Holiday Appetizers To Toast! BY KARLA B. PONDER

You know your guests. They will arrive hungry to your Christmas or New Years feast and it is not going to be served for over an hour. What can you provide for your guests that is more appealing to the eyes and appetites than a bowl of chips and salsa? How about a Tuscan invention–Bruschetta?

Originally used thousands of years ago as a vehicle to taste the fine nuances of the season’s new crop of olive oil, and still is, crusty Italian bread was toasted and thus its name is derived from the verb “bruscare”,  which means “to roast over coals”. Following the rules of  Italian pronunciation where a “ch” has a “k” sound, it is pronounced “brus-ketta”.

Still a favorite ‘antipasto’ in Italy,  (Italian for “before the pasta” [course]), bruschetta has found its way to the American table. In its simplest form, you broil the half inch slices of Italian or French bread, on one side only, at 450 degrees for about ten minutes until it is lightly toasted.  Then rub a clove of garlic, sliced lengthwise, repeatedly over the top, and drizzle with the finest virgin imported olive oil that you can afford! Add salt and pepper. You can also vary the basic recipe by adding chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and a small amount of  mozzarella cheese. I suggest keeping the toppings light since you are planning this as an appetizer and want to tease the appetite and not kill it!

Another light bruschetta with a Greek twist on tzatziki: start with the basic bruschetta of grilled/toasted French bread rubbed with a sliced garlic clove and drizzled with olive oil. Mix feta cheese and a small amount of plain yogurt as needed for a spreadable but thick consistency, fresh dill weed, finely chopped yellow onion, and salt and pepper. Add the cheese mixture to the bruschetta and top with a sprig of dill for decoration.  Perfetto!

For a Christmas-y look, spread the prepared basic bruschetta with Boursin cheese, chopped green and red peppers and green onions, and black olives if you like. Salt and pepper to taste. One of my  favorites for Christmas is to top the grilled bread  with Brie and fig preserves and put it in the oven for a few minutes until the Brie is melted. This one is great with a white wine!

This is a take on an amazing white bean soup that I enjoyed one rainy night in Florence, Italy. Use one (15 ounce) can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, 2-3 cloves of garlic, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of  Italian parsley leaves, 2 teaspoons of oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Put all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Spread on the toasted bruschetta and garnish with tiny bits of  tomato for color.

For more red and green Christmas bruschetta, here is an avocado and tomato version. In a medium sized bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, 1 minced clove of garlic, 1 large prepared avocado cut into small cubes, 1 Roma tomato chopped, 1/3 cup fresh basil chopped (To cut the leaves more easily, stack the basil leaves together, roll them up and then slice through them). Chill for an hour. Spread feta or cream cheese on the toasted bread, if desired. Top the bread with the avocado mixture.

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo! Buon apetito!


(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Have a good meal!)