It’s peak tomato season, which means it’s also bruschetta season! By bruschetta, I mean the Americanized version of authentic Italian bruschetta, featuring ripe red tomatoes, basil and garlic on golden, toasted French bread.
That’s the only way I’ve known bruschetta to be. I like to finish my bruschetta with a light drizzle of thick balsamic vinegar, for flavor and beauty bonus points. It punctuates the end result with irresistible tanginess.
Bruschetta is the perfect appetizer for summer parties. In fact, I only make bruschetta during the summertime, since ripe tomatoes are the number one key to making great bruschetta.
At its best, bruschetta is light and crisp, covered in deep red tomatoes and full of fresh flavor. At its worst, bruschetta is soggy, pink and flavorless.
Let’s boycott sad bruschetta! I’m sharing all my tips in this post. Ready to make the best bruschetta you’ve ever had?
American vs. Italian Bruschetta
Real-deal Italian bruschetta is made of grilled bread rubbed with garlic, topped with olive oil and salt. Italian toppings vary, and I’m eager to come up with some fun alternatives.
Did you know that the “ch” in bruschetta is pronounced as a “k” sound? Brew-sket-tah. It’s true. Ask an Italian.
For this American bruschetta recipe, we’ll be using oven-roasted bread since it’s easier to make. You can grill your bread if you prefer some smoky flavor, though. I’ve provided instructions in the recipe notes.
We’ll stir some fresh garlic into the topping mixture, so it’s nice and garlicky but not overwhelmingly so. We’ll forego rubbing the bread with garlic, since I tried the end results with and without and couldn’t taste the difference. The garlic in the toppings is plenty.
Bruschetta is really simple to make with basic ingredients. The only tedious part is dicing the tomatoes, but it goes by quickly if you have good company or good music. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Ripe Tomatoes: Any variety will do. Use the best tomatoes you can find. I included a few yellow cherry tomatoes to make my bruschetta extra colorful.
- White Onion: You won’t find onion in every bruschetta recipe, but it adds a light crunch and additional flavor. With onion, you don’t have to overload your bruschetta topping with garlic to make it taste amazing.
- Fresh Basil: Only fresh will do. You’ll want to use a big handful, whether it’s from your garden or the store.
- Garlic: Not so much that your guests are embarrassed by their garlic breath! Use fresh garlic, pressed in a garlic press or minced by hand. Jarred garlic is just not the same.
- Crusty Baguette: Look for a slender loaf of crusty bread. We’ll bake it until it’s so crisp, it shatters when you bite into it. Delicious.
- Extra-Virgin Olive Oil: We’ll brush the bread lightly with oil before toasting it, and we’ll stir some into the tomato mixture for richness.
- Thick balsamic vinegar: More on this below.
How to Make the Best Bruschetta
Use ripe tomatoes.
I know I just said this, but it bears repeating. Tomato bruschetta will always be best served during the summertime, but you can probably get by with cherry tomatoes in other seasons. I find cherry tomatoes to be the most consistent of all tomatoes.
Drain off excess tomato juice.
Most tomatoes (cherry tomatoes excluded) are quite juicy. When you toss diced tomato with salt, the juice exits the tomatoes, and you can end up with a watery bowl of tomatoes.
We don’t want soggy bruschetta, so pour off the excess juice before seasoning it at the end. This doesn’t take any extra time, and produces a more flavorful and consistent end result.
Brush both sides of bread with oil.
Oiling the bread ensures that both sides are golden brown and crispy (think of the difference between plain toast and homemade croutons). The oil also helps repel tomato juice so your toasts stay crisp.
Toast at 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
High heat yields extra crispy toasts, which is what we’re going for. I’ll never suggest broiling bread because broilers vary considerably from oven to oven, and no one wants to light their toast on fire. Right?
Wait to assemble your bruschetta until you’re ready to serve, because tomato-topped bread will inevitably soften as time goes on. You could make the tomato mixture up to two days in advance, and the toasts a couple of hours in advance.
Balsamic Vinegar Notes
Here’s the deal: You don’t have to top your bruschetta with balsamic vinegar, but I really love the irresistible tang that good balsamic vinegar provides.
