Last column, we wrote about being a "dump cook." This time, we'll look at another perfect example of this casual way of cooking. One of our summer favorites, for lunches and appetizers, is the simple toast-with-topping called bruschetta. I think of bruschetta as a toasted slice of full-sized sourdough bread, with a topping, that one would eat with a knife and fork, whereas crostini are "little toasts," also with a topping, made from a baguette or small loaf - nibble size, for an antipasto platter or an appetizer tray.
There are as many versions of bruschetta as there are cooks who make them. The ones I usually make, and the kind most frequently seen on restaurant menus, would be called bruschetta fresca - a toasted slice of baguette brushed with olive oil and topped with a mix of fresh (uncooked) tomatoes, garlic, parsley, basil, and sometimes onion and/or capers, and olive oil - sometimes some parmesan or mozzarella on top, and a quick trip under the broiler to melt the cheese.
Some other options for toppings are lightly sauteed seasonal greens with toasted pinenuts, grilled eggplant, sauteed and prettily arranged mushrooms, or pureed soft-cooked white beans and crispy fried sage leaves. The possibilities are endless, and can be as simple or elaborate as you choose.
For this sort of summer cooking - simple, quickly and easily assembled, and versatile - you don't really need directions or measurements. You just do it.
Frances Mayes, in her lovely book "Under the Tuscan Sun," quotes Simone Beck (who co-authored "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" with Julia Child and Louisette Bertholle). Beck responds to a student who asks about technique just one too many times: "There is no technique; there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure, or are we going to cook?" With that in mind, we'll do a recipe for bruschetta that's really just guidelines for your creativity.
To serve four to six people - as a first course, or as a light lunch with a salad:
Slice day-old sourdough French or Italian bread into 1⁄2- to 3⁄4-inch slices - plan on 1 or two slices per serving. (These are "bruschetta.")
To serve 10 to 20 as an appetizer, cut day-old baguettes (I use Truckee Sourdough baguettes) into 3⁄8-inch to 1⁄2-inch slices - plan on two to four per serving. (These would be called "crostini.")
From now on, only the size is different; the method and ingredients are the same.
In a small bowl, mix about 1⁄2 to 1 cup of your best olive oil with as much garlic as you like (I use two or three good-sized cloves, crushed). Set aside.
Toast the bread under the broiler until just beginning to brown, then remove the pan from the broiler and turn the toast over. Return the pan to the broiler and brown the other side, being careful not to burn them. While the toasts are still warm, use a pastry brush to brush on some garlic olive oil on one side. Set aside for a few hours, or as much as a day.
Prepare the topping. If you have tomatoes in your garden, by all means, use those, but if your garden is late this year, as ours is, the Carson City farmers markets have lovely ones. I usually buy a mix of red and yellow.
Mix together and let sit a few minutes for flavors to blend before using:
4 or 5 medium to large ripe tomatoes - seeded and chopped but not peeled*
4 or 5 cloves garlic - chopped fine or pressed
Several stems of parsley, just the leaves, chopped fine
Several basil leaves (to taste), chopped
Oregano leaves (to taste), chopped - optional
Olive oil - just a bit. Use what's left from brushing the toasts.
Put a generous spoonful of topping on each toast, top with a pinch of parmesan or mozzarella cheese if you wish, then put under the broiler for only a minute or so to melt the cheese. Serve hot or at room temperature.
* To seed a tomato, cut around the "equator" and squeeze out the seeds and extra juice.
• Muffy Vhay is the co-owner of Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast.