It took me a couple of years to understand Italian food after living in Milan and living with a Roman. It’s a simplicity and a love for a few key ingredients that, ultimately, in Italy, is what you eat. But after you live there and get how amazing each single ingredient can be, you do eventually start to get it. As an American, and specifically a New Yorker, we tend to over exaggerate our ingredients as its flown in, generally anti macrobiotic (not seasonal), and we need to do a much needed make up session before it is presented. Think hot aging supermodel. We deal with frozen, Mexican, Amazonian, not so fresh, god knows…so I learned the love of a few key things after hanging around Italy a bit as everything is so fresh. Frankly, this is truly one of the best Italian dishes that exist in terms of this. It represents how the Italians think and therefore eat. Maybe that’s why I like it. Eating this with a good pecorino or, even better, pecorino stagionato (the old stuff), and some great salt cured olives is probably one of the most sublime meals you can have. Add a good Tuscan red wine of course. I really recommend trying this in a country with good tomatoes though, or the smallest varieties that are available to you, as they are the sweetest. Find them if you can as that is what this dish is about. I probably am “Jamie Oliver-ing” it a bit in terms of the purist Italian (you know who you are), but the Italians I served always ate it, so I think it passed the taste test anyway. Again, serve simply with pecorino and a good rough Italian wine.
For an antipasti setting for guests, or an Italian Aperitivo, slice thickly some fennel and carrots with a sauce of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic and serve with the tomato bruschetta.
Serves a hungry 2 as a main or an app for 4.
- 2 large bunches of cherry tomatoes on branches/ about 15 (or the freshest you can find)
- Splash of balsamic
- 2 tablespoons of your very best olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic crushed
- 1 finely diced small red onion/or half a big one (be gentle here)
- juice of half a lemon
- handful of roughly chopped basil
- sea salt
- …keep two cloves of garlic handy for serving…
- 5 to 7 slices of good Tuscan unsalted bread (or whatever you have, but slice thinly so you can bite into it and the crunch does not hurt your gums!)
- optional pecorino sliced
- optional fennel/carrot sliced
Turn your oven to high/grill or set a grill pan a side for your bread.
Slice your cherry tomatoes as small as you can. Place in a bowl. Dice your red onion by slicing in halves then cutting through from top to bottom and then left to right in even sections and then dice from the ends to the tips for even small cubes. Add to the bowl of tomatoes with balsamic, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and sea salt. Let it marinate for about 15 minutes so everything “sweats”. You may want drain a little of the liquid before serving if you like a drier toast. Add the basil at the last second. I love it soggy so it is up to you.
In the meantime, grill your bread via oven or grill pan.
Serve the bread in a basket next to the bowl of tomatoes. Traditionally Tuscans serve the grilled toast with garlic cloves to rub against its flesh, as it’s flesh is rough and grinds it up perfectly. This is awesome but only for the garlic friendly. I suggest in the least giving this as an option, especially if you have Italians around.