For a long time I shied away from bruschetta. I had some sort of fear about uncooked tomatoes. Not sure where I was going with that but I’m happy to say it’s been over for quite a while. One day I said to myself “Hey – this is bread” and it’s all been roses since.
Perhaps not all roses. I’ve had bad bruschetta foisted upon me on more than one occasion and it’s infuriating, especially since it’s not hard to make a good one. So simple and pure is this appetizer (or meal if you’re like me); bad ingredients and an uncaring hand in the kitchen are really the only spots you can place blame. A shame then. Why bother?
Bruschetta can be a great many things. In its simplest form bruschetta is bread, lightly coated with olive oil, toasted over coals, rubbed down with raw garlic, and coated lightly with cracked pepper and salt. That sounds devastatingly good. Variations on the theme include chopped onions, herbs, beans, and tomatoes. The recipe that evolved below is fairly similar to what you’ll get in most Italian restaurants when you place an order.
It bears repeating that there are so few ingredients in this dish, none of them really cooked beyond the bread, that quality is paramount. Buy good tomatoes (Roma, beefsteak, on the vine, or heirloom), and don’t skimp on the oil, break out the good stuff. Fresh basil really makes everything pop, but in a pinch you can get by with the dried stuff.
I’d like to tell you that I used homemade Italian bread. That would be lying, however. I didn’t even use Italian bread, not really. I grabbed my Safeway staple bread – freshly baked 3 times a day! – and ran home giddy with anticipation. I only made four slices because I had a feeling I’d be eating all of them, such is my other half’s aversion to raw garlic and onion family vegetables. I wasn’t wrong. The recipe below however will make eight nice slices of toasty bread.
If you’re feeling fancy you can slice your bread on a bias – just cut it at a 30 – 45 degree angle and you’ll end up with a longer piece of toast that looks more restaurant-ish. I was feeling hungry so mine aren’t quite as picturesque, but they still taste mighty fine. Make yourself decent thickness slices and arrange them on a cookie sheet. You’ll notice I have new non-scary looking cookie sheets that were a Christmas present. So horrified was my mother at the appearance of my old sheets in the blog she went out and made sure I had a few new ones. Nice lady.
I drizzle some olive oil on the top of the bread then use a brush to make sure there’s a nice coat over the top. The amount you use will depend on the bread you have and how much oil you actually want. You’re not going for french toast coverage – but you don’t want to skimp either. These can be placed into a 400 degree F oven for 8 to 10 minutes – try to get them as high up in the oven as you can. While these are baking and toasting nicely you can marshal all your other ingredients.
I used two largish heirloom tomatoes diced fairly fine. It need not be perfect, rustic is just fine for this application. I use shallots, you can also use an onion. I use a decent sized shallot, half a medium-sized onion would do just as nicely. Dice that fairly finely and place in a bowl with the tomato.
Bruschetta is fairly heavy on the garlic. My other hates garlic unless it’s invisible and well cooked. I don’t. I could eat garlic raw. Vampires hate me. My boyfriend hates me. I am not popular in Transylvania. For my purposes I used 4 cloves of garlic finely chopped and one clove cut in half and set aside. Put the chopped stuff in the bowl with the tomatoes and shallots. The garlic clove you cut in half will be used to rub over the top of the toasted bread when it comes out of the oven. Don’t underestimate this step. Sounds simple and like it won’t accomplish much. It’s key (to a garlic lover’s mind at least.)
I buy fresh basil in giant clumps. We use a lot of fresh basil for just about everything. You can use the dried stuff as a replacement but I don’t think it has anywhere near the freshness and taste of the fresh basil. Grab a nice bunch of basil leaves (make sure you clean out the stems – they aren’t terribly appetizing or texturally appealing) and chop them into a nice shred. Little tiny ribbons of basil is what you’re going for. Mix that in with the tomato mixture and you’re just about home.
I add a little bit of olive oil to the tomato mixture. Maybe a tablespoon or a little more. Crack some fresh pepper and a little salt and oddly a pinch of sugar. Tomatoes are nicely set off with a little bit of sugar. Just a pinch, however. Don’t go overboard. Then toss everything again to make sure it’s well mixed. You could make this ahead of time and let it sit for an hour two to let the flavors mix and meld. Or you can use it right off the bat. I generally make it on the fly and eat. I’m very impatient about food.
When your bread is looking lightly browned you can pull them out of the oven. They won’t, nor do you want them, browned like a toaster set on dark. They’ll be nicely light golden brown and will be crispy. Rub the tops of the bread with that cut clove of garlic. You can see the oil from the garlic shining on the bread. It’s magical. The final step is as easy as it sounds. Just dollop the tomato basil mixture from the bowl onto the top of the bread. And serve.
I enjoyed these so much I had them for dinner. I didn’t eat anything else. My other half took a bite and told me that he thought they’d be great for anyone who liked that sort of thing. Thanks. Dutifully I whipped up a quesadillia with his name on it and called it a night.
For eight servings of bruschetta you’ll need the following:
- 8 Slices of Italian Bread
- 2 Larger Sized Quality Tomatoes – Diced
- 1 Shallot or 1/2 Medium Sized Onion – Diced Finely
- 4 Tablespoons of Oil (For Coating Bread and Mixing with Tomatoes)
- A Decent Sized Bunch of Basil – Diced and Shredded
- 4 Cloves of Garlic – Diced
- Salt and Pepper to Taste