Bruschetta is one of those recipes that many people really like to make, but few make really well. This past weekend, my wife and I had some great bruschetta at a restaurant in Hendersonville, NC. What made it great was the simplicity of the ingredients. It was just sliced baguette, crushed tomatoes, basil and soft mozzarella. It was nothing like the bruschetta you often get at restaurants. Those dishes are usually made with pizza sauce or canned “bruschetta spread.” This dish was made with freshly peeled and crushed tomatoes, and that made all the difference. I decided I wanted to recreate the dish at home, and the results came out great.
First, I prepped the tomatoes and peeled and halved a clove of garlic while my wife picked some fresh basil.
Next, I sliced up some french bread I made on Sunday:
I’m trying to get better at making baguette and ciabatta. I still have a long way to go, but at least the results are edible now. I’ve never been a disciplined recipe follower. I think of cooking as an art form, rather than a science. Baking, however, is more like chemistry than creative design. By following the science, you can make decent bread. To make great bread, you have to sprinkle some art in with the science. That’s where the problem lies. I can’t get the balance right to make bread that’s light and airy and tastes delicious.
I threw the sliced bread in the oven and baked them at 450° for a few minutes, just to toast them a bit. After that, I rubbed the garlic halves all over the surface of the bread. This step makes a big difference. Some people brush the bread with olive oil before toasting it, but I think that makes the bread too hard.
Next, I dropped the tomatoes into a small pot of boiling water. After a minute or two, I immediately shocked the tomatoes in a bowl of ice water:
Not only does this stop the cooking process, but it also makes the skins split. When I remove the stem of the tomato, I also cut a cross in the skin. This makes the skin easier to peel:
I cut the peeled tomatoes in half and used my fingers to pull out all of the seeds. I usually do this over the sink. After that, you squeeze the tomatoes through your fingers. My inner child thinks this step is pretty fun. How finely you crush them is up to you. I like to leave mine pretty chunky, but I make sure to crush the sturdy cores of the tomatoes. Then I put the crushed tomatoes in a bowl and added a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
Next I layered the sliced, toasted bread with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Then I threw it all in the oven. I cooked it for a few minutes on 350° until the tomatoes were warmed through, and then I set the oven to broil to melt and brown the cheese. I usually do this with the oven door cracked, and I never walk away. Once they’re done, take them out and enjoy:
We got the basil from our garden, but we had to buy the tomatoes and the cheese. Next summer, when we produce some good heirlooms, I’ll make another batch of fresh mozzarella so that the whole meal is completely homemade. Maybe I’ll be making better bread by then.