day-old bread. Put the slices on a baking sheet and let them dry out in a 400-degree oven until they are browned and crisped, 5-10 minutes. Check frequently — the bread can quickly go from perfect to black. (A more authentic way of toasting the bread is on the grill, but this can be too much trouble unless the coals are already fired up.)
Rub each slice of toast with the cut side of a half clove of garlic. Drizzle the bread with very good olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, and set out with the toppings.
Now that bruschetta has become a popular addition to the appetizer menus of many chain Italian-style restaurants, I am afraid that many people’s experience of it is probably woefully lacking. In those places, bruschetta almost exclusively comes with a raw tomato topping, usually made from sad, out-of-season tomatoes. In one horrendous chain restaurant, I sampled a bruschetta in which the tomatoes were still partially frozen! Needless to say, that is the last time I set foot in that place.
Bruschetta with tomatoes should only be attempted when the tomatoes are at their peak. Then, avail yourself of several dead ripe tomatoes and dice them small. Combine the tomatoes with shredded basil leaves, a few teaspoons good balsamic or red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve, and find out why the simplest ingredients, when they are at their absolute best, are the most satisfying.
If tomatoes are not available, many other toppings can be substituted. The variation pictured above is diced tomatoes and roasted poblano peppers tossed with red wine vinegar. Here are a few other suggestions, just to get you started:
- any cheese
- any spread or dip
- an herb salad made from fresh herbs, vinegar and olive oil
- broiled or grilled vegetables, such as eggplant, zucchini or peppers
- roasted garlic
- roasted peppers or poblano chiles
- sauteed mushrooms or greens
- something from the pantry — canned white beans, smoked fish or sun-dried tomatoes, for instance
- a simple bread dipper, such as ¼ cup olive oil mixed with 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and fresh herbs
- or a combination of 2 or more of these
If you are making a vegetable topping, I suggest combining it with a splash of good vinegar, salt, pepper and perhaps some fresh herbs or minced garlic. As long as you have bread (even if it’s stale), bruschetta can be made with whatever is on hand, which makes it a terrific “just in time” appetizer for unexpected guests. I often eat it for lunch as well, to use up leftover vegetables or spreads.
Here are a few unusual bruschetta recipes from the blogosphere to try sometime:
- Anchovy and Sun-Dried Tomato Bruschetta
- Artichoke Mozzarella Bruschetta
- Avocado and Green Onion Bruschetta
- Strawberry Bruschetta (for dessert!)