Savoring Home: Heirloom tomato bruschetta
Today’s recipe can serve many purposes. It makes a great appetizer, and a healthy snack and can even make a great summer meal. In full disclosure: Mr. CARO and I find this to be our very favorite summer dinner. We’ll just make the whole recipe and divide it between us. I maintain that heirloom tomatoes are Mother Nature’s way of saying, “Let me show you how I make summer look goooooood…”
What did you say?
Here’s something you may not know about me and Mr. CARO: We used to work in opera, which required Italian language usage almost daily. One of our small pet peeves is that America seems to have decided to pronounce this yummy Italian dish incorrectly. It has somehow become all German in its consonants.
I’m gonna fix that for you right here before we get into the recipe. Trust me, this will make you look good as you place this gorgeous platter of food on the table. You can even complain about how no one else pronounces it properly and look like an expert. Here we go:
Incorrect American pronunciation: broo-SHETTE-uh
Correct Italian pronunciation: broo-SKETTE-tah
See the difference? The “sch” in the middle of the word should be a hard “k” sound, just like in the word “school”. Also, the double “t” in this word gets an extra tap with your tongue in the last syllable, a “tah” sound. It’s not hard, just practice saying it aloud a few times. Now that we have wrapped our mouths around the name of this recipe, let’s get into the making of it!
- 1 1/2 – 2 pints of small heirloom tomatoes: the more variety, the better
- coarse ground sea salt
- dried basil (I never use fresh basil here, it competes with the tomatoes)
- 1 baguette: a real one, not pre-packaged or whole wheat varieties
- extra virgin olive oil
- grated Parmesan cheese
First, we are going to wash and admire the tomatoes. Did you know in 1903 there were over 400 varieties of tomato being grown in the US? By 1983, only 80 years later, we were down to only 79. You should read more details about this right here.
It is important that we appreciate the real food gifts we have today, as opposed to all of those McDrive-thrus out there, so let’s take a minute and admire the diversity of this single plant:
Gorgeous colors, flavors, shapes and textures grown for us. Aren’t we lucky? Now let’s make these gifts of nature into a great meal!
Dice all of your tomatoes and place them into a large bowl. Remember to use a serrated knife to slice the tomatoes so you don’t tear them apart.
Your diced pieces should be about the size of a dime, so that they’ll spoon nicely onto the bread later.
As you dice, if you haven’t tasted all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes individually before, take a moment and sample them as you go. You’ll be surprised at the differences in flavors. (You may realize that you have forgotten what a real tomato even tastes like…we had.)
When you are about halfway through dicing your tomatoes, pause and lightly salt the bowl of tomatoes already chopped.
This helps bring out all of the beautiful juices in the fruit and will help with seasoning later.
When all of your tomatoes are diced, lightly salt the top layer of the bowl again and then add the dried basil. I use dried basil equal to the total amount of salt in the tomatoes.
Toss the tomatoes, basil and salt well. The juices will help distribute the basil more evenly. Your finished bowl of tomatoes should look similar to this:
Now you can set this bowl aside and we will prep the bread.
Using a serrated bread knife trim the small ends off of the baguette and place them in a large bowl.
Next, cut the entire baguette into 1 inch thick slices, like this…
…and place them in the bowl. Toss any loose bread crumbs into the bowl with the tomatoes. It thickens the juices for later. We don’t waste anything in this recipe.
When you are done slicing the baguette, your bread bowl should look similar to this:
Now pour a layer of olive oil into a large skillet and swirl it around to coat the bottom of the skillet evenly.
Turn the burner on to “High” and place one layer of bread into the skillet, spread evenly across the bottom.
Get out a pair of kitchen tongs and watch the bread cook. Don’t walk away, answer the phone or settle end-of-the-world disputes between your kids. Watch this bread to make sure it doesn’t burn.
When it is done, the under side of each slice of bread should be golden, with slighted darker, crispier edges, like this:
Using the tongs, remove each slice of bread from the skillet. Place them toasted-side-up on a plate.
Before you add your next layer of bread, lower the burner temperature to “Medium”. You should also see if you need to add a little more oil to the skillet. You want to bread to have some oil to absorb, but it shouldn’t be swimming in it.
Repeat the toasting steps above until you have toasted all of the baguette, including the little end pieces at the bottom of your bowl.
Your toasted baguette slices should fill two large dinner plates, like this:
Now we will use the toasted ends of the baguettes to taste our tomato mixture, which has been quietly marinating on its own. As any chef will tell you, the only way to check your seasonings is to taste the food. Do you need more basil? Do you need more salt? Dip the baguette ends into the juices, taste and then adjust accordingly.
When you are happy with your tomato mixture it is time to serve. Ladle a small amount of tomatoes and juice (don’t use a slotted spoon) onto each medallion of bread. The tomatoes will slide everywhere, but don’t worry about it.
Last comes the cheese. Be careful not to put too much cheese over the top of this dish. (You can use my pictures below as a guide.) You want the cheese to highlight the tomatoes, not dominate them. For this reason, you should also know that you can’t substitute other cheeses for real Parmesan in this recipe. Not even mozzarella. It is just not the same and you will have wasted great tomatoes.
When you are done adding the cheese, you are ready to eat! If you are serving this recipe for a party, be sure to offer lots of cocktail napkins with this dish. The juices can be drippy. If you are serving this as a lazy summer meal, like we do, be sure to include a spoon to get up all the loose tomatoes. Yum!
I’m getting hungry just looking at that picture. Now it’s your turn to share with me: Do you have a favorite summer tomato recipe? Leave your recipe, or a link to it, in the comment section so we can try it this weekend…