When I was just a kid, my family traveled to Israel one winter. It was a memorable visit for many reasons; my first time in an airplane, visiting my older brother who had already been in Israel for close to a year, and, unusually, snow in Jerusalem. But one detail always overshadows our family anecdotes about that trip, that being my childish unwillingness to eat anything other than sliced bread, tap water and cucumbers for our entire stay.
I’d always been a picky eater and somehow got it in my head that the only food items that were safe to eat were those particular items. I probably missed out on some great meals during the course of that trip.
Now, all these years later, one of my all-time favorite foods is bruschetta, made up of a similar bread-and-vegetable combination, but with a slightly sophisticated twist — the addition of tomatoes, that glossy, pulpy summer fruit that I never touched as a kid but love as an adult. It makes for a great summer meal, consisting of lightly-dressed tomatoes topped with fresh basil and placed on toasted, rustic bread brushed with olive oil. Simple, hearty and delicious.
When making bruschetta, it’s important to use the best-quality tomatoes and freshest bread available. The flavors are so simple, and that much richer when using the ripest, freshest ingredients. Summertime is tomato time, when grape and cherry tomatoes are at their sweetest and I love using them as much as possible. If the deep red, vine-ripened kind aren’t available, Roma tomatoes work well, too.
As for the bread, being married to a baker’s son has turned me into a bread snob of the best kind, and luckily, fresh, crusty loaves are available everywhere now, with long, chewy baguettes as well as hearty country breads. Either are suitable to this recipe although I personally prefer the latter, aiming for nothing that is too doughy or dense. Bruschetta works well as appetizer or a simple side to grilled meats or fish, ideally accompanied by a glass of good red wine.
Tomato Basil Bruschetta
- 2 cups chopped tomatoes, grape, Roma, cherry or vine-ripened. (I used a mix of grape and heirloom grape)
- Small handful fresh basil leaves, (about five or six leaves) washed, dried and cut into ribbons
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional oil for frying the bread
- 1 large clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Grated Parmesan or crumbled Bulgarian cheese (optional)
- One baguette or loaf of country bread, thickly sliced
- Mix together the chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, spices, oil and vinegar.
- Toss well to coat.
- Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with olive oil, and heat over medium-high heat. Lightly saute each slice of bread or baguette until golden on each side.
- Remove to a towel-lined plate and repeat with each slice, adding more oil if necessary.
- Top each slice with a generous serving of tomatoes, and sprinkle with cheese if using. It’s ideally served while the bread is still warm.
A note about mincing garlic: A great kitchen tool that works well for finely mincing garlic is a microplane. Lay the tool across a bowl or over a cutting board and after firmly taking hold of the clove, press against the microplane, grating as you would a chunk of cheese.