Like cold drink on a warm day, tomato bruschetta is both light and refreshing. There are a variety of different ways to make this delicious and easy appetizer, though most American versions involve some sort of combination of tomato, olive oil, and toasted bread.
Directly from the Latin verb and into the modern vernacular of Rome comes the verb bruscare, which means to toast (as in a slice of bread), or roast (as with coffee beans); hence bruschetta, whose most important component, aside from the grilled bread itself, is olive oil.
… Toasting bread over a smoky fire and soaking it with spicy, laser-green newly minted oil is a practice as old as Rome itself. From Rome bruschetta spread through the rest of central Italy — Umbria, Tuscany, Abruzzi –and acquired other ingredients: invariably now, garlic and, here and there, tomatoes. – Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
One of the most important things to remember about this recipe is that it’s all about the tomatoes. February is actually a terrible time to get fresh tomatoes, so you’ll have to spring for the greenhouse version. (Rule of thumb: The ripest/best tomatoes are ultra red – do not buy beige-red or settle for anything less than the most vibrant color red. It costs a little more, but is worth not being disappointed when you take that first bite.)
What you’ll need:
– For 6 – 12 servings (or half/quarter the recipe as desired)
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 12 slices of thick-crusted bread, sliced 1/2 to 3/4-inch wide
- Extra virgin olive oil
- black pepper
- 8 fresh, ripe plum tomatoes (or whatever is most in season)
- 8 to 12 fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of oregano
- Freshly grated parmesan (about 1 tablespoon)
To make the bread …
- Preheat a broiler or, even better, light a charcoal fire.
- Mash the garlic cloves with a heavy knife handle (or something equivalent), crushing them just enough to split them and loosen the peel, which you will remove and discard.
- Grill the bread to a golden brown on both sides **Warning – If using a broiler, this setting browns VERY quickly, so check bread each 20 seconds (open oven door to look) until golden brown.
- As the bread comes off the grill or broiler, while it is still hot, rub one side of each with the mashed garlic.
- Put the bread on a platter, garlicky side facing up, and pour a thin stream of olive oil over each slice, enough to soak it lightly.
- Sprinkle with salt and a few grindings of pepper.
To make the tomato topping …
- Wash the tomatoes, split them in half lengthwise, and with the tip of a paring knife (or your fingers) pick out all the seeds you can. Dice the tomatoes into 1/2 to 1/4-inch cubes.
- Wash the basil leaves, shake them thoroughly dry, and tear them into small pieces. (Omit this step if using oregano.)
- After rubbing the hot grilled bread with garlic as directed above, top it with the diced tomato, sprinkle with basil or oregano, add salt and pepper, and lightly drizzle each slice with olive oil. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan. Serve while still warm.
[Source: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan]