(M–I meant to get this one up several weeks ago, but then my teeth, then vacation, then Austin, then…so I’m getting this up today before my cousin comes to town so you can start enjoying it…)
Time for another “recipe-ish” post. In addition to the brisket, this weekend I also brought down some of my Mama’s and my bruschetta to snack on. But then the girls found Kerbey Lane Cafe Queso, and all bets were off. Which I totally understand. So I then sent Mama to the store yesterday for a baguette so we could enjoy it ourselves. And it wasn’t as awesome as usual, for a few reasons (one, fresh herbs intensify over time when you add them to a dish, and so this thing had basil that would knock your socks off; two, I may or may not have walked away from the broiler for a few minutes and charcoaled a bit of the baguette…). It doesn’t hold for more than a couple of days, but really it’s so delicious that normally you don’t have to worry about this point.
So I thought I’d tell you how we normally do it so you can start enjoying one of my favorite summer time foods–but don’t try to save it more than two days. (Also, no pics because I never remember to do that while I’m cooking and plus I don’t necessarily take awesome pics anyway…)
As with anything else I cook, measurements are for weenies. Also, we have much adapted this recipe from an original that we got at a lunch at the Mondavi winery several years ago. Credit where credit is due.
Take a good mess of roma tomatoes (like, a standard produce bag full) and wash them thoroughly. They come from your mass-market store, and have been handled by everybody. (You could, I suppose, use heirloom tomatoes that have been watered exclusively by unicorn tears, but that seems like a waste when we’re about to do to them what we are.)
Then take a bunch of green onions, and wash them thoroughly. Do the same with basil–snip it off your plant (you’ll need more than seems logical) or buy one of those clamshells of it that they sell in the produce department, wash it thoroughly and dry. And while we’re at it, go ahead and smash your garlic cloves (you do know the garlic clove peeling secret, yes? whap them with the heel of your knife blade, and the skin’ll peel off like magic and get a head start on chopping them, too.)–I’d use three or four fresh cloves, and work my way up from there. (Or, depending on how long my patience is that day, I’d give the bowl a healthy three or four squirts from the “Chopped Garlic In Olive Oil” squeeze bottle tragedy that everybody acknowledges is a tragedy and a crime against garlic, yet still secretly has in their fridge…).
Now, time to chop the tomatoes–cut off the top of the tomato. No need to peel them. Then cut the remaining tomato in half lengthwise. Scoop out the guts (sometimes properly called, “pulp and seeds”) and discard that or save it if you have some other use for tomato pulp. You should be left with the shell of the tomato–the walls. Like a green pepper looks after you scoop out the top and the seeds. Then, cut the tomato into small “sticks”, much like you would a bell pepper. Then chop the sticks into small dice. Basically, you want the pieces to be about half a centimeter squared. Certainly no larger than a centimeter, otherwise, it’s just tomato salad. Which is delicious, but not what we’re striving for here.
Dump those into a big mixing bowl. Repeat until you have finished chopping all the tomatoes. (Obviously, discard any soft parts or brown parts or green parts or parts that don’t look delicious.)
Now, you’re going to slice your green onion. Line them all up on your cutting board, and lop off the root end. Then lop off the tops–you want maybe an inch of the pale green part of the tops left on the onions, but let’s not go crazy. Then slice them thinly. Like, THINLY. Unless you like big chunks of green onion (I don’t). Toss those into the bowl.
Chop the garlic really finely (unless you like the taste of chunks of raw garlic) and toss that in, too.
Then chiffonade your basil. I’m SURE Youtube is full of tutorials on the proper way to chiffonade, so I won’t waste a lot of time here, but basically you take your washed and dried basil leaves, stack them on top of each other (basil leaves are big, this isn’t hard), and roll them up like a…funny cigarette (Terrill, thank you. Your metaphor has forever changed how I approach my bruschetta…). Tightly. Then you slice widthwise, VERY thinly, into little ribbons. Happy little green ribbons of basil. Those go into the bowl, too. I’d say…a cup? Of leaves? (Take the leaves off the stems. Stems are no good, ever.) Really I don’t measure. I go by sight. Start with one tightly rolled…joint…of basil…and see. Does it look like enough? Please, whatever you do, do not use dried basil here. It won’t work, children and small animals will cry, and you’ll never cook one of my favorites again. Also-see above about fresh herbs…they can intensify and become bitter in a dish if they are allowed to go in too far in advance. So if you are trying to do this dish the day before a party or gathering, you can chop the tomatoes and the garlic and the onion and hold it covered in the fridge, but wait to combine and then do your chiffonade until earlier on the day of serving.
Then you mix. When all that’s combined, it should start to look a little bit like fresh pico de gallo. But it is not. Trust me. Now it’s time for you to season. Here’s where personal taste really comes in.
First, you want some good olive oil. Fats help to bring out the flavors in food, and give a succulent mouthfeel, which I happen to think is a good thing. Not too much, though. We’re still counting this as our vegetable for today, so let’s not go overboard. A few glugs, depending on how big your dish is.
Then, and this may be personal habit rather than actual good science, but I throw in a PINCH of sugar. Really. Just. A. Pinch. Because I was always taught that any time you use tomatoes (canned, fresh, dried, or otherwise) you throw in a pinch of sugar. Sometimes, I have Mama do the pinch because I somehow usually get too much.
Then, some white wine vinegar. Here’s where it’s also key to start small, then add. You can always add more, never retract. I love me some vinegar. You may not. So you might use less. I usually go with about equal parts oil and vinegar, and then wind up adding more vinegar. Trial and error, folks.
Then, salt and black pepper. Not too much pepper to start–the garlic is raw and will add some punch. Taste, then add more. Next, salt. This is where it gets a bit tricky. Tomatoes need salt. (In my mind. There are people who don’t think this, and while I’m sure the First Amendment protects them, too, I just don’t trust them. They’re kind of like those people who think lemon juice is a delicious salad dressing in and of itself. Creepy.) They need more salt than other vegetables, yet salt makes things mushy by drawing out the juices. But, in this dish, you WANT some juice because that gets the bread all good and soggy while you are eating it. So I do a two-stage salting. I add just enough salt while I’m mixing to be able to properly tell if the rest of the spices and flavors are in balance and to begin creating a bit of juice, and then add salt to taste right before serving. (If I’m going to be serving some now, some later, I salt to taste just what I plan to serve in that immediate instance. Make sense?) Salt is a flavor enhancer, so you need some at the outset to get a true idea of what your dish tastes like. Truth be told, I add salt before I do much else to the dish as far as tinkering because salt changes everything. Feel free to experiment and do what feels best to you.
Then you let it sit for an hour or so to get the flavors to mix and serve it over slices of toasted baguette. Or untoasted. You can brush the slices with olive oil before you toast them, rub them with a clove of garlic. Whisper affirming thoughts to them, follow your bliss here. Just don’t burn them, because EW.
I enjoy mine with a shave of real parmesan on top, Mama likes hers plain. You could try it with a smear of goat cheese under the tomato mix. The world is your oyster.
Note-I also make a bruschetta with a mushroom and goat cheese mix. I’ll tinker with that for a few days and post it here, too.