What is bruschetta?
Make a snack or a whole meal from toasted bread slices topped with deliciousness.
Bruschetta in Italian means toasted bread with toppings. You can make it as simple or elaborate as you want. Assemble some quickly for a snack or invest a little more in substantial toppings and make a meal out of it. Toasted bread with olive oil, that’s the base – say, a baguette or a country-style Italian loaf. Then you need olive oil, garlic and the topping of your choice.
My favorite topping is simple: a slice of oven-roasted tomato, sprinkled with salt and plenty of pepper. If I have some around, a little chopped basil goes on top of the tomato. Grated cheese is nice too, but more for looks than for flavor, because the garlic and tomatoes are delicious together. My husband prefers to top his bruschetta with colorful bell peppers and red onions that were sautéed in olive oil. You can top your garlicky toast with a slice of cheese, dribble olive oil over it, and put it under the grill for a few moments to melt the cheese. Place some arugula sprigs over the softened cheese, and eat. The possibilities are endless.
Another traditional topping is grilled chicken livers. Or, got some leftover roast chicken? Slice it just big enough to fit on top of your bread slices, and top the bread with it. Sprinkle the chicken with chopped parsley or chives. Rounds of fried eggplant or zucchini are very good on the toasted base – or smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon, dusted with finely chopped chives and parsley (not to be grilled). Big mushrooms, thickly sliced and sautéed, are very good. Just look in the fridge and imagine what you'd like to eat on top of a mouthful of garlicky grilled bread, then go ahead and make it.
Today there was an unexpected guest for lunch, someone who has high expectations of my cooking. All I had on hand was vegetable soup and a tossed salad. But I wanted to please my guest, so to round out the menu I put bruschetta together – in about 5 minutes. I had a loaf of sturdy rustic bread, and it was perfect for bruschetta. On the other hand, even challah makes a good base, if it's well toasted and sliced into snack-sized pieces.
Tradition says to rub a clove of garlic over the surface of the toast, then drizzle a little olive oil over it. But I like lots of garlic. I crushed a small clove, mixed it into a tablespoon of olive oil, and spread the garlicky oil over the toasted slices.
As there were some tomatoes slow-roasting in the oven, I fished some halves out and sliced each one in half again, horizontally. Each toasted slice received a slice of tomato. If I hadn’t had slow-roasted tomatoes handily sitting around, I would have sliced a tomato up thickly and sautéed the slices in olive oil. I sprinkled a little herb salt and some ground black pepper over the ensemble.
But there were more un-topped, grilled toasts. I snatched up some feta that was lurking in the fridge, sliced that too, topped the rest of the bread with it. Everything went back into the oven, under the grill for a few minutes. When the feta was warm and soft, I poked a few dimples into its surface, drizzled a little olive oil over it, and shook some paprika over the cheese.
You could taste each component, in every bite: toasty bread, olive oil, a hint of garlic, then either the slightly caramelized tomato or the salty feta. Thanks to the bruschetta, the simple meal became a feast, and my guest raved about it. I smiled airily and accepted the compliments, thinking, “It pays to read a lot of Italian cookbooks.”
It’s up to you whether to lay your topping on and serve the bruschetta immediately, or to use ingredients that benefit from a quick grilling. I’m not in favor of chopped or diced toppings because they tend to slide off the toast and make a mess. For me, it’s long slices of this or that. And caution with juicy toppings: they can make your toast soggy. Assemble the bruschetta just before serving, so the bread stays crisp.
A glass of wine is a good thing to drink while leisurely consuming bruschetta. Keep some napkins handy.
And how to pronounce bruschetta? Like this: bruce-keta.