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Bruschetta di Pomodori Gratinati


This is my friend Alessandro. Yow! I know, right? My goodness. Artist, funnyman, and eater extraordinaire - he's an all-around Renaissance man. Last week he taught me, the self-anointed No. 1 Fan of tomatoes, bread and olive oil, a little something new about that holy trio. I didn't think it possible. But it's true! Hallelujah! Besides, look at that face. Would you not eat anything it told you to? Sigh.

Where were we?

Okay, now Alessandro's father, Giancarlo, happens to be the World's Expert on stuffed tomatoes. And yes, I have eaten my weight in stuffed tomatoes and I can say with certainty that he is indeed the World's Expert. He should probably be teaching classes in them. But I haven't yet convinced him of this. Don't worry, it's just a matter of time. Alessandro's mother Gabriella will also one day be on the Food Network. Keep an eye out for her.

Here's a visual aide:



Roughly speaking, Giancarlo halves those impossibly red, ribbed-bottomed, flattish tomatoes that I only ever see in Italy (sort of like these), probably salts and drains them, then dries them out in a grill basket over hot coals briefly (upside down, I think?) before filling them with a mixture of breadcrumbs, wild fennel, parsley, salt and olive oil. I'm sorry if this is all a bit vague, but you get the idea, right? Then he fills the grill basket again and grills them until their skins are wrinkled and blackened and the garden fills with fragrance.

This is the garden:


These are the tomatoes:


And this is Giancarlo (not only a tomato wizard, but an amazing talent at blowing bubbles):


Just to give you a sensory nudge. Are you there yet?

Alright, so here's where Alessandro's tutorial begins. Once you have a platter, or two really, of these tomatoes ready, you should slice a loaf of country bread and grill those slices too. Then pass them around the table. Each person gets one slice of bread. Then you pass around a peeled clove of garlic for people to lightly (lightly! come on!) rub across the bread. After that, they should drizzle a little bit of olive oil over the toast, just a bit. Like so:


Now start handing out tomatoes. Each toast gets one plopped, filling-side down, on top of it.


Remove all that charred skin. The better you are at removing it one full sweep, the more points you get, according to my friends. I failed miserably. See? That doesn't matter. Still tastes good.


Okay, you're almost there. Now give that soft little tomato another oil drizzle. And, if you're daring, a sprinkle of salt. I find this essential. Then, using your fork, mash that tomato down into the bread. Go on, it's the best part.


And you're done! Ooh, you're in for a treat. Smoky, rich, and savory, unctuous and crunchy at the same time, you will want to eat nothing but one after another of these for dinner, no matter what other kinds of dishes are offered to you later in the evening. Grilled octopus so tender it melts in your mouth? Feh. Spaghetti with clams in the most wonderful sauce ever? Who needs it. Give me more tomatoes, bread and olive oil.

Wait! I forgot something. Before you take a bite, cut the bruschetta in half. There, there. The best bites, says Alessandro, are the ones in the middle.