Bruschetta [brusˈketːa] is most definitely my absolute all time favorite snack. I love making several variations of this wonderful and versatile Italian appetizer not only when guests are over but often I will whip some brushetta when Tom & I decide to have a movie evening.
Fact is however, my bruschetta is most popular amongst our game night friends.
Every now and then we have game nights, when friends come over and we all simply spend an evening playing boardgames, like Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary or, our favorite, Settlers of Catan. I love these evenings as they give me a deeper insight to many of my friends inner characters and personalities.
So, I have learned that a certain friend of mine, who almost always stays cool in every situation, can really blow the fuse when we play games. Or I see how a rather quiet friend mutates into the most talkative person one can imagine. Then there is the friend I always thought of as very rational, but when we play these games, boy even we women would consider him to be totally illogical ;-). Of course watching the partners bitch between themselves is always an added highlight. Oh we do have a blast on such evenings!
Food always plays a role on such evenings. It seems like we eat double the amount as we normally would, feeding our mental spirit and nervousness to a hopeful victory. Chips, chocolates and co. are often a part of the usual food repertoire served on these occasions. However, I do prefer offering more nutritious, tasty and filling snacks. Bruschetta almost always makes it to the list of snacks, when we are hosting game night.
Bruschetta has no ends to its creativity. You can just about use anything to top the bruschetta - simple tomatoes and basil or a more elegant crab meat variation, your imagination can go to almost any extents.
Normally, one would use a larger sourdough bread, however I have made bruschetta using several different types of bread - from pumpernickel to baguette. The basic bruschetta is simply bread that has been grilled, if possible on a charcoal grill, otherwise a grill pan or even your oven-grill is close to perfect. It is then rubbed with some fresh garlic and lightly drizzled with your best extra-virgin olive oil. This is the basis of your bruschetta so do not skimp on the quality of the olive oil or the ingredients you use. Nothing like using fresh vegetables and cheeses to make a super scrumptious bruschetta.
In my version I have used beautiful fresh vegetables from my CSA box, which were gently roasted in the oven, sprinkled with some herbs and lightly tossed in balsamic vinegar. The goat cheese is like the icing on a cake. It does not have to be - but it simply tastes divine when it is there.
One of the ingredients I used here was fennel, a vegetable I totally love.
Fennel is the wonderful white or pale green bulbed vegetable with green stalks, which are topped with feathery green leaves. It is very popular in the Mediterranean cuisine, often associated with Italian cooking. Fennel adds a wonderfully refreshing and slightly sweet flavor to any dish and is so versatile that it can be prepared raw in a salad or sautéed in olive oil then tossed in some pasta, thrown into soup, but it tastes best when roasted.
The bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds of the Fennel are all edible. Fennel belongs to the Umbellifereae family and is therefore closely related to parsley, carrots, dill and coriander.
The aromatic taste of fennel is very is unique and strikingly reminiscent of licorice and anise. It is often mistakenly referred to as anise in the marketplace. Fennel's texture is similar to that of celery, having a crunchy and striated texture.
The seeds, leaves, and roots of the fennel have been used as medicinal agents as far back as ancient China. Used for congestion, conjunctivitis, stimulating appetite - which, by the way, is why most Italians serve fennel as an appetizer, and increases the flow of breast milk. It has also been used to treat colic in infants. Fennel also serves as prevention against muscle spasms and helps to relieve gas and an upset stomach.
Fennel seed is used for treating digestive problems such as bloating. Fennel syrup is used for the upper respiratory tract. Externally, the oil eases muscular and rheumatic pains. Fennel and its juice contain some valuable properties. The nutrients are similar to those in celery, which belong to the same family, but it is the essential oil that promotes relief for an upset stomach. It is also used for cancer patients after radiation and chemotherapy treatments to help rebuild the digestive system.
As you can see, the fennel herb has a variety of medicinal properties and adding fennel to your dietary program will help you to promote good health. While fennel has long been associated with Italian cuisine, it has now become one herb growing in popularity across many cultures.
Selecting & Storing
Look for good quality fennel with bulbs that are clean, firm and solid, without signs of splitting, bruising or spotting. The bulbs should be whitish or pale green in color. The stalks should be relatively straight and closely superimposed around the bulb and should not stray out to the sides too much. Both the stalks and the leaves should be light green in color. Make sure that there are no signs of flowering buds as this indicates that the vegetable is past maturity. Fresh fennel has a fragrant aroma, smelling subtly of licorice or anise. You will find fennel in season from autumn through early spring.
Fresh fennel should be stored in the refrigerator crisper. Here it should keep fresh for about four days. However, it is advisable to consume fennel soon after purchase since as it ages, it tends to gradually lose its flavor. Although fresh fennel can be frozen after first being blanched, it does seem to lose a lot of its flavor during this process, therefore I would not recommend it. Dried fennel seeds should be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry location where they should keep for about six months. Stored in the refrigerator they will last longer.
Printable version of recipe here
A few slices of your favorite bread - I used a baguette here because I wanted to use it up. You can also use a ciabatta for this.
1-2 garlic cloves
1/2 fennel bulb - cut into pieces, approx. 2.5 cm
1/2 yellow bell pepper - cut into pieces, approx. 2.5 cm
1 green bell pepper - cut into pieces, approx. 2.5 cm
1/2 zucchini - cut in half and then sliced
120 g herb flavored goat cheese
Handful of basil leaves - finely chopped
1 teaspoon oregano
Few splashes of balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Cut large bread slices in half. The slices should be approx. 1 cm thick. If you are using baguette, like I did, simply cut in half to give you two open faced sides. Then cut them in smaller pieces.
On a charcoal grill or using your grill pan, roast the bread slices on both sides. You can also use the grill function of your oven to do this.
Cut the garlic cloves in half and rub each slice generously with it, then drizzle with some olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C.
Toss the vegetables with the basil, oregano and a good drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste. Spread the vegetables out on a baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are a wonderful caramel color.
Take out and allow to cool. Finely chop the vegetable mixture - you can use your kitchen machine for this but I prefer using my sharp knife. It should not be too mushy but still easy enough to spread on the toasted bread. Splash a bit of balsamic vinegar and mix well.
Spread the vegetable mixture over the pre-prepared toasted bread slices. Tear off some pieces of the goats cheese and place on top of the vegetables.
Cannot get better than this. Crispy, garlicky bread smothered in fresh roasted vegetables topped off with soft creamy cheese - here you are experiencing the full flavors of each ingredient. Perfect for any night!
More Snack Ideas:
Caramelized Vegetable Tart
Fritatta with Fennel and Zucchini
Italian Oven Vegetables
Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon
I am taking this over to Mansi's great Game Night Party. As I made plenty I would also like to share these with Sunita for her Think Spice event. This month she chose Garlic. Sunita, finally I get the chance to be a part of your wonderful event.
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