Bruschetta is a dish of such astonishing simplicity that you might say it’s not even worth blogging about. After all, the basic recipe for authentic bruschetta is nothing more or less than grilled bread, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with a sprinkling of salt.
And besides, there are a million paper and online recipes for bruschetta, or so it seems. It appears on the menu of just about every Italian restaurant; sometimes you’ll even get a complementary plate without asking for it. In short, bruschetta has become a cliché, so who doesn’t know how to make it by now? Well, if today’s quick Google search is any guide, a lot of people.
It may be the very simplicity of the dish that throws some folks off. I’ve written before about the tendency of non-Italians to strafare (over-do) when recreating Italian dishes, as if they can’t believe that a recipe could actually be that easy. Surely, a little extra this or that would improve it…
Let me set the record straight and give you the recipe for real, authentic buschetta. If you want to ‘improve’ on it, feel free, but please, do try the original at least once, then decide if it really needs ‘improving’. I suspect you will realize that it is truly delicious just as is. Assuming you’re using quality ingredients, that is. You need good, crusty bread with a substantial crumb—day old homemade pane casereccio is ideal—lightly grilled and drizzled with best quality, fruity extra virgin olive oil. And if you add the optional tomato topping, make sure your tomatoes are perfectly ripe and at the peak of their flavor.
Serves 4-6 people as an light antipasto
- 4 large, thick slices, each cut in half, or 8 small slices, of rustic bread, preferably pane casereccio
- A garlic clove, unpeeled but cut in half crosswise
- Extra virgin olive oil, preferably of the deep green, fruity kind
For the optional tomato topping:
- 4 medium sized tomatoes, de-seeded and cut into rough cubes
- A handful of fresh basil, torn into small pieces
- A good pour of olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Grill the bread slices over a moderately hot fire until they are nicely toasted on both sides, turning frequently to ensure even browning. Be careful not to burn them; they will cook in only a few minutes.
Now take a half garlic clove, which as indicated you have cut into two crosswise without peeling:
Rub each slice of bread while it is still hot with the exposed inside of the clove, squeezing the garlic between your fingers to release its juices into the bread.
Now drizzle your bread liberally with your fruity olive oil. The slices should be nicely soaked. Salt the slices to taste.
Now you have authentic bruschetta as its basic best. You can eat it just like this and, if your bread and oil are good enough, it will be perfectly delicious (in not very photogenic…)
If you want, however, you can top each slice with the tomato mixture, which you make by mixing together all of the ingredients mentioned above in a bowl right before you serve your bruschetta.
If you don’t have time to make your own bread at home, then find the best quality bread you can find, with a good crust and a firm but open crumb. Usually, breads sold as ‘rustic’ or ‘peasant’ style will work best. Day old bread is preferable. If fact, this recipe may well have started as a way of using bread that had gone slightly stale, and you can use it that way, too. Just beware: older bread is drier, so it will grill very quickly. Make sure it doesn’t burn! One good tip is to slice your bread thickly, as thicker slices are less apt to burn. Older or not, thick or thin, you should never leave the grill unattended even for a moment when you are making bruschetta. Trust me, I know from experience.
The olive oil should be the best you can afford, with a rich, full, fruity flavor. I personally like the deep green olive oils of southern Italy with their assertive flavor and pleasant ‘bite’. But Tuscan oil is wonderful, too. Indeed, the Tuscans make bruschetta, too, and call it, quite appropriately, fettunta, which means ‘greased slice’ or, more poetically, ‘anointed slice’.
The tomatoes, too, should be full of flavor, if you’re making a topping. This is a wonderful way to show off the full flavor of tomatoes from your garden or the local farmer’s market. If you don’t have either, then an acceptable substitute are grape tomatoes or hydroponic tomatoes (I like ‘Campari’ tomatoes, for example); these tomatoes tend to have more flavor than your average supermarket variety.
There are, of course, other toppings you can try. In Campania they are fond of making a caprese-like topping with chopped up mozzarella (or those little mozzarella balls called ciliegine) and olives added to the ingredients listed above. Olive or artichoke paste makes nice toppings as well.
One things that you shouldn’t add is too much garlic. As you saw, the garlic is simply rubbed gently over the bread slices while it is still hot. They juices of the garlic infuse the bread with a subtle garlic flavor. There is no need to add garlic to the topping mixture or, God forbid, garlic purée on top of the bread à la American-style “garlic bread”, one of the very worst faux Italian abominations.
If you don’t have a grill, by the way, you can make bruschetta on top of the stove with a small hand-held grill that fits over your burner called a brustolina. Otherwise, a regular toaster will do the trick, even if you will lose some of the rustic charm that a live flame lends to the dish. Indeed, you are heading into crostino territory, a similar but distinct way to enjoy toasted bread, which I will feature in a future post.
Finally, a linguistic note: The word ‘bruschetta‘ is Italian, not German, so it is pronounced broo-SKEH-ta. It is NOT pronounced broo-SHEH-ta. This is a huge pet peeve with me, and I always cringe when I hear wait staff in restaurants (or ‘chefs’ on TV!) mispronounce the word. And since you’re taking care to make authentic bruschetta, why not pronounce it correctly?