Sunday, March 27, 2011

Growing Bruschetta

Following the conversation from a group of ladies about what we considered important for us if we're to return to a restaurant.  The consensus was:  Good food, good service and clean. 

All of the criteria is open to interpretation but here is a sample of the discussion:
  • Good food means the best possible taste for the dish and presented in a complimentary way.
  • Good service means treating the customer as if they were welcome, being friendly, watching the way the meal is going to help the customer with needs, and thanking them for being there.  It doesn't necessarily mean fast but shouldn't be slow simply because they aren't efficient.
  • Clean means that everything in the establishment is totally clean - period.  I once heard a chef say if the bathroom isn't clean, you can be sure the kitchen is worse because it is so much harder and larger to keep it that way. 
So, where am I going with this?  We went to one of our favorite restaurants that has all of the above criteria down well:  ZBest Cafe' on Main in Sheffield, IL.   A little town, little restaurant, reasonable prices, clean as a pin, good customer service and the food is quite good.  And that's where we get to the bruschetta.

Chef/Owner, Eran Salzmann, knows wonderful bruschetta bread - the base for this dish.  It's got texture, a little tang, and he crisps it on the his restaurant grill. 

Now is the time to plan on planting tomatoes and basil right in our own gardens or pots.  A good meaty tomato is great for this recipe.  Although there are various kinds of basil, I usually just plant a common variety.   I've written other articles about tomatoes:  52, 53, 64, 209, 211 and 216.   

Here's some Bruschetta ideas:

Use good Italian bread or another robust type.  I like a bread that's been made with buttermilk to add the tang.  Slice 1/2 inch on the diagonal and grill both sides.  (Some use their backyard grill, others boil and some use a skillet.)  The objective is a crisp, golden, chewy, crunchy piece of bread.  As soon as it comes off the grill, rub with a fresh garlic.  Drizzle with a little olive oil - not enough to make it soggy.  Sprinkle with Kosher salt and pepper to taste.  This is basic Bruschetta.

I like it with the following:

Wash, core and coarsely chop a fresh meaty tomato and let it drain in a strainer about 30 minutes.   In a bowl, add a small amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (reduced if you want a thicker more robust taste).  Wash and dry the leaves of fresh basil.  Stem and coarsely tear apart.  Mix in with the tomatoes.  Spoon on the Bruschetta, top with a sprinkling of crumbled Feta cheese and garnish with whole basil leaves.  This should either be served immediately or it should be kept in a bowl until serving with a slotted spoon.

Some folks do the following:

Use grated Parmesan or goat cheese instead of Feta.  Add any of the following:  chopped onions, rosemary, ham, red pepper, olives, capers, artichokes or other vegetables.  Some folks grill or broil their mixture on the bread.  I think this takes it out of the Bruschetta I like and into another catagory that almost becomes a sandwich.

A Ventricina Bruschetta is made by taking the most succulent parts of the pig and then enclosing it within the animal's stomach allowing it to cure. After the meat is cured, it is then made into a smooth paste and spread over bread which may then be grilled.

The trick is you don't want any of the mixture to soggy up the bread or overpower the tomato flavor.  I can eat this as my meal and it makes an especially nice appetizer.  Take a look at Chef Erin's Bruschetta photo above and you get the idea. 

Bruschetta is good served with a good red wine (the whole Italian thing) - iced tea if you like. 

Sit on the back porch, a beautiful summer evening and a plate of tomato Bruschetta -  Buon appetito!

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