One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the most simple or basic recipe can be the most impressive. I remember making my Cream Cheese, Spinach, Bacon and Scallion Pinwheels and almost not publishing that recipe because I thought it was too remedial and people would laugh. To this day it is one of the most popular recipes on my blog. I will never second guess a recipe again.
This recipe came out of my desire to finally tackle making bruschetta and my need to bring an appetizer to a community event. Since I’d never made it before I decided to start out with a basic recipe that included only tomatoes, onion, sautéed garlic, garlic infused olive oil, some fresh lemon juice and fresh basil. It was divine! You can tell your appetizer is a hit when it’s completely gone while others still remain. This one was eaten up quickly.
The process for making bruschetta is relatively simple. You spend most of your time chopping and dicing, which I love. It can be a little more labor intensive than other appetizers, but the result is so worth it. This particular recipe is bright, fresh and natural, a killer combination for an appetizer.
So let’s talk basic bruschetta…
Lesson Learned 1 – Finding fresh basil at the grocery store: This probably sounds silly but I had a hard time finding fresh basil at the grocery store. Now I know it’s Winter, but fresh basil is pretty much a staple that’s available almost any time of year. So there I was looking through the refrigerated packages of various herbs and bemoaning the fact that the store did not have basil. I got so frustrated I went to the service desk to ask if there was a reason why the store had no fresh basil. The associate called someone in produce and they told her where it was located. It was not with the other refrigerated herbs.
BUT, what I found out and didn’t know is that basil does not do well with refrigeration and is better kept at room temperature and that’s why it’s not kept with the other refrigerated herbs. That was news to me. I decided to test that hypothesis and sure enough, when I looked for basil at other grocery stores it was kept at room temperature and not with the refrigerated herbs. Since I planned on using most of the basil right away I didn’t refrigerate it when I got home.
I did a little research on keeping basil fresh and here’s what I found. To keep basil fresh, trim the stems and place them in a glass or jar of water, just like cut flowers. Loosely cover the basil with a plastic bag and leave it on the counter. Although certain herbs, such as parsley and cilantro, can be stored this way in the fridge basil does better at room temperature. Live and learn, right?
Lesson Learned 2 – Browning the garlic: You use a lot of garlic in this recipe and it’s a key flavor component. But garlic can be tricky and easy to burn. Saute your chopped garlic in some olive oil until it has a light golden brown color (see the picture below). Stir the garlic regularly while it is sautéing to prevent any burning. Remove it from the heat and immediately put it in a bowl so carry over cooking is minimal. Make sure to include the oil from the pan with the garlic as you need to add that to the tomato mixture as well.
I’m often asked if using prepared cloves of garlic from a jar is ok. Yes it is, but be aware that those cloves are not as potent as fresh garlic so you may need to use more of them for a good garlic flavor. The jarred cloves are very convenient, but I prefer using fresh garlic whenever I can.
Lesson Learned 3 – The tomatoes used in this recipe are very important: Using the wrong kind of tomatoes can make your bruschetta soggy. You need a tomato that is ripe but firm. Any tomato will be watery so you want to minimize that as much as you possibly can.
I used small campari tomatoes. You can also use vine ripe tomatoes that are more firm. Stay away from over-ripe soft tomatoes. You will wind up with a mixture of mush if you use them. Once you put together the tomato mixture let it chill in the refrigerator for at least a half hour. That way the ingredients get better acquainted and some of the water drains out of the tomatoes. I drained the water from the mixture when I took it out of the refrigerator and used a slotted spoon when I was putting the tomato mixture on the bread to eliminate as much moisture as I could. Doing this also prevents the baguette from getting soggy.
Lesson Learned 4 – Use a good olive oil: I used a garlic infused olive oil in this recipe. I’ve also seen basil infused olive oils and that would be good as well. Olive oil is also a key ingredient in bruschetta so you want to make sure it’s flavorful and not bitter.
The real work in this recipe is chopping up the ingredients in the tomato mixture, slicing and baking the baguette. Once that’s done, the assembly goes pretty quickly. This is such a good looking, refreshing and healthy appetizer. It will make a great impression at your next gathering. Try it and let me know what you think.
1 6oz. French baguette loaf, sliced in 1/4 inch slices
Garlic infused olive oil (approx. 3 Tbs. plus some for drizzling)
2 large vine ripe tomatoes or about 10 small campari tomatoes, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small white onion, diced
2-3 Tbs. fresh basil, chopped plus some for garnish
1/2 small lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Shredded romano cheese for topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Saute garlic in 1 Tbs. olive oil until fragrant and golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
Combine tomatoes, onion and basil in a mixing bowl. Add the garlic along with the olive oil from the pan. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Chill in the refrigerator.
In a small bowl season 2 Tbs. of olive oil with salt and pepper. Lay baguette slices on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Using a silicone basting brush baste the slices with the olive oil mixture. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.
Remove the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and drain any liquid from it. Using a slotted spoon put some of the tomato mixture on all the baguette slices. Top with a small sprinkle of shredded romano cheese. Add some additional chopped basil for garnish. Drizzle a small amount of olive oil on all the slices. Place slices on a decorative platter and serve.