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out of the frying pan: tomato and pesto bruschetta

Every year summer hits, my appetite flies out the window. There’s something about prickly, constant heat that steals a great deal of joy out of the hearty, filling fare that I revel in during the less oppressive months. This year’s been particularly overwhelming, and given that the high temperatures don’t look to be letting up any time soon, I’ve had to get creative in order to motivate myself enough to even set foot in my kitchen.

It’s times like these I turn to interesting salads, chilled soups, and antipasto, and anything light and cool that can be picked at over the evening and prepared with little effort. I can think of nothing worse at the moment than having to stand over a stove or keep the oven hot for any length of time.

One plus side to summer, however, is the abundance of seasonal produce, and I find it hard to go past humble basil for punchy, no nonsense flavour and fragrance. Pesto is so often merely used in pasta, and wonderful as that is, one of my favourite, thrifty summer practices is to make a generous amount of it, and then throw it at every meal I can think of. It’s definitely worth it for the temporary garlic breath.

Here I use it as a base for this ridiculously simple bruschetta, but it can be just as easily tweaked with oil, lemon juice and vinegar for salad dressings or an addition to a tomato and bocconcini pizza. It’s perfect stirred though a potato and green bean salad, and can even be adapted to a dip with little to no alterations.

If you don’t own a food processor (like me) then making it can be a little bit of hard work, but you hopefully won’t mind the elbow grease once you reap the rewards of the finished product. The method I use is with a mortar and pestle.

Ingredients

Serves 4

This is the kind of ‘barely a recipe at all, more of a guideline an inspiration’ that you can let your mind run wild with. These are the toppings I prefer, but you could really add anything you like. Marinated eggplant, capers, anchovies, roasted capsicum. The options are endless.

Topping

8 thick slices of quality bread (I love using sourdough)
3 ripe tomatoes, diced (a lot of the time Roma tomatoes are far yummier than your big standard glossy round red ones, but the quality of all tomatoes is probably slightly higher this time of year)
4-5 pickled artichoke hearts, chopped
3-4 teaspoons of chopped black olives
½ red onion, finely diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper for seasoning
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
1 peeled clove of garlic (optional, if you like your garlicy food extra garlicy)

For the Pesto

3-4 handfuls of fresh basil (stalks removed) roughly chopped
1 handful of pinenuts, lightly toasted over medium heat until golden
½ – 1 clove of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 handful of parmesan cheese, grated
olive oil
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Method

For the Pesto

1. Add as little or as much garlic as you prefer to the mortar with a pinch of salt and pound until crushed. Add as much basil as you can at a time and continue to pound until it’s basically been destroyed into a rough paste.

2. Add the pine nuts and continue to bash until integrated.

3. Switch from the pestle to a fork or spoon and stir in parmesan.

4. At this point you want to start adding olive oil a little at a time, stirring it through until you have a nice gooey consistency; not too runny, not too lumpy and thick.

5. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

For the Bruschetta

1. Toast your slices of bread in batches. I prefer to use the grill in the oven, but it doesn’t make a great deal of difference either way.

2. In a large bowl, stir together diced tomato, artichoke hearts, olives and red onion. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

3. I like to rub a clove of garlic over one side of each slice of toasted bread, but the result is pretty punchy, so feel free to abstain. Spread a layer of pesto onto each slice of bread.

4. Add your tomato mix to each slice of bread, and drizzle with a little olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar to finish.

5. Serve as is, or with a simple green salad.

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