The flavors of my family are as such...
Garlic. Balsamic. Pepper. Olive oil. Parmesan. Dijon. Spinach. Pasta. Basil.
A collective whole that is tangy and zingy on the tongue but full and comforting in body. It bursts with depth, adventure, and richness. The crisp chop of the garlic and the traveling aroma of its mysterious spicy-sweet complexity. The thick creaminess of dijon shaken with balsamic vinegar and bold olive oil... It all combines after the first few cuts on the plate. Chicken, rice, and spinach merge with the mud to create a mix of homey perfection. And when it's all gone, the crispy bread fulfills its role by swooping in and mopping up leftovers that simply cannot be left behind. It is only to be followed by a hoping finger that ventures to the plate and returns to the mouth with a smidgen of the meal's flavors for the taste buds to fight over.
It's an act, an art, a beautiful play. These meals are each lovely and perfect, somehow both new and familiar at the same time. A surge of nostalgia, a hope for a larger stomach, but a joyful resolution nevertheless.
This is one of those meals.
Although I often categorize it as an appetizer or a first dinner, it tends to become a meal in our house. "What are we going to do about dinner." Someone breaks the silence at 5 o'clock, speaking the words we all were thinking. Ideas float in the air but hardly land. Pizza? Pasta? Chicken? Fish? The usual combination, each answered with uncertainty. So we'll just start with something, whatever we can pick at. Chips and salsa. Handfuls of nuts. Hummus. Or bruschetta, on a good day.
Dad whips it up with ease. Chop. Glug glug. Slice. Shake. Glug. Stir. Slurp. Perfect.
Cut into a crispy baguette and commence spooning this goodness either onto a slice or straight into our mouths. We linger in the kitchen and dance to loud songs that are always known as kitchen music. No need to settle at a table, it's just first dinner. We munch and chomp and chew until our stomachs are full and we can take no more, or it's all gone. And all of the sudden our first dinner has turned into dinner. A classic Hopper move with a summer fling.
Don't let us fool you, though. Most people plan ahead more than we do, or at least that's what we assume. You might be one of those people, you might not be. Regardless, you should probably make bruschetta as a first dinner. For your family. For a party. For yourself.
Whether it becomes your full dinner or not, the time is now while the tomatoes are ripe. I encourage you, walk across the street to your local produce stand, put your cash into the honorary money slot, and choose your bounty for an end-of-the-summer soirée. What a beautiful thing.
On nights like these, no dessert is needed because cravings of sweetness are satisfied by balsamic-soaked bread. And I couldn't be more thankful for it.
Praise for the gift of summer beauty!
- 12 small to medium tomatoes
- 4 cloves of garlic
- Handful of fresh basil; as much as you can retrieve, really
- About 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- About 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- Salt and pepper
Start by dicing your tomatoes, small to medium size. Throw them in a bowl with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I'll be honest, I never measure these. I just eyeball them by glugs. Always have more olive oil than vinegar, but enough vinegar that you still taste the bite and tanginess of it. A few glugs of olive oil, a couple glugs of vinegar. Crush and chop your garlic; julienne your basil leaves. Add them to the bowl with some good shakes of salt and pepper- enough salt to highlight the flavors, enough pepper to surprise your tongue. Mix it all up, taste it, and add whatever you think. For me, it's often more vinegar, more garlic, or more salt & pepper. But be your own chef- adjust to your likings.
It's best to let the bruschetta rest at this point, at room temperature, to let the flavors mature together. If you can make it, give it about a half an hour, then slice your baguette, toast it in the oven if you like, and serve up your first dinner.