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What is bruschetta, really?

Bruschetta can be topped with anything from anchovies to artichokes.
Bruschetta can be topped with anything from anchovies to artichokes.Photo by Chad Buchanan/Getty Images

Many Americans think of bruschetta as an Italian appetizer where crustini is topped with a savory mixture of tomatoes, garlic and basil. But in fact, bruschetta, pronounced BROO-SKET-TA, actually refers to the toast itself – not the completed dish.

Although the origin of bruschetta dishes is fuzzy at best, it is commonly agreed that they go back several centuries. Many believe it was a way peasant farmers could use stale bread as a snack while working in the fields. Others contend that it got its start in the olive industry, where workers would sample freshly pressed olive oil by tasting it on little pieces of toasted bread.

Brushetta toppings are limited only by the cook’s imagination. Anything from anchovies to artichokes can be used … you can even make bruschetta desserts. Here is a classic recipe for Tomato Basil Bruschetta. Enjoy.

Classic Tomato Basil Bruschetta

Ingredients for Topping:

  • Fresh, ripe tomatoes (3 regular or 9 Roma)
  • Fresh garlic (1/2 to 1 clove)
  • Fresh basil (20 to 30 leaves)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (at least a half cup)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
  • Balsamic vinegar

Directions for Topping:

  1. Remove stems and cores from tomatoes. Finely dice and drain any excessive juice.
  2. Place in a bowl and add garlic, very finely chopped.
  3. Reserve a few of the larger, nicer-looking basil leaves for the garnish, but with the rest, prepare a chiffonade by tightly rolling the leaves together, and slicing across the roll very thinly. The result will be long, thin strips, or julienne.
  4. Add the basil and olive oil to the bowl and stir. (Add more olive oil if necessary.)
  5. Salt and pepper to taste. Let stand while you prepare the crustini.

For the crustini:

  1. Thinly slice half to three quarters of a baguette.
  2. Brush both sides liberally with melted butter.
  3. Toast both sides under a broiler. Attend carefully as they will burn easily. You may need to rotate them a couple of times to ensure even browning.

Assemble the dish:

  1. Liberally spoon the tomato topping onto the cooled crustini.
  2. Arrange on serving platter and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
  3. Lightly drizzle with balsamic vinegar.
  4. Garnish with the reserved basil leaves. Serve immediately with your favorite Italian table red wine.