Bruschetta (broo-SKET-ta), the incomparably attractive Italian appetizer, is simply too big of a starter come the dog days of summer. I mean, it’s like eating pizza for hors d’oeuvres before Thanksgiving dinner when the temps are 95 F in the shade–like today. Typically grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with chopped silky ruby-ripe tomatoes and a scatter of fresh basil slivers, I like to instead offer it up with a variety of toppings for an al fresco dinner and let everyone make themselves happy. And while I thought I was being somewhat imaginative this July, when I dug out some of my Italian cookbooks to get a little background, I of course discovered that while not everyone, certainly certain someones have been there before me. (Curses, foiled again.) Folks like one of my favorite food writers, Lynne Rosetto Kasper.
I adored what I found out about bruschetta — that it’s a part of the fall olive oil making tradition. That not just a smear of oil goes on the open fire-toasted bread, but a generous, lush-y pour covers the bread so the new oil can be well-tasted and likely judged. (A drizzle or a brushing won’t accomplish that.) It’s all about the oil. Not so much about the bread, though there’s no reason to make bruschetta with schlock bread. I think I get it. It’s like harvest at the winery — a little sip isn’t enough to give you a really good taste of the new wine. I’ll admit here — I rarely like new wine. You won’t see me running out to buy Beaujolais Nouveau, for instance. People who make wine will feel differently and be in love with the promise in the taste.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted to experiment beyond the bounds of tomatoes — though tomatoes would make an appearance, of course. I loved the idea of using spreadable cheeses as a base and also for protein. I’d use whole milk ricotta for some slices, but why not local goat cheese for others? And if I were leaning on goat cheese, I certainly might have to add some roasted poblanos on top. I do live in Colorado, after all. A big pan of diced eggplant sautéed with onions and peppers came next. Something fresh called; it had to be tiny cucumbers sliced oh-so-thinly. Who doesn’t like a cucumber sandwich? There was a plethora of zucchini that needed to play a role. Grilled and topped with mint, I thought. In the fridge, a cold chicken breast begged for a home and some thin slices topped with eggplant for garnish and tarragon for fun made the carnivores welcome. While I had none, as Lynne Rosetto Kasper suggested, salami be would interesting and I’d do that the next time round. Maybe ham, too. I could include asparagus. Green beans, too. The earth is the limit here for these addictive open-faced sandwiches!
Bruschetta Bruschetta is an antipasto from Italy whose origin dates to at least the 15th century. It consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, or cheese; the most popular recipe outside of Italy involves basil, fresh tomato, garlic and onion or mozzarella. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer. In some countries, a topping of chopped tomato, olive oil and herbs is sold as bruschetta. In Italy, bruschetta is often prepared using a brustolina grill. In the Abruzzo region of Italy a variation of bruschetta made with a salami called ventricina is served. Raw pork products and spices encased in pig bladder are aged and the paste spread on open slices of bread which are sometimes grilled. This was a way of salvaging bread that was going stale. In Tuscany it is called fettunta and it is usually served without toppings, especially in November, to taste the very first oil of the season. definitions.net
There’s no need for a recipe for making the bruschetta per se. I’ll include basic instructions below and a recipe for cooking the eggplant — which is also yummy as a salad topping, with pita chips, or as an omelet filling. (Might as well make a bunch if you’re peeling and chopping an eggplant anyway.)
When it’s too hot to cook, don’t. (Or at least not much…) Grill some excellent bread, chop some vegetables (grill a few if you want), buy some cheese, chill the wine, and try this:
HERE’S HOW TO MAKE YOUR VERY OWN BRUSCHETTA FOR DINNER:
- Decide what toppings you’d like and prepare them. Place on individual plates or all on a large platter. Some ideas—–
-A choice of spreadable cheeses (ricotta, goat, etc.) or other soft cheeses such as fresh mozzarella or feta. A tablespoon or two — or a small slice — for each bruschetta is plenty. Go out on a limb and add my Green Chile-Pimento Cheese or Salmon Cheese Spread. Hummus or other bean spreads are other yummy bases for your toppings and will be perfect for your vegan guests or anyone avoiding dairy.
-At least 2 or 3 fresh vegetables such as diced tomatoes, sliced cucumbers or radishes, green onions, sliced red onions, sliced fennel, baby spinach leaves, carrots, etc. Be generous; leftovers can be tomorrow’s salad.
-A cooked vegetable (or two) like the eggplant sauté (recipe below), grilled thinly-sliced zucchini or yellow squash, grilled asparagus or green beans, grilled peppers (sweet or hot), sautéed mushrooms, or…
-Sliced olives or tapenade, sliced peperoncini, or some sort of pickle or pickled vegetables (not shown)
-Optional, but tasty are meat or fish/seafood additions like sliced or shredded roasted chicken, salmon, smoked salmon/trout, grilled shrimp, or…
-Fresh herbs such as basil, dill, mint, tarragon, etc. for garnish. These just make everything pop.
