My Mum came back from Italy recently. With lots of olive oil. And different types, too. Rather naively, it hadn’t occurred to me that, not only does olive oil vary in age and pressing – virgin, extra-virgin, etc –, but there are also many varieties of olive used which contribute to the oil's varying flavour profile. For example, Leccino olives are used to produce a mild, banana-y flavour while Coratina are used for intense, fruity, bitter notes.
I even found out that olive oil can be tasted like wine. Warm a small amount in a wine glass by cupping the bottom in one hand and covering the top with the other, give it a swirl, then have a taste. This opens up the oil to your palette. It helps to have a tasting wheel beside you while you do it.
I wanted to create a recipe in which olive oil plays an integral part. Preferably something Italian, and simple so as not to mask any flavour from the oil. Bruschette ticks those boxes.
From the Italian bruscare (to burn), bruschette require a surprising amount of care given that they are essentially pieces of toast. But oh boy are they delicious. I had some friends over to watch the football and be recipe testers – I know, poshest football finger food ever – and they were so surprised how nice bruschette are given their simplicity. I like to think the extra care and time elevates the toast from daily fuel into something quite special.
One of the key differences that make bruschette so tasty is the use of an oven to toast the bread. The dry heat evaporates any moisture on the bread, and creates a uniform, crispy-crunchy surface on which to rub raw garlic and pile on toppings.
Traditionally, a bruschetta is topped with ripe, raw tomatoes, but I've chosen to cook them with peppers, olive oil and a pinch of sugar because in England you can't always guarantee tomatoes that are flavourful and ripe. Cooking concentrates every sweet, juicy molecule they have, whether they are good local tomatoes or bland imported ones.
Extending my departure from tradition, the second topping I've gone for is slow-cooked leeks that become caramelly and fragrant sautéed in olive oil and thyme. They have an interesting texture next to the tomato bruschette and pretty contrast in colour.
Enjoy these as a substantial starter, or as a main alongside a simple green salad, with a glass of wine or cold beer to wash them down.
Caramelised Vegetable Bruschette
Makes 6 bruschette
|for the tomato + red pepper topping:|
|2 tbsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|1 tsp||dried oregano|
|2||red peppers (aka bell peppers), chopped|
|230g/½ lb||ripe cherry or plum tomatoes, chopped|
|2 tsp||red wine vinegar|
|for the leek topping:|
|2 tbsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|3 sprigs||fresh thyme, leaves only|
|4 medium||leeks, chopped|
|2 tsp||white wine vinegar|
|for the bruschette:|
|6 thick||slices white rustic bread (e.g. sourdough, bloomer, pain de campagne). Stale bread is fine.|
|9 tsp||extra virgin olive oil|
|2 large||garlic cloves, peeled|
|⅓ tsp||fine sea salt|
- Heat the olive oil for each topping in two separate large frying pans over a medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot, add the thyme for the leeks to one pan and the oregano to the other and fry for 1 minute.
- Add the leeks to the thyme pan and the tomatoes and peppers to the oregano pan. Unfurl/further chop some of the leeks so they're not all completely bound up in rounds.
- Add the sugar to both pans and saute for 30-40 minutes until the vegetables are caramelised. If they are sticking to the pan, deglaze with a little water or wine. Add the wine vinegar to each pan at the end. After the vegetables have been cooking for 10 minutes, preheat the oven grill/broiler to 250C/480F.
- After the vegetables have been cooking for 25 minutes, put the slices of bread on a baking tray or oven rack and under the grill for 5-10 minutes until evenly browned. Flip them over and toast the other side.
- Once all the bread has been toasted, rub each piece of toast with garlic, pressing quite firmly to grate the garlic into the toast. Depending on how garlicky you like it, use between ¼ and ½ a clove per toast.
- Divide the ⅓ tsp fine sea salt into 6 small piles. Drizzle 1½ tsp of olive oil over each garlicky toast, then sprinkle each pile of salt over the toast.
- Top three of the toasts with the leeks and three with the tomato-pepper topping. Finish each bruschetta with a little more salt and olive oil. Sprinkle the leek bruschette with some more thyme leaves and the tomato ones with more oregano. Serve, sliced in half if you wish (use a large, sharp knife if you're going to do this).