Friday, September 18, 2009

Don't let go of summer - serve bruschetta!

By Helen Klein

The sprightly taste of summer basil is one of the season’s delights. Paired with its natural companion, farm-fresh tomatoes, crinkly, fragrant basil leaves become even more compelling, teasing the palate with their haunting licoricy flavor.

A natural summertime dish -- perfect as a hearty appetizer or a light main course -- is bruschetta, toasted Italian bread that’s been slathered with good olive oil, grilled or broiled, and then topped with a savory melange of diced tomatoes, slivers of fresh basil and chopped garlic.

Not only is bruschetta a taste treat, it’s also a visual delight -- thanks to the eye-catching combo of red tomatoes and green basil.

One night, I decided to up the ante by crossing bruschetta with grilled cheese, melting slices of mozzarella cheese on the bread before crowning it with generous dollops of the tomato-basil-garlic mixture.

The result was more than satisfactory -- an excellent example of the logic of reuniting culinary best friends -- and a paean to summer’s fleeting glories.Of course, this recipe is open to revision, as all of mine are. If you don’t have sweet onions, use shallots or scallions. No lemon juice? Red wine vinegar is a fine substitute.

Nor do the tomatoes necessarily have to be red. While I made my bruschetta with all red tomatoes, a mix of red and yellow tomatoes would add to the dish’s visual appeal.

Nor does the dish necessarily need to salute the Mediterranean. For South of the Border style, substitute cilantro for the basil, and queso fresco for the mozzarella, add some black beans if you want, and use tortillas instead of bread as the base, frying them quickly in a skillet coated with oil before melting the cheese on top of them.

Open-Faced Mozzarella-Bruschetta Sandwiches


2medium farm tomatoes (about 1 pound)
½ cup fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ sweet onion, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing on bread
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ loaf crusty Italian or peasant bread (can be day-old)
½ pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Chop tomatoes and basil. Combine with garlic, onion, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside.Brush ½-inch thick slices of bread with olive oil on one side. Toast lightly. Top each slice of bread with a slice of mozzarella cheese and broil till cheese is melted and bubbling. Top with bruschetta mixture and serve.

Serves six as an appetizer, four as a light main course.


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