Bruschetta: 5 Quick and Tasty Toppings!

After last week’s diversion, it’s time to get back into bruschetta. And, now that you guys have the basics under your belt, we’ll be diving into the world of toppings (a tasty place, full of sated snackers and cheese). 

Below, you’ll find five tasty bruschetta variations, each one inspired by my adventures here in Italy, but made with ingredients that can be found back home in Canada. As always, better building blocks make for tastier results, so use good bread and oil, the best produce you can find, and save the tomato variety until tomatoes are at their juiciest. 

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For each variation, you’ll find a speedy backstory and a simple recipe. Think of the recipes as starting points or suggestions – the idea is to make something that’s tasty to you, so swap, adjust and add as you see fit. Really, all we’re making here are open-faced sandwiches, so experiment! 

Each variation is written to yield enough for four small half-pieces of toast (the half-toast seems to be the way it’s done here – a preventative measure against tumbling toppings, I guess!). If you make all five varieties in one go, enlist the help of a friend and you’ll have a simple dinner for four in almost no time. Or add in a bowl of pasta, a meat course, a side of veggies, a dessert, some water and wine and a short coffee, and you’ve got yourself a traditional Italian meal for one. Really. Now let’s get to it!

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Zucchini with Ricotta, Lemon and Mint

The idea: This super-fresh variety was inspired by an amazing slice of pizza procured from one of Rome’s top pizzerias, a hole-in-the-wall place boasting just two outdoor benches for seating. The contrast between hot zucchini and cool ricotta makes for a satisfying start to a summer meal.

What you need: 2 cups of zucchini, sliced ½ cm thin; extra virgin olive oil; salt; pepper; fresh lemon juice; 2 tsp lemon zest, 2 tsp fresh mint, ½ cup fresh ricotta.

How it’s done: Toss zucchini slices with a good glug of extra virgin olive oil and a big pinch of both salt and pepper.  Grill slices (in a pan or on the BBQ) until they’re tender but still have some bite. When the zucchini’s almost done, get to toasting your bread. When the zucchini’s cooked, toss it with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice, season to taste, then pile the slices evenly on top of your toasts. Top with a scoop of fresh ricotta and a healthy sprinkling of lemon and mint.

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White Bean with Tomato, Rosemary and Chili

The idea: After discovering one morning that my traveling companion and I were out of cereal (oh no!), we threw this together to stand in for breakfast. The result: delicious! It’s everything a can of beans aspires to be. Cereal who?

What you need: 2 tbsp olive oil; 1 big pinch of chili flakes; a 2-inch sprig of rosemary, leaves plucked from the woody stem; ¾ cup of good tomato sauce; 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans (or other white beans).

How it’s done: Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat, then add the chili flakes and rosemary leaves, cooking until fragrant (1-2 minutes). Carefully add in the tomato sauce and beans and simmer until the beans are heated through. While the beans are simmering, toast your bread. Once beans are ready to go, pile them ontop of your toast. That’s it!

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Black Truffle

The idea: Truffles, the fruiting bit of funghi that grow underground, are prized in northern Italian cooking. Whole truffles are an expensive treat, but truffle pastes – made from mushrooms and just a bit of truffle – aren’t so expensive that they can’t be spread atop toast. It’s unlikely that you’ll find truffle paste kicking around the standard supermarket, but a specialty store should carry it. It’s a bit of an investment, but a little goes a long way and the earthy flavour is oh-em-gee good (my traveling companion will tell you otherwise, but he’s really just confused).

What you need: Truffle paste. End of story.

How it’s done: Toast your bread, then spread it with a thin layer of truffle paste. Happiness. 

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Tomato with Basil and Olive Oil

The idea: This is a classic – the topping that we North American folk associate with bruschetta (though really, bruschetta is just toasted bread). When tomatoes are in season, this one can’t fail. I’ve seen it made using super-teeny cubes of big tomatoes, to halved and quartered cherry tomatoes, so feel free to use whatever tastes best!

What you need: 2 cups of chopped tomatoes (seeds in or out – I’ve seen it both ways); salt; a small handful of fresh basil; extra virgin olive oil.

How it’s done: Set your chopped tomatoes in a bowl, toss with a few big pinches of salt, and let sit for 10 minutes, toasting your bread when there’s a minute or so left. Once time’s up, drain the excess moisture off the tomatoes. Tear the basil into bite-sized pieces, toss with tomatoes, taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Top each piece of toast with a big spoonful of tomatoes and a good glug of extra virgin olive oil. Optional: If you’re a garlic lover, rub the hot toast with a cut clove of garlic before topping with the tomato mixture and olive oil. A few drops of balsamic vinegar sprinkled overtop the finished product wouldn’t hurt either. 

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Oil with Garlic and Salt

The idea: This variety, aglio e olio (garlic and oil), is about as simple as it gets; it’s the meat and potatoes of bruschetta, so to speak, and it’s one of my favourites. Don’t be shy with the oil and salt, and feel free to skip the garlic (it lingers for a good long while). If you’ve got a few different extra virgin olive oils kicking around, this is a great way to get to know their similarities and differences. 

What you need: Extra-virgin olive oil; two cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half; salt.

How it’s done: Get your bread toasting. Once it’s ready to go, rub it with the half-clove of garlic, cut side against the face of the bread. Top with an even coating of olive oil and a good sprinkling of salt.

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