Saturday, March 8, 2014
By RUSS PARSONS, McClatchy Newspapers
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The possibilities for bruschetta toppings are almost limitless, especially at this time of year, when the markets are overflowing with the best of the fall harvest – tomatoes, eggplant, peppers.
Just encourage them to show a little restraint. When it comes to bruschetta, beauty lies in simplicity.
Slice a baguette about half an inch thick, or maybe a little less. Cut it on a slight bias to extend the surface so it will hold more topping. If you want to be authentic, grill the bread over a medium fire until it's toasted on both sides. Cut an unpeeled clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side against the bread. Finally, drizzle it with olive oil.
Be careful when you're grilling the bread since it will scorch very easily. If you want to play it safe, you can also arrange the slices on a cookie sheet and bake them at 400 degrees. When they start to brown on the bottom, about 10 to 15 minutes, flip them and go an additional five to 10 minutes to finish. Although they'll lack some of the smoky savor of the grilled, they'll be cooked evenly and without nearly the risk of scorching. You can usually figure on 20 to 25 slices from a baguette.
Choose one spreadable cheese that has a really fresh clean flavor, such as a good brand of ricotta, or a fresh goat cheese (or even a combination of the two). Choose one cheese that is rich, such as burrata or fresh mozzarella. And choose one salty cheese. Ricotta salata is a good one -- shave off long thin slices with a vegetable peeler. A good feta is another -- cut it in a small dice or simply crumble it between your fingers.
Nothing fancy – a big bowl of torn basil and a little one of minced fresh parsley or mint will be fine.
Eggplant: The most obvious way to cook eggplant for bruschetta is on the grill. It's probably also the easiest. Slice the eggplant about half- to three-quarters-inch thick; brush both sides with olive oil and season lightly with salt. Grill them over a medium fire until they are lightly browned and quite tender -- depending on the heat of your fire, that'll take about five to seven minutes. As soon as the eggplant is done, put it in a container, brush with garlic-infused olive oil, and layer with fresh herbs, such as basil and oregano or mint.
You can also create a kind of Italian baba ghanouj by grilling a whole eggplant (be sure to pierce it a few times with a fork to prevent explosions) or roasting it in a 400-degree oven (put it on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil). When the eggplant is so soft that it has collapsed (about 45 minutes), tear it open and use a pair of forks to scoop out the insides. If you get a little skin, it won't hurt anything. Drain it in a strainer for 15 to 20 minutes to remove any excess moisture. Then transfer the pulp to a food processor and coarsely puree with minced garlic and just enough olive oil for flavor (just a couple of pulses -- it should be a chunky paste rather than a smooth puree). Fold in capers and season with salt and pepper.
Steamed eggplant? You bet. The flavor is really surprising, sweet and subtle, and the texture is like silk. Cut the eggplant into chunks, season lightly with salt and cook it in a tightly covered steamer until tender, about five minutes. While the eggplant is still quite hot, add minced garlic, a little fresh rosemary and some hot pepper flakes, and dress it with olive oil and lemon juice.
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