In Lifestyle, Recipies on May 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm

I love a good peasant meal and, in my opinion, there is no finer peasant meal than one based around bread.

Consequently, bruschetta stands tall as one of my favorite peasant meals.

Bruschetta seems to get no respect because it often is relegated to the “appetizer” page of American menus.  If you toss in (no pun intended) a great garden salad and some fruit, it is a meal.  Add some olives, roasted artichokes, and a plate of cheeses and fish…


One of the best things about bruschetta is that it can be prepared while you devote time to your guests.  We did this for a small gathering last summer.

We covered our dining room table with olives, sliced cucumbers, celery hearts, hummus, eggplant dip, yogurt, cheeses, picked and smoked fish, fire roasted carrots and artichokes, bowls of nuts, and such.  We set out a few bottles of various, inexpensive robust wines and a couple of platters of fruit and melon.  Every few minutes, a sheet of bruschetta made its way to the table.  We had a great evening of conversation and had minimal clean up…everything was served on plastic party platters!

Wallah!  The (un)dinner party.

Bruschetta is versatile.

Bruschetta can be made with almost any whole loaf bread.  I have even enjoyed it when the bread base came out of a bread machine.  French, Italian, baguettes, focaccia, and even leftover challah are all wonderful bruschetta bases.  Frugal folk will appreciate that the bread does not have to be bakery fresh to make great bruschetta.

On a lazy Sunday afternoon, leftover Shabbat challah turned into bruschetta makes an absolutely delightful way to linger over a bottle of wine.  If I had a “good” way to transport the finished bruschetta (without the toppings falling off), I would love a picnic with it and a bottle of wine.

(NOTE:  My latest encounter with bruschetta was accompanied by a bottle of La Piazza Primitivo (Puglia 2006).  I will profile this wine in a later “What I’m Drinking” column.  Until then, here is a bit of a teaser from the full (un)review.)

I last enjoyed bruschetta with a wine recommended by Phyne Dyning’s trusted sommelier, Howard Bernstein, at Casa di Vino (click the link at the top of the page).  My inexpert palate would call this a wine (strongly holding up black cherry flavors) that is wonderfully “rough around its edges”.  Lots of tannins make it a natural with pasta and bread.  I will be buying more of this in the future!

Back to the bruschetta!

All of the ingredients, except the bread, oil, and cheese, come directly from the garden.  Unlike with the bread base, the fresher the toppings, the better the bruschetta!

Bruschetta is wonderfully simple to make.  Plan on one loaf of bread per pair of hungry diners.

1 whole loaf of unsliced bread, cut into large pieces, thick slices, chunks, etc.

¼ C olive oil (option 1)

2 large cloves garlic pressed or very finely minced (option 1)

1 whole (large) peeled clove of garlic (option 2)

1 Roma tomato per loaf of bread, thinly sliced

½  to 1 C very thinly sliced white onion (or red) per loaf of bread

½ C basil leaves (or oregano) chiffonade or minced

½ C crumbled feta or 1-2oz grated pecorino Romano

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Option 1:  Mix the pressed or minced garlic with the oil and brush the oil onto the cut (top) of each piece of bread.

Option 2:  Rub the garlic on each piece of bread.  This works best if the bread is slightly stale and if it has a course, open structure.

Both Options:  Pre-heat the broiler and lay out the bread on baking sheets, cut side up.  Now, spread a generous portion of grated Romano or crumbled feta on each garlic-seasoned bread piece.  Scatter basil or oregano next on each piece.  Lay some onion slice segments down on the cheese and herb(s).  Lay down thin slices of tomato on top and finish off by dusting with a bit more of the cheese.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and a generous twist or two of ground pepper.  Slide the sheets under the broiler.

NOTE:  Every broiler is different and cooking times are a function of element temperature and the distance to the food.  Therefore, a broiling time cannot be offered.  Hang very close to the broiler to ensure proper cooking without burning or scorching.  A “best guesstimate” would be to cook for 3-4 minutes, rotate the pan 180-degrees and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.

Serve hot, warm, or cold.

Sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, may be substituted for fresh.  Oil-packed (or pickled) artichoke hearts may fill in for the onion.  Use Greek herbs (rosemary and oregano) for a different taste.  I have even tossed some flaked, smoked kippers on top for a bit of “something else”.

If you are one of the brave, substitute grappa for wine.  I once wandered the streets of Jerusalem (not a “great” idea) for several late-night hours after our company spent most of a Thursday evening diving into grappa and bruschetta.  Grappa is about as forgiving as an IRS auditor.

So, on those weeknights when “What’s for supper” seems daunting or for those impromptu late night gatherings of friends, make bruschetta.

Or you can “go French” and make onion soup after a night of reveling.  My French friends assure me that homemade onion soup consumed, before bed, after a night of drinking is the ultimate hangover stopper.


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