Lidia Bastianich knows how to shortcut even the simplest of recipes.
When I asked the popular PBS cooking personality for holiday cocktail party tips, she chose a trio of bruschetta from her latest cookbook “Lidia’s Celebrate Like an Italian.”
Bruschetta is the Italian word for is a popular appetizer served in restaurants. It’s a deceptively simple appetizer – one even non-cooks can prepare.
“It looks like you’ve worked all day, and you can use leftovers,” she says. “Even the bread can be from yesterday. It will revive.”
Bruschetta (pronounced broo-SKEH-tah) is Italian meaning “to roast over coals.” Simply toast bread, rub each slice with a garlic clove and then brush each slice with olive oil (you don’t want to change the fresh flavor of the olive oil by exposing it to heat) and top.
Lidia provided the following recipes, and she also shared time-saving tips that went beyond the printed recipe.
Add a signature beverage – a single cocktail or punch that guests can make on their own – and you’re ready to toast your way to health and happiness surrounded by friends and family.
Beef and Arugula Bruschetta
For an elegant starter, make this with thinly sliced cold beef tenderloin and your own homemade giardiniera. For a super-quick version, use sliced rare roast beef and giardiniera from a good deli.
16 (1/2-inch-thick) slices hearty country bread
2 cups drained giardiniera, plus 2 tablespoons of the brine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups loosely packed baby arugula, coarsely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound rare beef tenderloin, cooked rare to medium, thinly sliced (or 1 pound thinly sliced rare roast beef from the deli)
Lightly toast or grill the bread on both sides. In a large bowl, toss together the giardiniera, olive oil and brine. Add the arugula, and toss gently. Taste, and season with salt if necessary.
Layer the beef on the bread. Top with the giardiniera mixture, and drizzle with any juices left in the bowl. Serve immediately.
Lidia tip: Look for giardiniera, a medley of pickled vegetables, available jarred in the pickle aisle at most grocery stores or at delis.
Yield: 8 servings (16 pieces) as a first course, more as part of an antipasto buffet
Cannellini and Pancetta Bruschetta
The beans can be made a day ahead; just warm them up before serving. This recipe might give more beans than you need, but they will keep for several days and also freeze well. Stir them into soup, or serve as a side dish next to a big grilled steak.
1 pound dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 large stalk celery, finely chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
16 thin slices pancetta
16 slices country bread, about 3 inches long each, grilled or toasted
Drain the soaked cannellini, and put in a pot with water to cover by 2 inches. Add the carrot, celery, bay leaves, and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender, about 1 hour.
Uncover the beans, and simmer to reduce the cooking liquid down so it just covers the beans, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, season with the salt, and let cool until just warm.
Drain the beans, and toss with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the parsley.
Meanwhile, lay the pancetta in a nonstick skillet (you may have to do this in batches), and cook over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels.
To serve, mound some of the warm beans on the bread slices on a platter. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Break the pancetta into shards, and set them on top of the beans.
Lidia tip: You can shortcut preparation with canned cannellini beans. Rinse them and season with olive oil and a sprig of rosemary.
Yield: 16 servings.
Bruschetta With Prosciutto and Figs
If you have leftover balsamic reduction, it’s good drizzled over cooked vegetables or chunks of Grana Padano.
1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1 fresh bay leaf
6 thick slices country bread, grilled or toasted on both sides, still warm
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
6 ripe figs, thickly sliced
12 thin slices prosciutto
Combine the vinegar, honey, and bay leaf in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook until thick and syrupy and reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 to 6 minutes. Cool and discard bay leaf.
Drizzle the warm bread with olive oil, and season with salt. Lay the fig slices over the bread. Drape the prosciutto over the figs.
Drizzle with balsamic reduction. Serve.
Lidia tip: Fig jam works well if figs aren’t in season. Or dried figs can be pureed in a blender or food processor with the addition of a few tablespoons of lemon juice, or even bourbon.
Yield: 6 servings.