Eric Akis: Bruschetta buffet perfect for summer entertaining

Eric Akis

I recently invited friends over for a drink on our deck, and thought bruschetta would be something nice to snack on. The next decision to make was how to top them.

According to The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink, bruschetta (pronounced broo-SKEH-tah), is simply toasted bread, often rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. When many Canadians think of bruschetta, though, they envision that toasted bread topped with a fresh, basil-flavoured tomato mixture. It’s the most popular way to top bruschetta, but there are all sorts of other things you can mound or spread on the toasted bread.

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Simply put, anything savoury that will taste good on toasted bread will qualify as a bruschetta topping.

To showcase that, I decided to serve my guests a “bruschetta buffet.” To make it, I set some bruschetta on a large serving board. In bowls, and also directly on the board, I set out a variety of toppings for them. I then put the board out on my deck table and instructed my guests to dig in and top the bruschetta as desired. They were happy, and so was I: it was a fun way to snack while enjoying a cool summer drink.

The bruschetta toppings I served in bowls included that popular fresh, basil-flavoured tomato mixture, a balsamic-flavoured mushroom one, and one made with artichokes and pistachios. Recipes for those toppings and for the bruschetta are below.

You’ll see in today’s photograph that other items I served with the bruschetta (that you won’t need a recipe for) included goat cheese, prosciutto, salami and grilled vegetables.

My bruschetta buffet will serve six.

Note: Any tomato or mushroom toppings left over after serving the bruschetta buffet could be used the next day to flavour hot pasta or pasta salad. Any leftover artichoke pistachio topping could be spread on a sandwich, filled with such things as cured meats and grilled vegetables.

Bruschetta

Grilled and toasted slices of bread are flavoured with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: two minutes

Makes: 24 bruschetta

24 (1/2-inch thick) pieces of baguette, filone or country-style Italian bread (see Note)

1 large garlic clove, cut in half lengthwise

• extra-virgin olive oil, to taste

Preheat an indoor grill or barbecue to medium-high. Grill bread slices about one minute per side, or until toasted and lightly charred (see Eric’s options).

Set bread on a baking sheet. Rub one side of each bread slice with the half pieces of garlic. Now drizzle each bread slice, to taste, with extra-virgin olive oil.

Serve the bruschetta with bowls of the tomato and basil, artichoke and pistachio, and mix mushroom toppings. You could also serve them with such things as cured meats, goat or Gorgonzola cheese, grilled vegetables, pesto and mixed vegetable antipasto.

Note: The pieces of bread I used were about two inches wide and three inches long. Depending on the type of bread you use, you may need to cut the whole slices of bread in halves or quarters to get pieces that size.

Eric’s options: if you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you could instead toast the bread in a 400 F oven. Set the bread slices on a baking sheet. Bake the bread eight to 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Cool the bread a few minutes, and then rub the top side of each slice with the cut side of the garlic. Drizzle the toasted bread with olive oil and the bruschetta is ready.

Tomato Basil Bruschetta Topping

This popular topping for bruschetta is great to make in the summer, when ripe and beautiful, B.C. grown tomatoes are available.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: None

Makes: two cups

3/4 lb. ripe on-the-vine tomatoes (about 2 medium to large), cut into 1/4” cubes

1 medium to large garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

1 1/2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Combine all ingredients in bowl. This topping can be made an hour or so before serving.

Balsamic Mushroom Bruschetta Topping

Cooked until tender mushrooms are flavoured with garlic, rosemary and balsamic vinegar. This mixture tastes great on bruschetta, especially when you first spread the bread with goat or gorgonzola cheese.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: five to seven minutes

Makes: two cups

2 Tbsp olive oil

1/3 lb. small white mushrooms, thinly sliced

1/3 lb. small brown mushrooms, thinly sliced

8 medium shitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced

1 medium to large garlic clove, minced

2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, garlic and rosemary. Cook until mushrooms are very tender and all the moisture has been cooked out of them, about five to seven minutes. Mix in the vinegar and season mushrooms with salt and pepper.

Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Mushroom can be prepared several hours in advance. Let the mushrooms warm at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.

Artichoke Pistachio Bruschetta Topping

This smooth, spreadable topping tastily blends canned artichokes and pistachios with such things as basil, lemon and Parmesan cheese.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: two cups

1 (398 mL) can artichoke hearts, drained well and coarsely chopped

1/4 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios (see Note)

8 to 12 fresh basil leaves

1 small to medium garlic clove, sliced

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp lemon juice

• salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place all ingredients, except salt and pepper, in a food processor and pulse until well blended. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed. Artichoke pistachio topping will keep several days. If desired, drizzle the top of it with a little extra virgin olive oil just before you serve it.

Note: Shelled pistachios are sold in the bulk-foods section of some supermarkets and at bulk food stores. If you can’t find them, you could also try unsalted pumpkin seeds in this recipe.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks, including seven in his Everyone Can Cook series. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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