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Toasting Summertime

June 20, 1996|MARY CARROLL | Carroll is the author of "No Cholesterol (No Kidding!) Cookbook" (Rodale Press)

Bruschetta is another one of those simple Italian foods--like pasta--that you can get used to very quickly, especially as the temperature climbs and cooking becomes easier and faster out of necessity.

These little toasts of French or Italian bread, covered with a variety of garden-fresh toppings, can be partnered with a quick soup or salad, and there's dinner.

I am a big toast fan. My favorite snack when I was a child was buttered wheat toast, so garlic-rubbed bruschetta found a very comfortable niche in my family's regular meals.

The first step is to make the bruschetta toasts. You can make a batch in 10 minutes, enough to last about a week even if you enjoy them frequently. The grilled toasts keep well in a tightly covered container.

To make the toasts, cut a long loaf of bread into slices about 1/2-inch thick. Toast slices on the grill over medium-hot coals for about 1 minute on each side, or until they have a crisp golden exterior and a still-soft interior. Or pop them under a broiler, turning once.

After toasting, store them in a container. Before topping, you can brush the bruschetta toasts with olive oil and rub them with a split clove of garlic.

To make the bruschetta, pile the toasts with whatever happens to be garden-ripe and ready to eat. Sliced cucumber, minced herbs and olive oil, chopped fresh spinach or chopped ripe tomatoes are favorite toppings.

Bruschetta makes a very easy and elegant first course. Serve two or three on a small plate as an appetizer before a big meal or pass a platter of them with salad or soup. Match the flavors of your topping to the course that follows the bruschetta, and everyone will rave.

My favorite topping of the quartet that follows is also the easiest--roasted garlic. If you haven't tasted the amazingly sweet transformation garlic goes through when slow-cooked, now's your chance. There's no need for a fancy garlic roaster; a baking sheet works just fine.

BRUSCHETTA WITH ROASTED GARLIC

4 whole heads garlic

1 teaspoon olive oil

8 round slices rye or whole-wheat peasant bread

With sharp knife or scissors, trim woody tops of garlic heads, exposing soft cloves just at their tips. Brush outside of heads with olive oil and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees until very soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When garlic is almost ready, place rye bread slices on ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes, turning once, or until bread is crisp and brown.

To serve, carefully squeeze garlic cloves out of browned skins onto rye bread toasts.

Makes 8 bruschetta.

TOMATO-BASIL BRUSCHETTA

In our household, the first ripe tomatoes in the markets are marked for this delicious side dish. I usually serve it with a salad of bitter greens or a velvety low-fat cream soup.

1 cup diced tomatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 basil leaves, chopped

Salt, pepper

8 slices Italian or French bread

1 clove garlic, halved

Combine tomatoes, oil, basil and salt and pepper to taste in small bowl.

Toast bread slices and rub each slice with garlic. Top with tomato mixture.

Makes 8 bruschetta.

CHEESE BRUSCHETTA

This tasty bruschetta is adapted from a recipe by Washington food writer Susan S. Bradley.

1 cup low-fat cream cheese

1/4 cup low-fat sour cream

2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

1 cup shredded reduced-fat Swiss cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon chopped pimento

1 garlic clove, minced

16 slices French or Italian bread, toasted

Process cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses in food processor until smooth. Stir in pimento and garlic.

Spread cheese mixture on toasted bread. Arrange slices on baking sheet. Broil 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese melts.

Makes 16 bruschetta.

FETA AND TOMATO BRUSCHETTA

I love this combination of feta cheese and tomatoes tossed with balsamic vinegar; I adapted it from a Gourmet magazine recipe.

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon dry white wine

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped green onions

16 slices French or Italian bread, toasted

Saute garlic, oil and wine in small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring, 30 seconds or until tomatoes are just heated through. Remove from heat. Stir in feta cheese, vinegar and green onions. Mound about 1 tablespoon of mixture on each toast.

Makes 16 bruschetta.

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