2. Buy scrumptious bread, slice and grill it — no skimping on quality.
Go to the local French restaurant or bakery for the loaves. Slice the bread not too thickly — let’s say 1/2-inch thick. Otherwise you can’t get your mouth around it and you’ll be full after one or two. Drizzle with the best olive oil you have and grill it on both sides thoroughly. You want it crispy all the way through. You want toast. Grill it over medium to medium-high heat — not over really high heat or it’ll be soft in the middle and crispy or burnt on the outside. Rub both sides with a clove of garlic you’ve sliced in half.
Do you need an outdoor grill? It works well, especially if you’re grilling a lot of bread, but the stovetop grill pan, griddle, or big heavy skillet is fine. If you have a wood fire, that’s a beautiful way to toast the bread using long forks like ones for marshmallows. If you’re pressed for time, do the bread a few hours ahead and bag it after it’s thoroughly cooled.
Depending on appetites, count on at least 4 bruschetta per person. You’ll need one baguette for say…every three people. Some people will eat more because it’s no fun unless you can try a few different toppings!
3. Set everything out and let your guests or family (or you) help themselves.
Once you’ve laid out the food, the work is done and the fun begins.
Do remember to offer flaky salt, as well as a pepper grinder and a tiny bowl of crushed red pepper. Some like it hot!
DRINKS: A barely chilled red wine along with a sparkling wine will be refreshing, but some might want a cold beer instead. Have a big pitcher of ice water on the table, too. It is summer, after all. We don't think of red wine as being chilled, but hot red wine isn't anyone's cup of tea unless it's January and we're talking mulled. When the weather is really warm--and maybe others times, too--put your reds in the fridge for an hour or so. Just enough to take the edge off. Choose a lighter red wine or a lesser expensive sparkling wine for this laidback meal-- or both! DESSERT: Gelato, of course.
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 medium eggplant peeled, and cut into medium dice
- 1 yellow onion cut into small dice
- ½ sweet bell pepper – any color cut into small dice
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- Pinch crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
- ¼ cup white wine Can sub broth or tomato juice
- Heat a large, deep skillet over medium flame for a minute or two. Pour in the olive oil and warm for another minute. Stir in the eggplant, onion, and peppers and cook covered until the vegetables are softening, but not quite tender – 5 minutes or so. Add the garlic, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, and fresh oregano; cook, stirring, for another couple of minutes or until vegetables are soft. Pour in the white wine and simmer until the liquid is nearly all absorbed. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings.
- Refrigerate leftovers in a tightly covered dish for three days. Tasty for pasta, rice, or omelets. Do not freeze.
CHANGE IT UP: The options here go on ad infinitum. Choose a crusty whole wheat rather than a white baguette. Spoon up Boursin cheese spread in place of ricotta. Choose pecorino for a garnish. Add roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, fresh peas, pickles, or berries to the platters. Check out what the BBC thinks. Yes, they got there ahead of me, too! What else do you have on hand?
CUTTING FOOD COSTS/AVOIDING WASTE FOR THIS DISH (see graphic at right above): If you planned this ahead and made a list, you get an A. Def V for value as there’ll be leftovers of some sorts. Bread can be fried into croutons, sliced into a strata, grated into crumbs and frozen, or made into French toast for breakfast. Most of the other ingredients are perfect for salads (pasta?) or could be tossed into soup or omelets–see photo above. Goat cheese can be frozen in a pinch. If you’ve skipped the meat, you get E for Every week have 1 veggie meal.
Have extra ricotta? Make Dorie Greenspan’s CRUMB-TOPPED RICOTTA COFFEE CAKE.
Have extra goat cheese? Make Alyce’s Herbed Goat Cheese Spread.
Have more eggplant sauté? Make my Salmon on Eggplant Sauté.
LIFE GOES ON:
Husband Dave and I celebrated our 48th anniversary last Thursday (Bastille Day) and my sweet sister Helen sent us this beautiful plant to celebrate. Yes, we did go out to dinner! Really. We shared PEI mussels and I had Colorado lamb, while Dave ordered a filet. No dessert. Qupé Syrah to drink. Came home for an Armagnac, my digestif of choice. Single malt for Dave. I can’t remember which one; he has a nice collection. “Still crazy after all these years,” as Paul Simon would say. (I just began working on learning the piano versions of his greatest hits. Keeps me perking.)
Thanks for keeping me company in my kitchen; you’re welcome there as always.
Think bruschetta while the heat is on this summer,