Traditional bruschetta topped with fresh tomatos, basil and garlic

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By Norm Harding, Reporter

Italian bruschetta (pronounced “brusketta”) traditionally serves to test the new harvest of olive oil each year, but it’s also a great way to capture the flavors of those ripe summer tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic.
Most often mispronounced “brew-sheh-tah,” most people think it’s only a tomato topping that goes on little toasts. Bruschetta is commonly crusty bread, grilled and then rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. It’s usually served warm as an appetizer or side dish. You can top bruschetta with just about anything, including tomatoes, other vegetables or beans, cheese and various herbs.
To prepare a tomato bruschetta, rub the toasted slices with garlic and top with a layer of chopped tomatoes seasoned with basil, salt and pepper, and then drizzled with olive oil. I would suggest using plum tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes, as their skins are much thicker with fewer seeds and less juice.
Making bruschetta is also a great way to use up stale bread by adding olive oil and seasonings to improve its flavor. There are many variations of bruschetta using different hard breads. A vegetable bruschetta could include roasted peppers, olives and mushrooms. I personally like the cheese-topped versions which can include parmesan, feta, brie, mozzarella or even blue cheese.
Bruschetta or Crostini?
From the Italian “bruscare,” bruschetta actually means “to roast over coals” and refers to the bread, not the toppings. In this case, large slices of bread are grilled and then rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. The traditional toping is tomatoes and basil, although other toppings from meats to vegetables can be used.
Crostini, or “little toasts,” are thinner, smaller slices of bread (baguettes) that are always toasted, and then topped with various vegetables and/or spreads or cheeses.
Bruschetta with          Tomato and Basil
This is a basic recipe that you can customize to your own taste. I prefer plum tomatoes chopped by hand rather than in a food processor.
1 loaf crusty Italian bread (like Ciabatta)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 whole garlic clove, halved
6-8 Roma (plum) tomatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs.)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
8-10 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parboil the tomatoes for about a minute in boiling water. Remove from the heat and drain. Using a sharp small knife, remove the skins of the tomatoes. Once peeled, cut them in halves or quarters and remove the seeds and juice from their centers. Be sure to cut out and discard the stem area.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While the oven is heating, chop up the tomatoes. Place tomatoes, minced garlic, one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and vinegar in a bowl; mix to blend. Add the chopped basil and salt and pepper, to taste.
Slice the bread on a diagonal in 1/2-inch thick slices and place on a cookie sheet. Once the oven has reached 450 degrees, place bread slices in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5-6 minutes, until the bread just begins to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and rub some of the raw garlic on each slice and then drizzle with some olive oil. This is the more traditional method of making bruschetta.
Place the toasted bread on a serving platter and top with tomato mixture. Or, serve the topping in a bowl separately with a spoon for your guests to serve themselves. Serves 6-10 as an appetizer.
Bruschetta with Roasted Peppers, Olives and Brie
The bread can be grilled on an outdoor grill, on a grill pan indoors or under the broiler in your oven.
1 loaf crusty Italian bread, such as Ciabatta
1 whole garlic clove, halved
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup minced olives, such as Kalamata
1 cup roasted red peppers, thinly sliced or diced
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
8-10 oz. soft brie cheese
2 Tbsps. pine nuts, toasted
To toast the pine nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Gently shake the pan to ensure even toasting, about one minute or until golden brown; remove and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine two tablespoons olive oil, minced olives, sliced roasted peppers, parsley and red pepper flakes. Stir until well combined. (Make this topping a day or two in advance and place in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Be sure to bring to room temperature before using.)
Slice the bread into 8-10 thick slices. Grill bread slices on an outdoor grill, a grill pan indoors or under the broiler until lightly charred and crispy. Rub each toasted slice with the raw garlic clove and drizzle with a little olive oil.
While the bread is still warm, top each with a slice of brie cheese and then the olive mixture. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and extra chopped parsley. Serve immediately. Makes about 10 servings.

Bruschetta with           Grilled Asparagus            and Pecorino Romano
Grilled asparagus is chopped into bite-size pieces and mixed with toasted pine nuts and salty pecorino cheese for a tempting topping for bruschetta.
Crusty Italian bread, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole garlic clove, halved
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lb. asparagus, ends trimmed
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Pecorino Romano cheese, about 20 thinly shaved strips
Preheat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium high (about 400 degrees). Meanwhile, arrange the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Lightly brush the tops of the bread with the olive oil. Flip the slices over and also brush with the oil. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Place the bread on the grill and cook until grill marks appear and the bread is toasted and crisp, about two minutes per side. Place the grilled bread back on the baking sheet, seasoned-side up, and rub with the garlic clove. Set aside to prepare the topping.
Place the asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Place the asparagus spears on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, until spears are crisp-tender and grill marks have appeared, about five minutes. Remove to a cutting board.
Once cool enough to handle, cut spears into one-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add the pine nuts, salt and pepper to taste and one teaspoon olive oil; toss until evenly combined.
To serve, divide the asparagus mixture evenly among the bread pieces and top with the shaved cheese. Makes 8-10 servings.