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easy breezy bruschetta
by Sunny Giron
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Some people seem blessed with a gift for being able to throw together a fabulous soiree and make it seem effortlessly graceful. Whether it's learned behavior or genetic, I don't know. But if being the perfect host doesn't come naturally to you, never fear. As a big fan of faking it, I invite you to consider the simple beauty of the bruschetta (broo-SKET-uh). Adding this minimalist Italian creation to your cooking repertoire is a sure way to bolster your entertaining confidence. Pair it with some inexpensive wine, and your table will radiate understated elegance.

One of the wonderful things about bruschetta is its versatility. Like the little black dress, it suits just about everyone. When I'm hosting friends, I frequently have to accommodate everyone's different eating preferences. At any given gathering, there always seems to be at least one person who's having a go at vegetarianism or that's just discovered she's lactose intolerant; whatever the case, there's always someone who can't eat something, and it becomes my task to work around these food quirks. Bruschetta offers itself up to an infinite number of variations -- it can go vegetarian, carnivore-friendly or dairy-free, and act as an appetizer or serve as the foundation for a whole meal. Each variation of bruschetta -- like your guests -- has its own personality.

The must-have ingredient that defines bruschetta is bread. It's the essential base that makes or breaks the dish; it should be of high quality, so don't try to get away with using Wonder bread. Find a good bakery, and get your hands on a nice, rustic, crusty bread. My personal favorite is ciabatta, but a white French bread works just as well and usually works as a better complement for sweeter toppings.

To begin the bruschetta process, you'll need to slice the bread into 1-inch slices. If you're working with a large loaf, you'll then want to halve each slice again. Brush one side of each slice with extra virgin olive oil. Place the slices oil-side down on a cooking sheet, and toast them in the oven at about 475F until golden brown. Once this is done, you can begin topping the bread with any number of ingredients -- savory or sweet, whatever suits your fancy.

tomato, basil & garlic
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
serves 6 as appetizer

This good old standard is how most folks experience bruschetta at their favorite Italian restaurants. To make it, just combine ingredients and allow to marinate for about five minutes before topping your bread base. Try not to top too far ahead of serving, as the bread can get soggy.

Wine companion: Nipozzano Riserva, 1995, Chianti Rufina, Italy $9 - $10.

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