Why It Works
- Using ripe, peak-season tomatoes and a combination of different varieties add lots of color and a better balance of tomato flavor.
- Skipping the pre-salting step prevents excess liquid from seeping out of the tomatoes.
- Wine vinegar is a better choice for adding acidity, unless you have true balsamic available.
I am a bruschetta pedant. So please, bear with me as I whine for just a minute about a couple of the biggest sins committed against Italy's most famous tomato-topped toast.
To start, it's pronounced brew-SKET-ta, not brew-SHET-ta. I admit that mispronouncing a name isn't a true transgression, but in this case, it's enough of a pet peeve of mine that I couldn't resist the opportunity to correct literally thousands upon thousands of people all at once. Sometimes it feels good to be a jerk.
Also, bruschetta is not synonymous with "tomato bruschetta." Tomato happens to be the most common topping in the United States—to the point of being the expected topping—but, at its simplest, bruschetta is nothing more than toasted bread brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. From there, it can go in any number of directions, topping-wise.
With that done, now I'll tell you the third, and much more significant, assault on tomato bruschetta: using crappy fresh tomatoes. Just like with a Caprese salad, there's only one acceptable time for making fresh tomato bruschetta, and that's when tomatoes are at their seasonal peak. Making bruschetta with out-of-season tomatoes is never a good idea, no matter how appealing it may seem. You may as well attempt to make barbecue out of a pack of Slim Jims.
Am I being dogmatic about this? Yes. But I also have a solution for those occasions when you want tomato bruschetta in the off-season. Use fresh tomatoes for those few weeks or months when they're truly ripe and flavorful, and follow my oven-roasted recipe using canned tomatoes for the rest of the year.
Bruschetta is one of those foods that are so fundamentally simple that there's no hope of hiding mediocre ingredients behind technique or presentation. If your tomatoes aren't great, your bruschetta won't be either.
Most versions are made by tossing fresh diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and olive oil; spooning it all on toasts; and drizzling it with balsamic vinegar. I do it more or less the same way, though there are a couple of key points where I sometimes differ.
At the risk of belaboring the point, let's talk about the tomatoes just a little bit more. I've already said that they need to be ripe, but just how ripe is that? They should be heavy for their size, and when you gently press on their skins, they should feel exceedingly fragile, like taut water balloons on the precipice of bursting. In short, if you toss a bunch of them in a bag, then jostle and bump them around, and not a single one bursts open or splits, they're probably not ripe enough.
I like to use a mix of heirloom varieties, which offer not only a confetti-like rainbow of colors but also a blend of flavors; some sweeter, some more tart. Some can be fleshier paste tomatoes, like plums, while others can be juicy with seeds. I even like to toss in a couple of handfuls of sliced cherry tomatoes, to get other shapes aside from cubes.
A lot of recipes say to seed the tomatoes so that you're left with only the drier diced flesh, but I'm against this, since the seeds contain so much great flavor. For the same reason, I don't like to pre-salt my tomatoes and drain the juices, as other recipes suggest.
Instead, I prefer to embrace the fruit's natural juiciness—all that tomato water can soak into the toasts, adding even more flavor. I put the salt on the toasts and tomatoes only at the very end, like a garnish. (A nice sea salt or flaky finishing salt is great for this.)
I also prefer not to mix minced garlic into the tomatoes, since the bits of raw garlic can sometimes taste too harsh. I find I get better control over the level of garlic flavor by making what the Italians call fettunta, in which you rub raw cloves into the toasts themselves before drizzling them with olive oil. The cloves dissolve as you rub the toast with them, and you can add as much or as little as you like, while ensuring that each bite of the toast and tomatoes has an equal amount.
It should go without saying that you must also use the best olive oil you can, so I'll move on to a less obvious issue, regarding the vinegar. Bruschetta is most often made using balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes. I'm not opposed to this per se, but I caution against it unless you have the truly good stuff. Real balsamic is a very expensive condiment, naturally syrupy, with a complex sweet-tart flavor. If you have it, go ahead and drizzle it on the toasts.
The problem is that most of the balsamic out there is not the real thing, but an ersatz concoction made from some cheaper vinegar pumped up with caramel color and flavors. It's also nearly as thin as water, which makes it impossible to drizzle on top of your toasts. If this is the type of balsamic you have, then I'd encourage you to not bother with it here, as it will add very, very little. Instead, taste your tomatoes, and if you think they need a little hit of acidity to balance their flavor, just add a splash of red or white wine vinegar; it'll deliver just what's needed without getting in the way.
1 1/2 pounds (680g) best-quality, in-season fresh tomatoes, preferably a mix of varieties, cored and diced (see notes)
15 large basil leaves, thinly sliced into a chiffonade
Extra-virgin olive oil, for the tomatoes and toasts
Red or white wine vinegar or true balsamic vinegar, to taste (optional; see notes)
8 medium slices freshly toasted bread
3 medium cloves garlic, halved
Finishing sea salt (such as fleur de sel), kosher salt, or flaky salt (such as Maldon)
In a large bowl, combine tomatoes with basil and enough olive oil to generously coat. If using wine vinegar, add a splash. Toss gently, taste, and add more wine vinegar if desired.
Rub garlic cloves on top surface of each toast; rub only as much as you want. (More will make the toasts more garlicky, while a lighter hand will deliver a milder flavor.) Drizzle olive oil on each toast and season with salt.
Spoon tomatoes onto each toast, including any liquid that has accumulated. Season generously with salt. If using true balsamic vinegar, drizzle it sparingly on top. Serve right away.
Use whichever ripe varieties you can find, including cherry tomatoes (cut them into wedges instead of dice).
If you have true balsamic vinegar, drizzle it on top of the toasts; if not, it's better to add a splash of wine vinegar to the tomatoes, since it has better flavor than faux balsamic.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||14%|
|Saturated Fat 2g||8%|
|Total Carbohydrate 16g||6%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||6%|
|Total Sugars 4g|
|Vitamin C 12mg||61%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|