No limit for bruschetta

Mushroom bruschetta is a savory mouthful. BY JACK CLEMONS
October 7, 2013

Walking past the Mushroom Lady’s booth at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market can be a challenge - she’s always got something fragrant simmering on her hot plate. Last week it was the makings of mushroom and onion bruschetta, loaded with sautéed criminis. Even though we’d just finished breakfast, it was difficult to resist the tempting aromas in the crisp morning air.

We accepted her offer to sample the dish and found the combination of flavors and texture delightful. Crisp slices of toasted bread topped with mouthfuls of tomato-infused vegetables, softened almost to a purée. Fortunately, the tasting included a recipe card so we could recreate the treat at home - after buying a box of crimini mushrooms.

Before we go any further on the subject of bruschetta, we need to know the correct pronunciation: broo-sket-ta. In Italian the word is translated as ‘toast’ from the verb ‘brusciare,’ which means ‘to roast over coals.’ Technically, bruschetta is a piece of bread that’s been grilled until brown, rubbed with cut garlic, then topped with olive oil and a pinch of salt.

According to food historians, this preparation originated in the olive-growing regions of central Italy as a means of testing a new batch of olive oil. The toasted bread would absorb the oil, and the garlic would bring out the oil’s flavor. Other theories offer that the process was actually designed to improve the quality of stale bread, making it edible instead of compostable.

Over time, the dish has become a popular appetizer that begins with toasted bread and extends the list of toppings to include more complex ingredients such as chopped white beans and anchovies or sausage and melted cheese. There’s no limit to what can be served as the featured flavors of a bruschetta, but there are a few key techniques to guarantee success.

First, choose a rustic bread with a chewy texture; you’ll want the slices to be reasonably porous and without too hard a crust. This way, the slices will toast evenly; they’ll absorb the olive oil, and the crust won’t shatter when you take a bite. Second, toast both sides, or the bread will be mealy and mushy on the raw side.

Be sure to use the highest-quality extra virgin olive oil, since this is the most important flavor layer. When assembling the bruschetta, select ingredients that play well together: tomato and basil is one of the most traditional and easiest bruschetta recipes around. One advantage is that the topping doesn’t need to be cooked, just whisked together before spooning onto the toast slices.

As for the mushroom and onion bruschetta, I’ve included two different recipes. The mushroom lady’s version includes marinara sauce to hold together the other ingredients, all of which are cooked together in a single skillet. The version in the photo needed a second skillet, one for the caramelized onions and one for the mushrooms. We’ve both spelled the name of the mushroom correctly - crimini and cremini are acceptable for the variety that’s also known as the baby bella.

Mushroom & Onion Bruschetta

1 T olive oil
2 small yellow onions, sliced
1 t kosher salt
1/4 C Marsala wine
2 T unsalted butter
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
2 T chopped red pepper
salt & pepper, to taste
8 3/8-inch slices rustic bread
1 T olive oil
1 large garlic clove
shredded Parmesan cheese
snipped chives

Preheat broiler. Heat olive oil in a skillet until shimmering. Add onions and salt; cook without stirring for 1 minute. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Reduce heat to low and add wine. Stir to incorporate any brown bits into the liquid and cook, stirring often, until onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in another skillet over low heat. Add mushrooms and red pepper; cook until softened and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Arrange bread slices on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Toast under the broiler until golden, about 2 minutes each side. Brush one side of each toasted slice with olive oil. Cut garlic in half and rub the oiled side of each bread slice with cut side of garlic.

Arrange bread, oil side up, on a serving platter. Place a spoonful of onions on each slice and top with a spoonful of mushroom mixture. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and snipped chives; serve hot.

Tomato Basil Bruschetta

1 baguette
2 C diced tomatoes
1/3 C diced red onion
1/2 T Balsamic vinegar
1 t olive oil
1/4 t kosher salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 C chopped fresh basil
1 T olive oil
1 garlic clove

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut bread into 3/8-inch slices and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake, turning once, until lightly toasted on both sides, about 6 minutes on each side. While bread is baking, squeeze seeds from tomatoes and chop into a small dice.

Combine tomatoes with onions, Balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and 1 t olive oil in a mixing bowl. Stir in basil; set aside until bread is ready. Remove toasted bread from oven and lightly brush one side of each slice with olive oil. Cut garlic in half and rub cut side across the oiled side of each slice. Place bread on a serving platter, oil side up and top with a spoonful of tomato mixture. Yield: 24 slices.

Mushroom Lady’s Bruschetta

extra virgin olive oil
1 quart Crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 chopped garlic clove
1 thin-sliced sweet onion
1/4 C red wine
4 T marinara sauce
1/4 t dried basil
1/2 C chopped roasted red peppers
salt & pepper, to taste

Caramelize the onions in oil, stirring often, about 15 minutes over medium low. Add garlic and mushrooms; cook until tender. Add wine and cook until reduced slightly, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer to meld the flavors. Spoon mixture onto small slices of crusty bread.

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