Gatherings: A Bruschetta Feast

bruschetta Ingredients

Bruschetta has a heartwarming meaning for every Italian:
It means gatherings.

What is simpler, tastier and more versatile than bruschetta, to open the way to a party between friends or relatives, and to a wonderful time together?

Whenever we’d host dinners at our place, everybody was involved in the preparation, and everyone was more than pleased to help. Every Christmas and New year’s Eve with friends, bruschette prepared together were the yearly appojnment that accompanied our meals. Bruschetta, much like fresh pasta (albeit infinitely simpler), is one of those foods that mean quality time spent with your loved ones.
This is why I would like to give life to a new category – Gatherings, wth this post: to talk about all those dishes that fed the crowds of my life.

Now that we are diving into the festive season, with Thanksgiving and Christmas in clear sight, I thought that sharing ideas for a nice board of Bruschetta would be a great way to start planning our holiday meals.
The variations are endless. Some of the advantages of bruschetta are:

  • They are foolproof and quick to make: slice bread, toast, top, serve.
  • They can be very cheap: One of the points of bruschetta is to use up day-old bread, as it turns soft again when toasted. If you don’t want to delve into fancy toppings, some of the tastiest slices are made by simply rubbing with garlic and sprinkling extra virgin olive oil.
  • They are infinitely adaptable: pick your toppings according to season, choose amongst many kinds of bread, cheeses, spreads  and according to how much you can spend. There can be savory or sweet versions, vegetarian, vegan and non-vegetarian versions and there is very likely a perfect wine that will go wonderfully with each choice.
Artichoke bruschetta

Artichoke bruschetta

My smorgasbord of bruschette (or ‘Tagliere’ as we’d call it in Italian) is following a pattern that goes along with the upcoming month of November. Seasoned cheeses, mushrooms and toppings with a decisive taste find their home on our fall / winter table.

Here’s a few pointers for a fall bruschetta assembly:

  • The bread: There are so many kinds of bread to choose from! Even though it would be even better to make your own (instructions coming soon!), any kind of crusty bread will make wonderful bruschetta. Since the word bruschetta comes from ‘bruscare’ which means ‘to toast’, any kind of toasted italian bread will essentially make bruschetta, but if you use white toast bread of the pullman kind it’s not bruschetta anymore: it’s a tartina. I encourage you to use whole wheat or rye bread, not only because they’re better nutritionally, but I also find that they add a lot to the overall taste with their nutty flavor. My favorite kinds are Pugliese bread and Campagne.
  • The toppings: Although they change from region to region, us people who are in the middle have the privilege of getting a little bit of everything. Generally speaking, aside from the ingredients themselves, we tend to adjust the condiments according to season: for the summer, we will probably prefer fresh cheeses like ricotta or mozzarella, and summer vegetables like tomatoes, grilled eggplants and zucchini or roasted peppers. Winter will have a prevalence of seasoned cheeses that melt wonderfully – like Gorgonzola, Taleggio or Pecorino, and definitely an increased use of meats like sausage or Speck. vegetables of choice can include mushrooms, Radicchio and other vegetables that will likely be consumed cooked. A mix of cheeses, honey and preserves are a timeless favorite, as well as the garlic and olive oil combo. So are any kind of vegetables preserved in olive oil, which means that you could make brusketta by just looking into your pantry if you can’t be bothered to shop for it.
  • The oil: The oil will probably make or break your bruschetta, so it is extremely important that the oil you use is Extra Virgin and quite flavorful. Since its taste will be so present, definitely pick your favorite. You don’t need much, but make sure that the little oil you use makes a statement, especially with simple condiments like raw vegetables.
  • The cheeses: As I said above, fresh cheeses will be predominant in the summer, while savory cheeses are preferred in the cold season. Parmigiano and Grana Padano are an all-time favorite. Fresh cheeses are also best paired with vegetables that will be consumed raw and garnished with olive oil, vinegar and salt (like cherry tomatoes, arugula and red onion). Some examples are Mozzarella, Mozzarella di Bufala, Burrata, Ricotta, Robiola, Chévres and, if you’re lucky enough to find it, Stracchino. Some well seasoned, winter cheeses include Pecorino, Formaggio di Fossa, Taleggio, Gorgonzola and Blue cheeses in general. There are many others, but someone who’s not in Italy can also take advantage of the availability of other cheeses, like Gouda, french cheeses in general and, well, whatever fits your bill. One cheese I’d personally never use for bruschetta? cream cheese. I like it, but it just doesn’t mingle. Sorry, New York.
  • The wine: The rule is that red meats and game go with red wine, and salads, white meats and fish go with white wine. This might not always be the case, but it’s not much different for vegetarian bruschetta: if you’re using ingredients that make a statement go with red, and for lighter, summery options go with white. A light bodied, sweet red could go well with lighter fare, too.

