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As the days get hotter and hotter and the sun shines brighter, tomatoes are getting bigger and better. This is one of the best times of the year, when tomatoes are in season and treating us to their amazing flavor. For tomato lovers, there's really no better time of year than when the big juicy orbs of red flesh start ripening on the vine.

But as we're all aware, sometimes the best things come in small packages — as in those wonderful cherry tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth straight from the vine. But they're equally as good laid on a bed of ricotta or goat cheese and broiled for a yummy take on bruschetta.

This dish should be in the Tomato Hall of Fame — if there were such a thing. Not only is it a beautiful appetizer to look at, it's also mouthwateringly good. And one of the nice things about it is that you can customize it to your liking. Add more tomatoes and leave out the basil — if you dare. Or add a little bit more basil, which is what I usually do because I just love the flavor of basil with tomatoes. Add creamy cheese to the mix, and you've got a home run.

Most recipes for bruschetta call for French bread or a baguette cut into slices. I like a more rustic bread like ciabatta. It crisps up nicely and makes for a lovely presentation.

Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomato Bruschetta

4 cups cherry tomatoes

5 cloves garlic

1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil leaves

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

About 8 slices ciabatta

Garlic powder

6-8 ounces ricotta or goat cheese (see note)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toss together tomatoes, garlic, basil, fennel, salt, vinegar and 1/4 cup olive oil. Place tomatoes in a single layer in baking dish, and roast, stirring once, until the tomatoes are tender and skins blister, 20-25 minutes. While tomatoes cool, drizzle the ciabatta slices with 1/4 cup olive oil, sprinkle with a little garlic powder and bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned.

While the bread is baking, remove the skins from the tomatoes, though this step is not necessary. It's a matter of preference. Spread the cheese on warm bread slices, and top with cherry tomatoes. Drizzle with remaining olive oil. Garnish with a small whole basil leaf, if desired.

* Note: If the taste of goat cheese is too strong for your liking, ricotta is a good choice that spreads as easily as goat.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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Anne Braly
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