Growing up, our family did a big Italian night once every couple of months. It was something I always looked forward to even before I enjoyed the majority of the food. Italian night was the only reason I tried tomatoes or asparagus among other foods as an elementary schooler. It was also the beginning of my love for wine because while my parents drank fine red wine, I got to join along with sparkling cider.
Bruschetta was always the start of the meal, and it also quickly became my favorite. When you start with a base of grilled bread rubbed in garlic, you know it’s gonna be good.
Bruschetta may be one of the simplest recipes, but by far one of the most delicious. The key to a great bruschetta is perfectly toasted bread. And the secret to perfectly toasted bread is MAILLARD BROWNING! One of my favorite reactions, by the way.
A brief explanation of Maillard Browning:
Maillard Browning (referred to as MB from now on) creates all of the wonderful flavors in roasted meats, baked goods, beer, chocolate, and coffee. Who doesn’t love all of those things? MB is a reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar. Basically a protein and a sugar. In the case of bruschetta, the bread’s starch is the sugar, and the gluten is the protein. When the sugar and protein react due to heat, a bunch of things happen, but the outcome is a brown color and a wonderful smell–not to mention a fantastic flavor! The higher the heat, the more active MB is. The longer the food is heating, the darker the color and the more bitter the food becomes. This is more commonly known as burning!
Adapted from a very stained page of Savoring Italy
1 tomato, chopped
6 fresh basil leaves, torn
1/8 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
4 slices crusty bread, about 1/2 inch thick
1 clove garlic
Salt to taste
1. Preheat a broiler. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, basil, olive oil, vinegar, and salt to taste. Toss well.
2. Place the bread on a baking sheet and broil, turning once, until lightly toasted on both sides (about 2 minutes total). Remove from the broiler, and immediately rub one side of each slice with the garlic clove. If desired, chop up any remaining garlic and throw into the tomato mixture.
3. Arrange the bread, garlic side up, and spoon on the tomato mixture, dividing evenly.
And if you’re anything like me, the tomato will all fall off of your bread in the first bite. That’s the beauty of bruschetta though! Those Italians sure do love to eat food you can play with. Bon Appétit!