SERIOUSLY SIMPLE: Bruschetta, perfect for a picnic or a barbecue
I never tire of the many variations of bruschetta. This classic Italian appetizer features thick sliced and grilled garlic-scented bread, usually drizzled with fruity olive oil. While we usually think of this dish topped with tomatoes, it is a blank canvas for other savory ingredients.

The name bruschetta is derived from the Italian word "bruscare," which means to roast over coals. English speakers commonly and mistakenly pronounce the word "bru-shetta," while the correct pronunciation is closer to "bru-sketta."

Anyway, I have tried many different toppings, but when tomatoes are in season I can't resist this warm weather version. In this recipe, olive oil is drizzled over the tomato and mozzarella cheese topping.

You can use your clever cook skills for creative topping ideas. Add some roasted peppers to the mixture or change out the mozzarella cheese for creamy burrata, feta or goat cheese. Add a touch of balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes to this topping. Other variations include adding a combination of sweet roasted peppers, black olives and ricotta cheese. Try your hand with this tomato appetizer and then you can expand your repertoire to the unusual white bean topping from "50 Best Plants on the Planet" (Chronicle Books, 2013).

In this adaptation, author Cathy Thomas makes a case for topping the toasts with a creamy bean mash and sugar snap peas -- fresh, colorful and unusual. Cannellini beans -- the large white kidney beans that are so popular in Italian cuisine -- make creamy spreads to use as appetizers. This earthy mash is augmented with a little extra-virgin olive oil along with vinegar, parsley, basil, red onion and tomato.

Both of these toppings can be prepared several hours in advance and stored airtight in the refrigerator. You can grill the bread 2 hours ahead. They both travel well, making this an ideal recipe for picnics. I also like to serve this at a barbecue to get the party going. Serve a summery chilled rosé to accompany either one of these.

Bruschetta with Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella


1 pound ripe plum (Roma) tomatoes, peeled

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons finely chopped basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 black pepper

1/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut in 1/2-inch dice or tiny perlini mozzarella balls


1 large baguette, French, sourdough or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch slices

2 large garlic cloves, peeled