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You Say Tomato, I Say Bruschetta: A Toasty Italian Quartet

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So I'm at the Cheesecake Factory in the Sherman Oaks Galleria one night - you know how that goes - and my dinner companion and I decide to order some appetizers, even though the Cheesecake Factory practices the most horrible crimes of unhealthily-large-portion-sizes ever committed upon humanity. I want something light to start, so I tell the waiter: "I'll have the bruschetta, please."

"One order of the bru-SHET-a?"
"Um, yes. And I want the bru-SKET-a brought out first."
"Alright, so I've got here two insanely large pasta platters, two iced teas, and one bru-SHET-a."
"Yeah. Whatever. Just bring me my tomato-basil croutons."

Okay, granted I don't know Italian, but I'm fairly sure I know about hard "ch" sounds in Romance languages, and besides, even if I was wrong (Wikipedia says I'm not), I don't need a freakin' CHEESECAKE FACTORY WAITER being all snotty about it. Besides, Cheesecake Factory bruschetta isn't all that - you could put together some way better at home, with some fresh buffalo mozzarella and basil from your back porch (or the farmer's market, where you can probably get some good tomatoes). In fact, you could put together a whole bruchetta spread, and either make a lot of people happy at a potluck, or do a fun dinner-for-two with good red wine. Here's how to make the tasty nibbles pictured above:

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Bruschetta (Pronunciation Your Own) With:
Tomato, Basil, and Garlic
Kalamata Tapenade
Tuna With Bacon
White Bean With Anchovy

First things first: you want some good bread. I just used a sourdough baguette from the grocery store, cut up into rounds and baked in the oven until toasty, but if you want more substantial bruschetta, get a loaf of freshly baked Italian bread (you can get some at Bay Cities Italian Deli in Santa Monica).

Bruschetta Al Pomodoro: Cut up two large or three small tomatoes into 1/4-inch bits. Mince two-three cloves of garlic (I'm a fan of vampire-repelling amounts). Chop up (chiffonade: roll basil leaves into cigar-like cylinders and then finely chop the leaves together - SO MUCH FUN! seriously) four leaves of basil. Mix together in a bowl. Add finely chopped pieces of mozzarella just before serving for an easy-to-serve version of caprese.

Tapenade: Throw a cup of kalamata olives, 2-3 cloves of garlic, a tablespoon or so of lemon juice, 2-3 tbsp olive oil and salt and pepper into a food processor. Blend until yummy!

Tuna with Bacon: Mix two cans of tuna (oil or water-packed) with two anchovies, a tablespoon of olive oil, two tablespoons of finely minced parsley, a tablespoon or so of capers, pinch of red pepper flakes, and (as always) salt and pepper. Top with crisped bacon.

White Bean With Anchovy: Rinse one can of cannelini beans. Throw into bowl with 4-5 leaves chiffonaded basil, 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, a few pinches of crushed red pepper, a pinch of dried rosemary (or fresh to taste)

Just for fun, you can also throw a trimmed garlic bulb in the oven to roast while you're preparing everything else - just drizzle it with olive oil and salt it, then let cook in 450 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, or until just browning and very fragrant. Incredible beyond words spread on thin slices of sourdough or any good bread.

One of the great things you can do with these toppings is use them on another type of bread - pizza dough! If you don't finish all your bruschetta one night (say you're cooking for two), you can either buy some pre-made pizza dough at Trader Joe's or throw together your own (besides the hour-long rising time, it's not that hard). Here are a few links to good recipes.

Once your dough is ready, roll it out and place onto a well-floured cookie sheet (or pizza stone, if you're all fancy). Spoon marinara sauce over dough - sparingly. Add bruschetta toppings - you can either pile them all on together, or divide them up and make individually flavored personal pizzas. Cover with mozzarella cheese, bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25-30 minutes, or until dough starts to brown and cheese is bubbly.

There you have it: two easy meals. One terribly difficult word to pronounce.