If there are only a few pure things you do this holiday season, let one of them be cooking with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs. You know whose sake it’s for (hint: it’s a He). This pesto bruschetta is so good, that if you leave it out for Santa, you might just get a couple extra presents under the tree. Really though, how many cookies can one person eat? If you are not willing to risk it for Santa, make this recipe as an appetizer for wherever you will be spending Christmas. Not only is it festive with its red and green color, but it could very well start a chorus of Halleluiah.
When I think of Christmas, I think of an Italian feast on Christmas Eve. Many families in the United States make a large meal with cuisine related to their cultural or ethnic background on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. What can I say; we are a nation of immigrants. Half of my heritage is Italian and the other half is Norwegian. This means that on Christmas I leave my cooking and eating to my Italian self, and then use my Norwegian self to burn it off with an outdoor winter sport afterwards. It also means that I talk with my hands (the Italian side). The good news is that when it comes to finger food, I do not talk with my mouth full, especially when the food is as divine as this pesto bruschetta.
2 cups of fresh basil leaves; packed loose and whole. Do not pack tightly in measuring cup!
1.5 cups of fresh parsley leaves; remove stems and also loosely packed and whole
1.5 cups of fresh mint leaves; also packed loose and whole
1/3 cup of dry roasted, salted and whole almonds (if you use unsalted almonds, you might want to add a bit of table salt to taste later)
3-4 cloves of garlic, taken out of husk; easiest way to do this is to cut the tips off and smash each clove with an olive oil bottle (it really works!)
½ cup of Parmesan or Romano cheese; grated with smallest hole on a cheese grater
1 tablespoon of lemon zest; it will be about the equivalent of grating the peel of an entire medium sized lemon. Also use the smallest size grating hole for this.
4-5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2-2.5 pounds (.9-1 KGs) fresh tomatoes; in the offseason I like to use Campari tomatoes (smaller than a “regular” tomato, but bigger than a grape tomato) or on the vine tomatoes because they have a great flavor year round.
About 6 mint leaves; chopped but not finely
Salt to taste (6 or 7 healthy shakes)
1 large loaf of Italian or French bread (or 2 medium loaves)
In the traditional method of making pesto, most of the ingredients are crushed with a mortar and pestle. In fact, the name “pesto” is a derivative of the Italian word for “crushes” in the regional dialect in Liguria, which is where pesto originates from. I personally think crushing the ingredients (the herbs, garlic, and almonds) takes too long, especially when there is a wonderful machine called a food processor. I also don’t have a mortar and pestle. Hey Santa, I am looking at YOU!! If you don’t have a food processor, you can also finely chop the ingredients. Chopping will take much more time, but it is still a good option. If you do not have a knife, there is nothing I can do to help you at this point. I hope you enjoyed the picture.
To get started, finely grind the mint, basil, parsley, garlic and almonds. You will need to do this in batches. I usually start with the leafy ingredients and finish with the almonds. Once each ingredient has been processed, place it in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the cheese and lemon zest. Then stir in the olive oil. I leave the olive oil for last because it allows me to judge on how rich/oily the pesto will be.
TIP: Pesto is very much like a soup or sauce in that it is often the best on the second day. The reason is because the flavors are allowed to blend and meld together with time. It will definitely taste great if you are making it right before consumption, but it can be easily made a day or two in advance. If you do make it in advance, you might want to include less garlic (maybe two cloves instead of four) because that flavor can really grow.
After the pesto is made, preheat the oven to 325° Fahrenheit (165° C) and dice the tomatoes. I personally like medium to large size chunks of tomato for bruschetta, which is about 3/4ths of an inch (or 2cm) in thickness.
TIP: Tomatoes do not keep well once they are cut, so if you do make the pesto portion of the recipe in advance, do not do the same for the tomatoes.
In a separate bowl, gently stir the diced tomatoes and the chopped mint. Add salt to taste (6 or 7 healthy shakes should be adequate). If your tomatoes are ripe (which they should be!!), there will be a lot of juice at the bottom of the bowl. This is good! The salt will bring juice out of the tomatoes as well.
Slice the loaf of bread into about 3/4ths of an inch (about 2cm) thick slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet and put them in the oven (which you preheated to 325° F/165° C) for about 7 minutes.
Once the bread has been toasted, spread the pesto on each slice as if it were butter. Then, spoon the tomato mix on top. Feel free to add some of the juice from the bottom of the tomato bowl to the bruschetta. The bread will soak it up nicely! To finish, lightly grate an additional amount of the Romano or Parmesan cheese on top, if you still have some remaining. I like to use a slightly bigger grating hole for the topping. This will give it another little punch of flavor, but I also think it looks like snow!
TIP: If you are making the bruschetta for a big party, it might be a good idea to let your guests put the tomato topping on their slice themselves. This way the bread will not be soggy if it is sitting for a while (and it is simpler for you as a host!).
However big or small your gathering is, at this point you should be enjoying your fabulous pesto bruschetta! Mangiamo! (I am coming over!)