Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bruschetta - where tomatoes SHINE

My daughter loves bruschetta. She requests it all the time. When we picked up our farm share this week and she saw the tomatoes and the basil she immediately shouted for bruschetta.

I also love bruschetta. I love it for its simplicity. It’s a “cruda” at its best – simple, flavorful ingredients chopped roughly and combined simply. It’s also a perfect summer dish. Bruschetta makes a simple, flavorful use of all kinds of amazing ingredients, with simple basic preparations. Because of the bounty of tomatoes this year, I’m posting a traditional tomato recipe today, but look around on-line and I’m sure you’ll find recipes using chick peas, roasted garlic, olives, anchovies, eggplant and all kinds of amazing ingredients. But for today, we’re going for summer simplicity. This is also a perfect summer recipe because nothing gets cooked, meaning you’re not introducing any heat to your kitchen!

What kind of tomatoes should you use for this? You can use ANY tomato you have. I used the beautiful little black cherry heirloom tomatoes. I halved the very small ones, and quartered the larger ones, so that I had uniform sized pieces. In the recipe below I call for “diced tomatoes” - but halving and quartering smaller heirloom cherry varieties is good, too.

Tomato Basil Mozzarella Bruschetta
• 1 cup diced tomatoes
• 3 – 4 leaves basil, stacked, rolled and sliced very, very thin. (Here’s a description of the chiffonade technique)
• ½ cup diced FRESH mozerella – use fresh, seriously. It makes a huge difference.
• 1 tbsp olive oil (a drizzle)
• 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (a smaller drizzle)
• Salt & Pepper to taste (a pinch and a grind if ya’ know what I’m saying….)
• A baguette or a loaf ciabatta or some other chewy, crusty, lovely bread, sliced.

Combine everything BUT the bread in a bowl and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture on to the sliced bread. Some people start with toasted bread, and that’s good too. Toasted bread will maintain more texture when the wet tomatoes are introduced, and for parties or any time the bruschetta will sit at all, this is preferable, and you should toast the bread. But at home, we like the bread untoasted, so it soaks up all of the juices. (But then you have to eat it right away, so it doesn’t get soggy, dig?)

This is such a simple appetizer, but we also enjoy it as dinner on easy nights, with maybe a little deli meat, maybe some olives, maybe a bowl of gazpacho.

Summer! Gazpacho!

We are definitely in the thick of summer here in Austin, and it’s only June! It’s too hot! It’s too hot to cook, it’s too hot to eat & it’s way too hot to be hanging out endlessly in the kitchen. But as usual, nature has the answer. The veggies being harvested right now are exactly the veggies you need for one of my very favorite summer soups. In fact, the vegetables this year are amazing. I don’t know how our farmers here in Austin are managing in this crazy weather, but we are getting such gorgeous produce.

Between the heat, and the bounty, I couldn’t wait to make gazpacho. Seriously. When I picked up my farmshare last week all I saw was the complete palette of raw ingredients for the perfect cold summer soup. And yes, I’m goofy thrilled to be able to make this soup almost entirely with produce from our local farms.

Fresh Tomato Gazpacho
• 4 fresh tomatoes, diced & divided in 1/2
• I fresh cucumber, seeded & diced & divided in 1/2
• 2 fresh bell peppers, seeded, cored & diced & divided in 1/2
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled & diced
• 1 small handful fresh parsley, rinsed and diced
• 3 – 4 leaves basil, diced
• ¼ cup red wine vinegar
• 3 tbsp olive oil
• A dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
• 1 tsp salt
• Several grinds of fresh pepper
• 4 – 6 cups tomato juice, divided
• A few shakes of hot pepper sauce (like Tabasco or Louisiana hot sauce – this can be added to the whole batch or to individual bowls at the preference of the eater)

Place ½ of the diced tomato, cucumber & bell pepper in a large, pretty bowl and reserve.

In the jar of a blender, place the diced garlic, parsley, basil, red wine vinegar, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and hot pepper sauce (if using in whole batch) & 1 cup tomato juice and blend until smooth. (The idea here is to get all of the garlic and herbs blended evenly throughout this “flavor base”.)

To the mixture in the blender, add the remaining ½ of all of the diced vegetables. Blend until mixture is consistent and smooth – but still textured, about 30 – 60 seconds.

Add this mixture and 3 cups of the remaining tomato juice to the bowl of chopped veggies. Now take a
look. Is it too thick, or just right? If you’d like it to be a little thinner, add more tomato juice.

Chill for an hour or so, to allow the flavors to blend, or you can eat right away. It keeps well in the fridge for 2 – 3 days, and works great packed for lunch. I like mine with a little cheese and crackers, or bruschetta. And don’t forget the pepper sauce!