This originated as a salad. I would combine tomatoes, basil, ricotta salata (salted ricotta) when I could find it or feta cheese when I couldn’t, and dress it with balsamic vinaigrette. It was really good but after sitting for a bit, the balsamic vinaigrette would begin to muddy the cheese and mushify (okay, that’s not really a word but you get the idea) the tomatoes. It tasted fine but the texture and appearance weren't all that appetizing. If there were any leftovers, I’d wrap them (hide them?) in a warm piece of pita bread.
Because I liked the combination of warm bread and tomato salad, I decided to turn this into a topping for bruschetta. I cut the tomatoes and crumble the cheese into smaller bits and then drizzle my Balsamic Syrup over the top instead of using balsamic vinaigrette. It works so much better.
Before putting together the bruschetta, make the Balsamic Syrup first (it takes about ½ hour to make).
This recipe makes 8 pieces which depending on appetites can feed 4 to 8 people. You can always double or even triple the recipe.
4 large basil leaves
8 oz grape or cherry tomatoes, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled (I used a goat and sheep’s milk blend but use what you like)
1-2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled
Salt & pepper to taste
8 slices of baguette cut diagonally about ½” thick
Place the basil leaves on top of each other and roll them together into a tight tube. Using a sharp knife, cut the tube into tiny slices. Pull apart the slices. You can also simply tear the basil leaves into small pieces. Set aside.
In a large bowl, add the tomatoes, feta cheese, 1 TBS olive oil, a pinch of salt (not too much because the feta is usually quite salty), a pinch of black pepper, and the reserved basil. Gently stir the ingredients together and set aside.
Prepare the bread. You can either:
Heat a grill or grill pan on medium. Lightly brush each side of the bread with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Grill the bread on each side for a minute or two until lightly browned. Take a garlic clove (or two if you need more) and rub it on one side of each piece of the grilled bread. Sprinkle a pinch of salt on the same side of each piece of bread and set aside.
Or, toast the bread in a toaster or toaster oven until golden brown. Remove the bread and take a garlic clove (or two if you need more) and rub it on one side of each piece of the toasted bread. Brush the same side with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.
Place the grilled or toasted bread onto a serving tray. Carefully spoon the tomato and feta salad evenly between the 8 pieces of bread. Drizzle each slice with as much Balsamic Syrup as you like and serve.
Don’t Freak Out!
1) I like to make the tomato salad no more than 2 hours before serving. I cover it, store in the refrigerator, and then take it out it 10 minutes before topping the bruschetta.
Having said that, if there are any leftovers, store the tomato salad and the Balsamic Syrup separately in the refrigerator—covered, of course—for up to 24 hours. Although the tomato salad will be a bit juicier, the tomatoes will tend to hold their shape—I ate the leftover salad for breakfast this morning and it was still good.
2) Make it gluten-free. Toast slices of a gluten-free baguette or top toasted gluten-free English muffins with the tomato salad.
When you make the Balsamic Syrup, it’s generally acceptable for a gluten-free diet if the balsamic vinegar you use contains caramel coloring (use your discretion). However, if the ingredients include “caramel coloring from wheat, barley, or malt”, it’s not gluten-free. But, you should be able to find another brand of balsamic vinegar that just uses caramel coloring.
3) Make it vegan. It may be easier to find vegan mozzarella or provolone at your supermarket as a substitution (you may have to add a bit more salt to the tomato salad) but if you can find vegan feta cheese, go for it. Or omit the cheese altogether and instead substitute small cubes of firm or extra firm water-packed tofu that has been drained, patted dry with paper towels, and sautéed in olive oil with a pinch or two of salt and pepper. Allow the tofu to cool completely and then mix with the tomatoes and proceed with the recipe as written. If you can find it, try baked tofu marinated in basil or typical Italian seasonings; just cut it into small cubes.