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Italian Bruschetta with Tomatoes

Posted 8/4/2017 5:00pm by Judy Lessler.

In my last post, I talked about Tomato Sandwiches and the controversy in NC as to the preferred type of mayonnaise. Tomatoes are often served as a topping to traditional Italian bruschetta (or fettunta), which is grilled, stale-bread with olive oil and garlic. My review of numerous articles and recipes has led me to believe this simple dish of grilled bread rubbed with garlic cloves and drizzled with olive oil can engender the passionate differences similar to those surrounding use the of Duke’s or Hellman’s mayo on a tomato sandwich. These differences may have a long history. Famous Italian cookbook writer, Marcella Hazan, is said to have determined bruschetta was likely invented by the ancient Romans. Burscare means to char and, supposedly, the ancient Roman farmers sampled their newly pressed olive oil with bread roasted over coals. Who knew?  

Italians drink wine with their bruschetta, and all embrace the foundational instruction to use, day-old bread, month-old oil, and year-old wine. But then they converge. Some recommend grilling the bread once, others twice but dipping it in a plate of water between the two grillings. Still others espouse using very stale bread and dipping it in water before a single grilling. One writer advises rubbing an entire clove of garlic into a single piece of bread; another to use one clove for four slices of bread. Finally, do you brush or drizzle the olive oil over the bread? Who knows?     

If you are using a tomato topping, many other issues arise. Do you peel the tomatoes? Must they be seeded? Should they be drained after chopping? Can you mix them with salt, basil, and olive oil to save steps at table? The statistician in me figured out if I tried all the variations recommended in the articles I read, I would need to make 72 different combinations.  

I did not try 72 combinations; however, I did develop my own recipe for Italian Bruschetta with Tomatoes, which I distilled from these readings (and some years of experience). It is given below.  

I did try three different ways of charring the bread. I was suspicious of Marcella Hanzan’s statements attributing the origin of bruschetta to Ancient Romans. Now I believe her. My three versions were: flamed charred bread, dark pan-grilled bread, and light pan-grilled bread. The two with black char on them were definitely the best.   I was surprised!



Italian Bruschetta with Tomatoes

6 servings  

6 small ripe tomatoes or roma tomatoes

6 thick slices (half-inch or more) of stale Tuscan or sourdough bread

6 cloves of garlic

6 tablespoons top quality olive oil

6 large basil leaves (optional)  

Dip tomatoes in boiling water to loosen peels. Cool quickly, peel, split, remove most of the seeds, and chop into half-inch pieces. Drain in a colander, place in a bowl, and add salt to taste. Peel and gently crack the garlic with the side of a knife or a garlic press. You want the garlic to remain nearly whole.  Grill bread over charcoal, on a gas grill, under a broiler, or on the stove. Rub one clover garlic into onto each slice of bread. Drizzle with olive oil. Top with tomato mixture.  Sprinkle with basil cut into thin ribbons if desired. PEELING THE TOMATOES IS ESSENTIAL.


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