Question: What do you do with a handful of broad beans and a loaf of bread when you haven’t much else in the house? (This is what I was contemplating at around 3pm today, lunchless and lazy.) Answer: Bruschetta! I know, I was sceptical too as I had only half the ingredients listed in the Thomasina Miers recipe. But not to be defeated, I ploughed on.
I eased the broad beans from ten furry pods, like precious jewels inside velvet-lined cases, and boiled them in salted water for about ten minutes. In a small mixing bowl, I tossed the drained beans with extra virgin olive oil, a dash of white wine vinegar (in the absence of a lemon), torn basil leaves from the pot outside my front door, and salt and pepper. Once toasted, I rubbed a thick slice of sourdough bread vigorously with the cut surface of a garlic clove and drizzled it with olive oil. Spreading generously first with Meredith Dairy goats cheese from a jar in the fridge, I then spooned my beans and their juices over the top.
So simple, so quick, so OMG there’s a party happening in my mouth! First the earthy tang of goats cheese, the hum of garlic, the crunch of toast. Then the beans, bursting forth rudely, shiny and bright green, from their puckered greyish jackets. And all enveloped in luscious olive oil offset by the sharp vinegar and aniseedy basil.
As luck would have it I also had at my disposal a couple of lovely tomatoes, half a red onion and some pine nuts, so come dinner time I was able to try out another of Thomasina’s bruschetta toppings.
I chopped my two tomatoes into chunky cubes and about an eighth of a red onion into fine dice, tossing them in a bowl with a scattering of toasted pine nuts, a small handful of shredded basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil and a slosh of sherry vinegar. (The recipe called for balsamic vinegar but I’m in love with the sherry variety at the moment.) I seasoned with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar and left the mixture to stand for ten minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared my bread as before – toasting, rubbing and drizzling – then piled on the marinated tomato mixture. Barring the addition of pine nuts, this is probably the best known version of bruschetta. The simple combination of ripe tomatoes, a little onion, basil leaves and a vinaigrette dressing is nothing short of magical. However, I found the pine nuts added a welcome richness and textural contrast.
It may interest you to know that bruschetta, an Italian antipasto, dates back to the 15th century. In Tuscany it is called ‘fettunta’ and is usually served without any topping, especially in November when it acts as a vehicle for tasting the very first olive oil of the season. Now that’s simplicity!