When it comes to summer cooking and eating, bruschetta is high on my list of priorities. The tomatoes in our garden are ripening by the bunches, and I’m giving many of them the bruschetta treatment. My husband, a professed tomato hater, will eat them in bruschetta form. It’s one of life’s great mysteries. He and my brother, another on-and-off tomato hater, claim that their distaste for tomatoes is due in large part to what they call the “seeds and goop.” I grant them that the seeds and juice can have a rather acidic, almost sour quality. So, when I make bruschetta, I often deseed the tomatoes. It helps to limit any excess wateriness, and it amps up the natural sweetness and deliciousness of a summer tomato.
This said, I think tomatoes right off the backyard vines taste sweet and delicious. They taste like sunshine. If I’m cooking for one, and the one is myself, I am not at all averse to leaving all of those sunshiny juices in the bruschetta. That is, if the tomatoes make it into the house. I have a habit of munching on them as soon as I pick them.
If it’s true that we are what we eat, and we eat what we are, I’m perfectly content to be summer tomatoes.
Onward with the bruschetta (pronounced “bru-sket-ta” if you’re feeling fancy, or if typical English pronunciations of Italian words makes you a little crazy–I usually fall in the former camp, not the latter, except when people fail to pronounce the final “e” in “minestrone,” that I cannot stand).
This is, I should note, only one of many approaches to bruschetta. It’s currently my favorite. It screams “appetizer,” but I most often serve it in place of a green salad. On the other hand, if I’m cooking for one, a big bowl of this with a heap of garlicky toasts becomes dinner in its entirety. This is also true when I’m cooking for two or three and my dinnermates are my mother and/or sister. We could live on this stuff in the summer, and have been known to try.
FAVORITE TOMATO BRUSCHETTA
Several ripe tomatoes
Plenty of fresh basil
Other fresh herbs as you like, thyme works well, as does oregano
A baguette, cut into slices about 1/4 inch thick
Several cloves of garlic
In my experience, any recipe that features the colors of the Italian flag is destined for greatness.
First, I set to work chopping up the tomatoes. This is the most time-consuming task in this recipe, but it isn’t difficult. I first cut each tomato in half. I then used my fingers to gently scoop out the seeds and juice into a small bowl. Avoid squeezing the juice out. You don’t want to damage the tomatoes too much so as to make them mealy. You just want the seeds and juice to go. That is, if you’re bothering to deseed.
I then diced the tomato halves and piled them into a bowl. I cut mine pretty small as the picky tomato-hater in my house needs them to be quite well chopped. I have sharp knives, the ability to chop, and the desire to get said hater to eat tomatoes. So I diced very small, a 1/4 inch or less. But the size is completely a matter of taste, and a function of the amount of time and patience one has at any given time when dicing is on the to-do list.
I then set about chopping herbs and smashing garlic. I used a lot of fresh basil. This is the most important in tomato bruschetta. Tomatoes and basil are soul mates. Always enhanced by one another. Never complete without the other. Better than the sum of their parts. And so forth. I also used a little thyme and a little oregano because my herb garden floweth over with both.
Garlic is a dear friend of tomatoes and basil. Together, a trio with epic powers to turn ingredients into feel-good-food. I like to send my garlic through a garlic press. It makes it garlickier, somehow, and eliminates the risk of chomping into a large chunk.
Amounts are really to-taste here. I like my bruschetta herby and garlicky, so I used lots of the former and three large cloves of the latter. I put about 3/4 of both herbs and garlic into the bowl with the tomatoes. I added a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar to taste. I used a couple of tablespoons of oil, a couple of teaspoons of vinegar. I added no salt, but this would be the place to do it if you feel it is required.
Next: the toasts. This is, in fact, the part of bruschetta that is properly termed bruschetta. The word, in italian, refers to the toasted bread. The most traditional Italian method would be to simply toast or grill the bread and rub it with garlic. I often do just that. But my mother invented a method for making bruschetta toasts that results in the most incredible little one-or-two-bite marvels. They’re beyond addictive.
First, I melted a stick of butter with a few tablespoons of oil in the pan. I know, not exactly the healthiest way to start, but it’s incredibly good. Experiment with just olive oil if you prefer not to eat butter, or do it the more traditional way and just rub garlic on toasted bread. But believe me, these toasts are worth every drop of butter.
I then added the rest of the herbs and garlic to the melted butter and let everything warm up together until I could smell the garlic wafting out of the butter bath. At that point, I dipped each slice of baguette into the mix, turned each one over to coat both sides, and made sure herbs and garlic stuck to the bread. You don’t need to soak the bread in the butter as if you were making french toasts. The idea is just to coat them on each side so that they fry up all brown and crispy in the oven.
I lined them up on a baking sheet and scooped any remaining herbs and garlic from the pan onto the toasts. There is no need to drizzle the rest of the butter/oil mix onto the toasts. They have enough. Save the leftover butter (if there is any) in an airtight container in the fridge. It makes amazing garlic bread.
I put the toasts under the broiler for a few minutes. When they were brown on one side–you want a nice golden toasty brown, if undercooked these toasts tend to become soggy–I flipped each toast over and stuck them back under the broiler to toast up the other side. They will sizzle, almost like pan frying. This is what gives them their delightful, addictive, crunchy qualities.
I served my bruschetta and toasts separately. Sometimes bruschetta can be served with the toppings pre-piled on the bread. This doesn’t do here. You want to preserve the crunch you worked so hard to achieve.
Just looking at that photo makes my mouth water. Mangia, mangia!