Bruschette are so much more than summer appetizers of tomatoes & basil. These ‘bruschette d’inverno’ are heartier than their summer cousins thanks to the deep, earthy flavours of that rare arrival in Malta, the Portobello mushroom.
As I woke up at 0445 this morning, I was sorely in need to some sustenance come 11am, breakfast having been hours before. Brunch is a rare treat mid week, usually being left for leisurely starts at the weekend. But today, I tossed and turned til 0615, paranoid that I’d miss that alarm or had miscounted the church bells; as we’re a stone’s throw, literally, from the baroque belfry and its irritating clock (or practical, depending on my mood and needs) that tells the quarter hours, 24/7, it’s impossible to get back to sleep once awake.
Mid morning, I scouted around the fridge to see what was in need of using up before I head to North Wales at the weekend. Eggs, half a bag of pre-washed spinach (a god-send!), two ġbejniet (Maltese goats cheese) – one peppered, one plain, a few slice of smoked guanciale, three large Portobello mushrooms bought on whim just because they are rarely available in Malta, and half a loaf of yesterday’s local bread. Omelette? Too boring. The griddle pan was out on the hob, not the omelette pan. Easy then to toast the bread up, rub it with garlic, drizzle some olive oil on it and plonk a varied mix of the other larder ingredients on top.
This is less a recipe as such and more a reminder that bruschetta is not just a tomato, basil affair, even though I live off that topping all summer. When we’ve people for dinner, I usually make cannellini bean dip with herbs to spread on bruschette. But today’s toppers show that bruschetta is open to suggestions that aren’t beans or egg on toast. OK, it is toast, but as I live in the Med, I have licence to say ‘Bruschette’.
Next time you have some stale bread around and feel peckish, experiment with a new bruschetta topping; it’s amazing how hearty toppings turn a humble snack into a meal. Well, a brunch at least!
All images © Liz Ayling 2013
Bruschetta Brunch Basics
Ciabatta or a cottage loaf (stale) is ideal. If you live in Malta, you’re spoilt for choice in breads. Lay slices on a heated griddle pan and toast until crisped up and with sear marks across. Rub a split garlic clove on the hot toast and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil before adding toppings.
Spinach & peppered or plain goats cheese – wash, spin dry and wilt the spinach briefly without any extra water, butter or oil. I added a little grated nutmeg though. Squeeze drier if it’s at all soggy. Top with goats cheese or other soft cheese of choice and give a drizzle of truffle or extra virgin olive oil.
Portobello mushrooms – slice thickly then dry fry with a mere hint of oil in the base of a heavy pan (ideally cast iron). I fried them up with some sage, but thyme is nice too. Toss on some kitchen paper to drain if needed. Season with pepper if desired and if adding sea salt do this only at the last minute when serving as it will draw moisture out of the mushrooms making them soggy.
Creamy scrambled egg – beat two medium eggs per person, adding a good spoonful of creme fraiche or thick yoghurt. Season well with cracked black pepper.
Guanciale, pancetta or Speck – any smoked or cured bacon like these is ideal to pep up the toppings above. Dry fry or griddle pan the bacon and drain on kitchen paper.