Every year I look forward to “tomato” season. The hours I spend making fresh salsa and bruschetta throughout the summer are some of the highlights of my time in the kitchen. With tomatoes at their peak, the bruschetta really can’t taste any better.
But it’s not just about the tomatoes. First of all, you need to be sure to get a tasty French baguette. The local IGA grocery used to carry a ready-to-bake brand, but now it’s a rarity when they do. So, I’ve taken to stocking up from the bakery at some of the larger grocery stores I visit.
Depending on what I need them for, I either just cut them in half and put them in gallon-size freezer bags or I slice them into “bruschetta-size” slices and pop them into a couple of quart-size freezer bags, which is the perfect amount for a small group. I throw them into the freezer. When it’s time to defrost, I just take them out a few hours ahead of the time I’ll need them to defrost. At that point, I can either heat the the large pieces up in the oven or toast the slices in the toaster oven or I broil them for a couple of minutes. Just be sure you watch them carefully as they are quick to burn.
Second, the basil. You need plenty of basil along with garlic and olive oil to make a great bruschetta.
I try every year to grow a pot of basil it my little container garden. Sometimes it works…and most times it doesn’t. Most farmer’s markets sell beautiful bundles of this delicious herb. Out of frustration, with a one basil plant that didn’t seem to be making it in the container, I planted it in the ground. Rather than adding all kinds of special soil and fertilizer like I use for the containers, I just watered it and it’s doing great. Go figure.
Health Benefits of Bruschetta
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
By choosing the extra virgin variety, you get a stronger concentration of phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil also contains vitamins E and K, as well as anti-oxidant beta carotenes. All of these ingredients are high in antioxidants and immune boosters to help prevents strokes, reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes risk along with skin and breast cancer, improves cardiovascular health and reduces depression. Win-Win!
Packed with antioxidants, garlic gives the immune system a power boost. In this NY Times article, Unlocking the Benefits of Garlic, reporter Tara Parker-Pope writes that garlic has the power to increase our natural supply of hydrogen sulfide, which may be the reason garlic protects against breast cancer, colon cancer and heart disease.
I like to experiment with different varieties of garden tomatoes for my bruschetta, depending on what looks best at the market. They all seem to work well. It’s hard to mess up anything with ripe garden tomatoes. Health wise, tomatoes are high in lycopene and a rich source of Vitamins A and C. Because tomatoes are filled with so many antioxidants and immune boosters, they are believed to against prostate cancer, heart disease, diabetes…the list goes on.
Those amazing smelling fresh basil leaves contain lots of flavonoids and antioxidants. Just five leaves and you’ll be boosting your immune system and add natural antibiotics to your diet.
And now for the cheese–Parmesan vs Parmigiano
What is the difference between Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano?
The DOC (Denominazione di Origine controllata) laws in Italy protect the the integrity of Italian Parmigian-Reggiano. These laws ensure the quality of the cheese.
So, Parmesan cheese can’t be called Parmigiano-Reggiano unless it is made using a SPECIFIC recipe and production method, and the cheese making can only take place within certain provinces of Italy.
Therefore, any cheese made outside of these regions, whether made with the same recipe or a slight variation, cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano.
So when you see Parmesan on the label of your favorite cheese, unless it has the D.O.C. symbol, it’s not the “real” thing. Really, just looking at the price tag will be enough to let you know whether it’s the real deal. Parmigiano-Reggiano is PRICEY! But there’s lots of flavor in real parm so, a little goes a long way. Use it sparingly and it will last a long time. You can even keep the rind to use as a flavor enhancer in your next pot of soup or stew.
If you don’t want to splurge on the real Parmigiano-Reggiano, there are plenty of good American options. But PLEASE promise me you won’t be using the stuff in the GREEN can!
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- pinch salt
- pinch pepper
- 1 cup Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- Sliced baguette or French/Italian bread.
- In a bowl, COMBINE the tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, pepper. MIX together and then REFRIGERATE for about 1-2 hours.
- SLICE the Italian bread on a diagonal and TOAST the small slices in the oven for about ten minutes or put them under the broiler. But watch CAREFULLY as the bread will burn quickly!
- SPRINKLE a little garlic on the pieces and BRUSH it with a little more olive oil. Top the slices with the tomato mixture.
- Top with SPRINKLES of grated Parmesan cheese.
- You can also put sliced mozzarella (preferably the fresh mozzarella found in the deli/cheese section of grocery) cheese on each piece of bruschetta.