Start with some grilled bread, rub with raw garlic and top with tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper and basil. That's what comes to mind when most people think of the word bruschetta. The word bruscare is Roman dialect for the Italian word "abbrustolire" which means "to toast." Bruschette (plural of bruschetta) have become ubiquitous on menus here and in Italy, topped with everything from arugula to zucchini. Crostini, on the other hand, are generally smaller and crunchier like croutons and can also be a perfect base for any number of toppings. The words have almost become interchangeable and it doesn't really matter whether you call these bruschette or crostini. Either way, they're a great vehicle for small bits of an infinite variety of foods. Just don't pronounce it broo-shett-a. Say broo-skett-a, please.
I gave a demonstration a couple of weeks ago on bruschetta making at Tuscan Hills, a store near Princeton, New Jersey that sells beautiful Italian furniture, pottery, linens and other irresistible items. My son Michael also participated, showing the audience how to make limoncello, a recipe he shared with Ciao Chow Linda readers a couple of years ago here.
I started with the basic bruschetta, but since summer is long gone, the only flavorful tomatoes to be found were the tiny grape tomatoes I used below. They make a decent substitute in winter.
But did you know you can make a perfectly respectable tomato bruschetta using canned tomatoes? I once ate this at an Italian restaurant in California and couldn't believe how good it was. So I tried it at home, using a brand of tomatoes that says "fire-roasted"(Muir Glen). I drained all the liquid from them, then mixed the tomatoes with olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper and basil.
But let's expand the bruschetta repertoire a bit. This one is made using small cubes of roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions and pine nuts, topped with a sliver of parmesan cheese and balsamic reduction.
This bruschetta uses cannellini beans from a can, that are drained and rinsed, then smashed with a fork, and mixed with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of rosemary.
The sweet creaminess of smooth ricotta cheese is a great foil for the salty crunchiness of baked, crispy prosciutto.
The sweet/savory contrast is also evident here, in one of my favorites: blue cheese and walnuts, topped with a pear slice and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. By the way, I don't use my expensive aged balsamic vinegar here. I pour about 1/2 cup of a supermarket brand into a pot with a couple of tablespoons of honey and let it reduce about 10 minutes until it's syrupy.
The platter below also includes bruschetta with mozzarella and roasted peppers; with fig jam, mozzarella and prosciutto; and with goat cheese and grilled zucchini. If you're planning a party, you could even set up a bruschetta station with grilled bread and lots of toppings and let people assemble whatever they prefer. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.