A few weeks ago I was suddenly assaulted by a craving for tomatoes. And not just any tomatoes, but those sweet, juicy ones I remember from my childhood – or even just from my restaurant years, when we could pick them from our garden.
Alas, I have not tasted any of those in a while, and the few times I have I was in Italy, visiting family. In local stores, even in organic food stores or at farmers’ markets, tomatoes look perfect, with an even tone of red that is almost boring, and they usually smell and taste… well, rather blah.
The only ones I have found to match my tomato requirements are heirloom tomatoes, so those are the ones that usually find their way into my shopping basket. The various cherry tomatoes are pretty good, too, even if not suited for this dish.
Vine ripened tomatoes still warm from the sun also bring back memories of summer hikes with picnics, specifically when my aunt Adriana – always eager to simplify the food part of the experience – would hand us a whole tomato from her garden and the salt shaker, and that would be that. The only other foods she might bring along on a hike might be pieces of hard cheese and fresh fruits like apricots and plums that would not need any extra work. I still giggle at the thought: we would grab our tomato, sprinkle it with a little salt and bite into it, just like an apricot or plum, juices dripping down our chins. Not only was it fun, but when tomatoes are that good, a little salt is all you really need.
In this case, however, the idea of sliced tomatoes made me think of mozzarella, so I picked some up. And what is that combination without fresh basil? Into the basket. Oh, and what about some divine avocado to round things out? How could I not!
That is how this post happened: I fixed lunch that day, making the whole thing into an open faced sandwich, or a bruschetta, that looked so colorful and pretty that I took photos. The next day I had the same thing (my tomato craving lasted for almost two weeks), except in salad version. Et voilà!
This is not exactly a recipe, as the list of ingredients and instructions are very obvious just by looking at the images. However, I will still tell you what I used and what I did.
– vine ripened tomatoes of choice
– fresh mozzarella, whether regular or buffalo
– ripe but firm avocado of choice
– fresh basil leaves, julienned
– a couple of garlic cloves, peeled
– slices of good crusty bread of choice
– extra-virgin olive oil
– good quality Balsamic Vinegar
– sea salt
– freshly cracked black pepper if desired
The salad is pretty straight forward: slice up the tomatoes, mozzarella and avocado and assemble on a plate. Sprinkle with sea salt, then drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a little Balsamic vinegar, then finish with the julienned basil leaves.
The trick is always to use the best ingredients, fresh and organic, as well as Italian extra-virgin olive oil and Balsamic vinegar of high quality.
The bruschetta (pronounced brooskettaa) features the same sliced tomato, avocado and mozzarella combination, but on top of bread slices that have been either toasted or grilled and then scraped lightly with the garlic cloves. In this case, you want to dress the toppings on the side before assembling them, so the bread won’t get too soggy. Sprinkle with the freshly julienned basil leaves to finish.
The salad is also excellent for picnics and potlucks. In that case, you might want to place the sliced avocado in a separate bowl and drizzle it with lemon or lime juice, then drain the juice before adding the avocado to the rest of the salad. That way it will remain bright green longer. Taking the bruschetta version to a picnic or party is not advisable unless you are prepared to do all the work on site. I personally do not like to do that because it takes the fun out of the picnic, and proper potluck etiquette requires bringing a dish that does not need any last minute work.
The only way to make it picnic or party appropriate is to turn it into something similar to a Tuscan Bread Salad with a twist. Cut the bread into cubes instead of slices, then lightly roll the pieces into a plate with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and crushed garlic before throwing it onto the heated grill pan. Once grilled, place the bread in a bowl with the other cubed ingredients, dress it all and gently stir. The bread will still soak up some of the juices, but that is part of the Tuscan Bread Salad fun.
You are probably wondering what this photo above has to do with the post. It so happens that, during that same week, I received the Williams-Sonoma summer catalogue which was filled with lots of beautiful photos of garden parties, barbecues and related food. I saw a photo for this glorious-looking bruschetta made with grilled peaches, prosciutto and ricotta and I just had to try it. Of course, I also photographed it, and here it is.
Their original image showed the bruschetta topped also with arugula. Besides not having any in the house, I am also not super fond of arugula, so I sprinkled a little fresh thyme instead, which totally worked.
The grilled bread is spread with a layer of ricotta (cheese), then topped with a couple of slices of thinly sliced prosciutto and then slices of grilled peaches and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. It is then drizzled lightly with a good quality Balsamic vinegar – you know, the dense kind that is almost sweet.
It is a very good combination, though next time I will use some brie instead, as the ricotta is so delicate that it completely vanishes underneath the other flavors.
What is your favorite bruschetta? Do you ever have strong cravings for specific foods? And chocolate cake does not count.
– – – – – – –
This article was originally published on August 2nd, 2013 in my Food Journey blog, which I am in the process of integrating here.