Bruschetta Topped with Heirloom Tomato, Basil and Grilled Oaxacan Cheese

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Bruschetta is an antipasto from the farming regions of Central Italy. Said to have originated around Tuscany, the idea of making bruschetta became a popular way for farmers to enjoy every crust of stale bread. By adding a few drops of water, and then grilling the hardened slices over coals, the slices softened just enough to be a heartwarming appetizer for the tired farmers warming themselves by the hearth after a long day’s work. Rubbing the bread’s surface with a clove of garlic helped to revive the flavor of the aging bread.

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Bruschetta went from peasant faire to a dish for the wealthy when it became a popular way for olive oil manufacturers to let folks sample the season’s fresh pressed oil. Slathered in the best extra virgin varieties, the humble slices of bread became something of a delicacy.

Not appearing on restaurant menus in the U.S. frequently until the 1980s, bruschetta is a highly misunderstood meal. The word bruschetta coms from brusicare, which means to burn over coals. However, as an appetizer, most people think it refers to the tomato and basil topping, not the crisp slices of bread that are now mostly pan seared or browned in the oven with or without garlic (often referred to as crostini.) Unless someone requesting the item has studied Italian, most server take an order for brooshetta instead of bru-SKET-a.

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In spite of the confusion surrounding this appetizer, it has the potential for greatness because it is the bite of bread that goes so well with a jug of wine and thou ( and maybe some grapes and better cheeses thrown in under a grapevine trellised courtyard lit by candles.) Bruschetta topped with fresh tomato and basil can start a meal served in courses, stand alone as a snack, or be the star of the picnic basket. Besides, it is simple to make and sure to please.

i added the grilled Oaxacan cheese medallions to the recipe to add some protein, and to offer a gluten-free option for those that just don’t do bread. In Italy, bruschetta is often topped with mozzarella, and Oaxacan cheese shares many qualities while being easy to grill.

Ingredients:

1 loaf Italian bread (rustic style)

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tsp garlic spread or 2 cloves roasted garlic, skin discarded and mixed into a creamy paste

4 large heirloom tomatoes (use a variety of colors)

2 large vine ripe tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

1 -2 tbsp. garlic, minced

more extra virgin olive oil for drizzling or dipping (optional)

balsamic vinegar for drizzling or dipping (optional)

6 – 8 slices of Oaxacan cheese, 1/4 inch thick

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Instructions:

1. Dice the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces and place in a non-reactive bowl. Remove the seeded centers for a firmer topping.

2. Slice the basil by rolling the leaves together longways, and then chopping across to make short, thin ribbons of basil.

3. Mince the garlic or use already minced garlic that comes in a jar in the produce department.

4. Mix the ingredients together and refrigerate in a covered bowl or container for at least 45 minutes to give the flavors time to blend. (Do not add olive oil and vinegar to the tomato relish. It will diminish the fresh flavor. Save it to drizzle over the relish or drip the bread into when eating.)

5. Slice the bread into 1/4 ” to 1/3″ pieces.

6. Mix the olive oil and garlic paste or spread together and lightly brush over the surface of one side of the bread.

7. Brown the bread in a large skillet  on both sides until it is golden and the edges begin to crisp. Continue until all slices are browned.

8. In a comal or griddle over medium heat, place the cheese slices a few at a time. When a golden crust forms on the bottom, flip the slice of cheese over and grill the other side. Set grilled cheese slices aside when done.

9. Place bread  and cheese slices on a serving tray or large plate. The tomato topping can be placed in a bowl or serving dish. Set out for guest s or family members to assemble their own slices.

*For a gluten-free option, use the grilled Oaxacan cheese medallions as the bread, and spoon the tomato basil relish on top.

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Note: in Italy, bruschetta is topped with any variety of items. If you aren’t crazy about tomatoes, try a olive tapenade, hummus or baba ganoush, a bell pepper relish, tuna salad or mascarpone and fig.

 

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