In my board for tonight’s gathering I picked some of the most common fall pairings. A delicate artichoke pate, the most classic truffle and Porcini mushrooms, and Taleggio with honey. Both Porcini and truffle are in season now, and the hills in northern Marche, around the village of Acqualagna, are teeming with delicious fungi of all kinds. This year there has been a lucky overflow of white truffles, as well.
But more of this in another post.

Mushrooms porcini chanterelles pioppini

From the left: Porcini, Chanterelles (Finferli) and Pioppini.

All the measurements here are kind of approximate, as everything largely depends on how many pieces you slice your bread into. But any of these condiments will be enough for 6-8 people or so. With bruschetta you can just eye it!

Porcini and Truffle Bruschetta

  • One cap of Porcini mushrooms or, alternatively, a handful of dried Porcini, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes;
  • Two or three Champignons;
  • A scant teaspoon truffle paste, or a few truffle slivers.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Slice the Porcini cap in half, then slice it not too thick. Sauté in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil (you could add a bit of butter if you wish), a crushed clove of garlic (or minced if you prefer)and a bit of chopped parsley. Add a pinch of salt and cook through, for about 10 mins. Lastly, add the truffle paste and spread on the toasted slices. If using fresh truffle, slice on top of the bruschetta at the very end.

Truffle and cheese variation: Add a slice of Taleggio or Blue cheese on your pre-toasted slices, and broil until melted. Add fresh truffle, truffle paste or truffle oil before serving.

Other serving options: Put everything in a blender and blitz into a paste! You could add a bit of cream if you wish, to bind everything together.

 

Artichoke Pesto Bruschetta

  • 150g Artichokes hearts preserved in Olive Oil;
  • A fat clove of Garlic;
  • A few sprigs of Parsley;
  • Salt;
  • A squeeze of lemon;
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil as needed.
  • (Extra) A tablespoon of Parmigiano.

Add all the ingredients to a (small) food processor and process until you get a smooth paste, adding the oil a bit at a time. Start with less garlic, parsley and lemon, and taste to make sure you don’t add too much. Adjust at the end.

 

Gorgonzola and Mushroom Bruschetta

  • Gorgonzola, or other nice blue cheese;
  • 2 cups of mixed mushrooms like Porcini, Button, Champignon and Chanterelles.
  • Olive oil, garlic, parsley, a splash of white wine (extra) and salt.

Sauté your mix of mushrooms as described above. Add some cheese slices to your toasted bread, and top with the mushroom mix. Drizzle with truffle oil if you wish.

Radicchio variation: Instead of mushrooms you can use sautéed Radicchio, which is also delicious. Use onion instead of garlic and skip the parsley. Radicchio, just like mushrooms, will release a lot of water. Using a wok for quickly sautéing it would be great.

Some other delicious and non-vegetarian pairings
– Taleggio and Speck
– Prosciutto Crudo, Parmigiano and Balsamic Glaze
– Just plain, top quality Pancetta
– Mushrooms, Sausage and Mozzarella
– Anchovy and butter

 Some Sweet combinations
– Taleggio or other well seasoned cheese with Acacia honey
– Parmigiano with caramelized figs and balsamic glaze
– Pecorino or Formaggio di Fossa with Orange blossom honey
– Ricotta with walnuts and honey
– Gorgonzola or blue cheese with Berry compote (yes, really)
-Any cheese with caramelized onions in balsamic vinegar.
Whatever the occasion, it is up to you to create delicious bruschetta. Get in the kitchen (or in your pantry) and get creative!
bruschette-board
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