Bruschetta, little slices of toasted bread with tasty
toppings, is one of the many Italian foods we've adopted with
enthusiasm and made our own. Nicky Pellegrino gives some tips
for making these tasty morsels.
Traditional Italian food is all about simplicity.
It's a humble sort of cuisine really that relies on fresh
flavours and quality ingredients.
That's why it translates so well to our Kiwi kitchens. Take
bruschetta: this is the ultimate appetiser, it's ideal to
feed the hordes at parties or for a casual lunch, and yet so
easy to put together with ingredients you have on hand in
your store cupboard. Jars of marinated chargrilled
vegetables, flavoured oils and olives are available in good
In Italy they have been eating bruschetta (which is
pronounced brusketta by the way) for hundreds of years. The
word comes from the Italian bruciare which means ''to burn''
and originally a bruschetta was as basic as a slice of stale
bread, grilled over a fire, then rubbed with garlic and
drizzled with new-season olive oil. Things have got a lot
more exciting since then and now bruschetta is served around
the world with endless combinations of toppings.
There aren't really any rules when it comes to bruschetta.
You can use any kind of bread. However, the ideal would be a
robust country-style or sourdough loaf. Slice the bread just
over 1cm thick and toast on a barbecue, beneath a grill or
even in your toaster until crisp on both sides.
Keep an eye on it as the bread burns easily - although a few
charred bits will add to the flavour.
Then lightly rub with a cut clove of garlic, drizzle with a
little extra virgin olive oil, and season with salt and
pepper. This is your basic bruschetta that you can then dress
up however you like.
If you are serving the bruschetta as party food, then it
makes sense not to pile up the toppings as it can be tricky
to eat. Better to prepare several different varieties rather
than try to cram lots of ingredients on to a single slice.
I would also caution against overdoing the raw garlic. A
couple of rubs will suffice as raw garlic has an overpowering
flavour and really you only want a hint of it.
The other concern is preventing the bruschetta from going
soggy. It pays not to cut the bread too thin or glug on too
much olive oil and if you're using tomatoes you may want to
squeeze out the excess juice and/or remove the seeds first.
Think about colour as well as flavour combinations when
putting together a bruschetta. The toppings can be as modest
or lavish as you like, from squashed tomatoes, fresh herbs
and marinated vegetables to cheeses, smoked fish or cooked
For speed and convenience make use of the prepared pesto
sauces, toppings and bruschetta dips you can pick up at your
Bruschetta to try
• Take some ripe, flavourful tomatoes then remove the cores,
carefully squeeze out their seeds and chop chunkily. Mix with
a little herb vinegar and layer on to your bruschetta with
torn basil leaves.
This is also excellent topped with fresh mozzarella then
popped under the grill until lightly melted. If your tomatoes
are a bit lacklustre, wake up their flavour by adding a few
chopped sundried tomatoes into the mix.
• If you love a hit of chilli use red pepper and jalapeno
bruschetta dip as a base, topped with squashed cherry
tomatoes, thin slices of crisply fried chorizo sausage and
finely chopped flat-leaf parsley.
• Drain a jar of marinated artichoke hearts and chop roughly
(or simply use an artichoke bruschetta dip). Then top with
crumbled feta and sprinkle with finely-chopped flat-leafed
parsley. Drizzling this with a lemon-infused extra virgin
olive oil will give it extra zing.
• Cook some frozen garden peas and mash roughly with a fork.
Spread on to bruschetta. Top with torn fresh mint leaves and
thin shards of Parmesan or pecorino cheese. You could use
smashed broad beans rather than peas but these are more
fiddly as you have to remove the tough outer skin from each
• Finely chop chargrilled red capsicum and eggplant and mix
with a splash of herb or white balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of
lemon and a pinch of dried oregano. Smear across the
bruschetta and top with sliced green olives and another
sprinkle of oregano. Chargrilled vegetables in jars are ideal
to save on preparation time.
• For a double dose of asparagus smear with asparagus
bruschetta dip then top with chargrilled or steamed asparagus
spears, shaved Parmesan and thin slices of red onion. Soak
the red onion slices in lemon juice for 10 minutes first and
they will lose some of their sting plus take on a lovely
translucence. For this bruschetta you will want your
asparagus to be a little softer than you might have it in a
salad or as a side dish. If it's out of season you can buy it
ready-chargrilled in jars.
• For a luxurious treat spread bruschetta with cream cheese
then top with slices of smoked salmon, capers and some
feathers of fresh dill. You can use any sort of smoked fish
as a topping, however. Turn it into a roughly textured paste
by removing the skin and bones, then flaking and mixing with
lemon juice, chopped chives, a little creamed horseradish,
butter and cream cheese and whizzing in a food processor. Top
with a few rocket or baby spinach leaves tossed in
vinaigrette or drizzled with a red wine vinegar.
• Drain a can of cannellini beans, rinse well and puree with
a stick blender or roughly mash them with a fork. Take a
bunch of silverbeet, remove the stalks and boil them until
softened in a large pot of boiling water with a couple of
whole garlic cloves. Add the silverbeet leaves at the last
moment as they only need a minute or two. Smear bruschetta
with white bean puree, squeeze excess water from the cooked
silverbeet and roughly chop then pile on top along with the
sliced cooked garlic cloves. Dress this with a squeeze of
fresh lemon juice and a drizzle of rosemary-infused extra
virgin olive oil.
• Chop some cherry tomatoes - use different colours if you
can get them - along with some pitted black Kalamata olives.
Smear bruschetta with marinated feta, top with the tomato and
olive mix plus a sprinkle of torn basil leaves. Intensify the
flavour by drizzling with a basil-infused extra virgin olive