For a beautiful drizzle, use high-quality, thick balsamic vinegar. I don’t recommend using run-of-the-mill, runny balsamic because it pours rather than drizzles. You could stir some runny balsamic into your tomato mixture, but it will turn the tomatoes lightly brown and will make the flavor more uniform.
I love Napa Valley Naturals’ Grand Reserve Vinegar—it’s about $9 at well-stocked grocery stores like Whole Foods. Make sure you get the bottle with “25 stars” on it. It’s one of my go-to ingredients, and it makes the best simple salad dressing (light drizzle of balsamic, drizzle of olive oil, plus a pinch of salt).
Another easy store-bought option would be a balsamic glaze/reduction. DeLallo and Alessi make them.
Or, make your own balsamic reduction with regular runny balsamic. Bring 1 cup (or more) to a boil in a small, thick bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring often, until the vinegar is reduced by half, about 10 to 15 minutes. Allow the reduction to cool, then transfer to an air-tight jar and store in the pantry.
Have a tomato surplus? Lucky you! Here are a few more fresh tomato recipes:
- Heirloom Caprese Salad
- Caprese Pasta Salad
- Mediterranean Tomato & Feta Dip
- Classic Pico de Gallo
- Ultimate Gazpacho
Please let me know how your bruschetta turns out in the comments. I hope it becomes your go-to summer party appetizer.
Tomato Basil Bruschetta
- Prep Time: 31 minutes
- Cook Time: 9 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 24 individual servings 1x
- Category: Appetizer
- Method: Baked
- Cuisine: Italian
You can make classic tomato-basil bruschetta at home with simple, fresh ingredients. It’s easy! Start by dicing your tomatoes (see step 2) to give them time to drain while you work on the remaining ingredients. Recipe yields 20 to 24 small toasts.
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes (about 5 to 6 medium tomatoes, but any variety will work)
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- ½ cup finely chopped white onion (about ½ medium)
- ½ cup chopped fresh basil (about ¾ ounce)
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 baguette (French bread)
- 4 to 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Thick balsamic vinegar (see notes within post) and optional Maldon flaky sea salt
- Preheat the oven (or a gas grill*) to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper for easy clean-up, if desired. If your baking sheet is smaller than mine, you may need to make the toast in two batches.
- Dice your tomatoes and transfer them to a medium mixing bowl, leaving the tomato seeds and juice behind on the cutting board. Stir the salt into the tomatoes, and add the onion, basil and garlic as they are ready. Stir to combine and set the mixture aside to marinate while you work on the bread.
- Slice your baguette on the diagonal into pieces no wider than ½-inch (see photos). I can usually fit 20 to 24 slices on my large baking sheet; you might have some bread left over. Lightly brush both sides of each slice with olive oil (this will require about 2 to 3 tablespoons oil).
- Place the slices in a single layer on your prepared baking sheet and bake them on the middle rack for 6 to 9 minutes, until they’re crisp and nicely golden on top. Transfer the toasts to a serving platter(s), if desired, and set aside.
- When you’re ready to serve, carefully drain off the excess tomato juice that has accumulated in the bowl, using your hand as a stopgap. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Stir to combine, and season the mixture with additional salt, to taste (I usually add another ¼ to ½ teaspoon). If you don’t feel like your bruschetta is garlicky enough (I like mine lightly but not overwhelmingly garlicky), add another pressed clove of garlic.
- Top each toast with tomato mixture, tipping your spoon against the bowl to release excess juice as necessary. Lightly drizzle a couple of tablespoons of thick balsamic vinegar on top, and sprinkle lightly with flaky salt if you have any. Bruschetta is best served promptly.
*How to grill your bread: Simply brush the slices with olive oil as directed and place them directly on the grill grates with tongs. Cover and let the bread toast for about 3 minutes. When the undersides are golden, with nice grill marks, carefully flip them with tongs and repeat on the other side. Transfer to a large serving platter and top them with the tomato-basil mixture and optional balsamic vinegar and/or flaky salt as directed.