Few appetizers make us happier than the ever-versatile bruschetta - like giddy-in-the-heart, do-a-little-dance, kind of happy. We love everything about this traditional Italian antipasto, whether we're eating it or preparing it.
Bruschetta has been a mainstay in Italian cuisine since the times of ancient Rome, and its name derives from a Roman dialect verb bruscare, meaning "to roast over coals," which refers to the grilled bread, or bruschetta.
While many Americans associate the word with the common tomato relish typically served with bruschetta, the mainstay of this appetizer is the grilled bread, which can be topped with an endless variety of foods.
We recently attended a party hosted by our friends Jon and Nikki Anderson of Fargo. Nikki's food theme for the evening was a "bruschetta bar," which consisted of several different types of breads and crackers and an equally generous variety of toppings.
There was something so delightful about this idea. As guests we loved working our way around the table, sampling the different combinations and trying to choose a favorite.
This was no easy task as Nikki is an artist skilled in several mediums, food included, and her bruschetta bar featured about six different toppings. But the one that edged out all the others for us was her olive tapenade, a Provencal dish consisting of finely chopped olives, olive oil, capers and anchovies.
What made Nikki's tapenade so memorable was her creative use of orange juice and orange zest in the mix, which brightened up the entire dish with color and a punch of flavor. We've added this to our own tapenade recipe, and it made everything about it better.
Making traditional bruschetta (properly pronounced "broo-SKET-ta" but also called "bru-SHET-ta" in America) is easy. Start with a loaf of good, crusty French bread or other artisan loaf, and cut it into half-inch slices. Brush a thin coating of extra virgin olive oil over each piece and grill on each side for one to two minutes, until the grill marks are visible on each slice. Rub the grilled bread lightly with a clove of garlic and top with nearly anything you desire.
Grilling the bread is the traditional way to make bruschetta, and it definitely brings more flavor to the final dish, but you can also bake the bread in a 350-degree oven for five to eight minutes until it is a light golden brown and slightly crispy on the outside.
Inspired by Nikki, we're sharing two delicious recipes to feature at your own bruschetta bar this summer. In addition to Tony's olive tapenade, our second recipe is a variation of a recipe from my aunt and uncle, Jean and John Sherman, of Colorado Springs, Colo., whose tomato bruschetta was a major hit at our family's biennial Schmeckfest reunion last year.
Both recipes feature anchovies, which makes Tony very happy because they are also a staple in Sicilian cuisine. Anchovies are a terrific flavor-builder as they enhance the main ingredient with a wonderful layer of saltiness and tang, and used in small amounts, you shouldn't detect any fishy flavor.
The summer party season kicks off over the next few weekends with graduation parties and barbecues, and we think a bruschetta bar is a great way to engage your guests and bring them into the party. They might even reward you with their own happy dance.
1 loaf of French bread or baguette, cut into half-inch slices
½ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
Use a bread knife to cut the bread into half-inch slices. Brush both sides of each slice with a light, even coating of extra virgin olive oil. Place on a hot grill (direct, high heat) for approximately one minute per side, until golden brown, with some char marks on the edges and center.
Remove from the grill and lightly rub the clove of garlic over one side of each slice.
Tony's Olive Tapenade
2 cups olives, pitted and drained if from a jar (Spanish green olives or Kalamata work great)
1½ tablespoon capers
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 anchovy fillets (packed in oil variety)
¼ cup parsley, stems removed
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
juice from half a lemon
juice from half an orange
zest from half an orange
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients except the oil in a food processor and pulse repeatedly until coarsely chopped. Scrape the sides as needed. Turn the processor on and run continuously while adding the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until fully absorbed in the mixture. Taste and add black pepper as desired (the anchovies and capers will provide salt). Serve over grilled bruschetta.
Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week, or freeze in small amounts for up to four months.
1 pound of fresh tomatoes (about 4 to 5 medium-sized tomatoes), medium-diced
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (packed in oil variety)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
zest of 1 fresh lemon
juice of half a lemon
3 anchovy fillets (packed in oil variety), minced
½ cup fresh basil, thinly sliced chiffonade-style
salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix together. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve over grilled bruschetta.
• The mixture can be made two to three hours in advance, but wait to add salt just before serving or the tomatoes will become mushy.
• For a splash of color, use a variety of tomatoes like yellow cherry and green heirloom.
Home with the Lost Italian is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 9-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found at http://thelostitalian.areavoices.com