Tomatoes and bread have an amazing affinity, from Basque slices of toasted sourdough rubbed with the cut side of a tomato, to British teatime tomatoes on toast. For me, though, a garlicky, herby Italian bruschetta is the very king of bread and tomato preparations.
There is a simple trick in making this sunny, fresh appetiser. You need to marinade the cut tomatoes with the aromatics and a hearty amount of your very best olive oil the night before you mean to eat – but that marinade should contain absolutely no salt. Salting the bruschetta just before serving means that the tomatoes’ texture will remain firm and juicy. The oil will have absorbed a fabulous wallop of tomato flavour (no salt, you see, so the juices of the tomato won’t all run out and separate), the tomatoes will be redolent with fragrant oil, herbs and garlic, and your tastebuds will want to shake your hand.
It’s very important that you select tomatoes with the maximum flavour. If you’ve grown your own, these will be by far the best. Otherwise, buy tomatoes which are ripe and have been kept on the vine after picking. That glorious smell you get in tomato greenhouses is from the green stalk and leaves, and doesn’t seem to make it into the fruit itself. If you buy vine tomatoes, they will be riper, and you can use the stalk in the marinade to inject some of that greenhouse flavour into the finished bruschetta. I’ve used some yellow tomatoes alongside regular red ones because it’s pretty, but you can use any good, ripe tomatoes you can find.
To serve four, you’ll need:
1kg vine tomatoes
2 fat, juicy cloves garlic
1 large handful basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
100ml olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Salt to finish
Chop the tomatoes into small bite-sized pieces, and put them and any juices in a large bowl. Crush the garlic and the herbs, and stir them into the tomatoes with the olive oil and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add the vines from the tomatoes, mix well, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
When you are ready to make up the bruschetta (don’t do this too far ahead of eating, or they will go soggy) grill slices of slightly stale ciabatta and cool on racks. Fish the stalks out of the marinade and discard. Heap the tomato mixture onto the slices with a tablespoon, sprinkle with fleur de sel or another crystalline salt like Maldon, and serve immediately. There are very unlikely to be any leftovers.