Posted by Stephanie Simpson on
Today, we’re kicking off the first of a series of recipes inspired by my recent adventures to the Tuscan-esque towns of Cortona and Orvieto. And this one, which we ate pretty much everywhere we went, is an old classic.
See, bruschetta (broo-sket-ah), got its start over 500 years ago, when it was first thrown together as a way to revive stale bread. The idea was (and still is!) simple: less-than-fresh bread was grilled until crisp, then topped with Italy’s beloved extra virgin olive oil, maybe a rub or two of garlic, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
These days, and even back in the day, the bread could be fancied up by adding other toppings: fresh or cooked veggies, thinly sliced meats, pastes made from just about everything under the sun. Think that’s a tasty sundried tomato spread you’re about to bite into? Salmon paste.
But before we get into the toppings, salmon paste aside, I want to go through the basics. Because as simple as this appetizer, or antipasti, is to prepare, you want to make sure you get your ingredients right to ensure your bruschetta is all that it can be. Here’s what you’ll need.
First up, the bread: Traditionally, bruschetta is made with naturally leavened sourdough, which has a thick and crispy crust and a moist, dense, off-white interior – the kind of fresh bread that keeps well for a week, rather than just a day or two. If you can’t find this kind of bread at your local bakery or farmers’ market (it’s unlikely that you’ll find it in a standard grocery store), no-knead bread is a great substitute. Unlike the olden days, you don’t have to wait until the bread is stale to start grilling, though day-old bread is always easier to slice! Slices 1cm – 1.5cm thick are best, as they’ll make for a sturdy piece of toast whose edges are crispy but whose interior still has a bit of chew.
Next up, the oil: Given that you’re about to douse your bread in oil, you’ll want to make sure it’s tasty, so use a good extra virgin olive oil. This is the stuff that’s extracted by squishing olive paste using physical rather than chemical means, whose qualities meet certain specifications for acidity levels and other sorts of things (those who don’t meet the stricter specifications are deemed virgin olive oil). While the labeling of extra virgin olive oil is supposed to be strictly controlled, that’s not always the case. Your best bet, then, is to talk to a trusted shop owner or friend when selecting your oil. Failing that, look for oils that are stored in dark glass bottles (to shield the oil from damaging light) and that line up with these other tips. A decent oil should cost a little more than your standard virgin olive oil, but nothing crazy.
Finally, the sidekicks: Your garlic should be as fresh as you can find – the cloves should still be so plump that they’re difficult to extract from the tightly-packed head. Salt should be whatever you find tastiest – I’ve seen everything from table salt to Himalayan pink salt served up here! Finally, if you’re using pepper (I prefer the bread without it and thus have left it out), your corns should be plump and freshly cracked.
Start with good ingredients, follow the simple recipe below, and you’re on your way to an awesome first course. Next time, I’ll share with you some of my favourite things to put atop a tasty slice, but in the mean time, get practicing the basics. Trust me, any excuse to eat a few slices of this stuff is worth taking!
Makes 1 slice — scale up for more!
Note: If you’ve been kicking around FoodHappy for a while, you’ll notice that this recipe is pretty similar to a recipe I shared in 2011 for Italian-style garlic bread. Back when I shared that recipe, little did I know I was making bruschetta! Now that I’m in the know, I’ve redone the post so that you’re armed with all the information you need to make an even better slice of the stuff. If you want to check out the old post, which shares the story behind my love of this awesome bread, you can find it here.
1 slice of sourdough or other moist and crispy bread, cut 1-1.5 cm thick
1 peeled clove of garlic, cut in half (optional)
1+ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Using a BBQ or stovetop grill pan, grill your bread on both sides until the exterior is crispy and beginning to brown.**
2. As soon as the bread is toasty, gently rub it with a cut clove of garlic (if you’re using it), cut side against the face of the bread, until most of the clove has melted away.
3. Spoon or carefully pour oil evenly over the toast, using enough to coat the face of the toast.
4. Sprinkle toast with a good pinch or two of fine salt and freshly cracked pepper.
*Given that your ingredients will be different from mine — your slice of bread slightly larger or smaller, your oil more or less pungent, etc. — consider the ingredient quantities a starting point. If you feel you need more or less of something to make your bruschetta shine, adjust away!
**While a BBQ or stovetop grill pan are best for grilling your bread here, a broiler, toaster oven or toaster will do just fine!