This bruschetta is simple fare, but take a bite, close your eyes, and swoon over creamy, lemon-scented ricotta topped with the first delicate asparagus of the season. It’s finally spring. Carpe diem!
With so few ingredients, the devil is in the details with this recipe, as it always is when it comes to simple food. Not to say you should overcomplicate it, but a few little tweaks take it from good to scrumptious.
WHAT IS BRUSCHETTA?
Bruschetta (pronounced broo-skeh-tah) is nothing more than toast—Italian style! The word comes from the Italian “bruscare,” which means to roast over coals.
Large oval or round-ish slices of chewy, crusty bread are typically grilled, brushed with olive oil, and scraped with a garlic clove. If the slices are large and you want manageable size pieces, you can cut them in halves or quarters after grilling and topping them. If it’s not grilling season, you can toast the bread under the broiler instead.
To get the elusive chewy center, a broiler or a grill function in the same way: high heat to toast the outside without drying out the slice all the way through. Depending on the heat of your broiler or grill, the timing can vary. Just keep your eye on it, and turn it as soon as it browns.
Bruschetta is often topped with chopped tomatoes when they are in season, but there are many variations! After making this version with asparagus, try:
- White cannellini beans, flat leaf parsley, Parmesan, and olive oil
- Goat cheese with sliced fresh figs and mint
WHAT IS THE BEST BREAD FOR BRUSCHETTA?
When you’re buying the bread, think like an Italian! The bread should be crusty on the outside and somewhat dense and chewy on the inside (as opposed to airy).
I prefer sourdough because of its extra boost of flavor, but it’s not a deal breaker. In fact, the bread in Tuscany has no salt, so the Italians seem to manage well with unseasoned bread when it’s topped with good olive oil, salt, and tasty bits.
Buy the whole unsliced loaf and cut it by hand into 1/2-inch thick slices. You want them to be at least 1/2-inch thick to support the toppings. When toasted, the thick slices become crisp and brown on the outside and stay slightly chewy on the inside—a signature attribute of good bruschetta. Yum!
You will find many bruschetta recipes using a sliced baguette as a base. They are good for smaller bite-sized crostini, but with this recipe, you are aiming for larger pieces of bread with a sturdy texture that will make delicious toast. A baguette will work, but it’s not my first choice.
Also stay away from ordinary sandwich bread, rye bread, and brioche.
THE BEST RICOTTA TO BUY
I’ve been spoiled because a local market here in New England carries a brand of ricotta that is hand-dipped, ultra-creamy, and firm. I know, that’s a mean little tease, but you don’t need that brand to make this dish delicious!
Just look for the best whole milk ricotta your market carries—or make your own! Since ricotta is a major player in this flavor combination, I like to use whole milk ricotta rather than part skim; it has a rich, velvety flavor and texture that complements the asparagus.
HOW TO BUY THE BEST ASPARAGUS
Asparagus is best and freshest when grown locally and in season, which usually means spring months for most parts of the United States. It’s definitely worth the wait.
The tips should be closed and compact, and the spears should be sturdy, smooth (not wrinkled), and hydrated. Most asparagus you find in the market is green, but you could encounter purple or white varieties as well, which would also be fine to use.
For this recipe, buy asparagus thick enough to peel—think thicker than a pencil. If you don’t plan on peeling them, then don’t worry about the size. Any tender asparagus will do. I prefer to peel asparagus for reasons I outline in the next section.
HOW TO PREPARE ASPARAGUS
I’m going to ask you to do a little bit of work on this one. I want you to peel the bottom half of the spears. It’s ten minutes of extra time, tops, I promise!
Why? Peeling the stalk leads to tender and sweet spears when cooked.
If you follow the common practice of snapping the stalks at their breaking point when you bend them to eliminate the tough and woody bottoms, you lose about one-third of the spears. Peeling them removes some of the toughness, and you need only cut off about one inch from the bottom of the stalk, so you can keep (and eat!) most of the stalk.
To peel your asparagus, do the following:
- Place a spear flat on a cutting board.
- Starting from about one inch below the tip, use a vegetable peeler to peel each spear from top to bottom.
That’s it! Very thick stalks can be peeled and cut in half lengthwise, if that’s all you can find.
WHAT’S THE BEST OLIVE OIL?
You don’t need fancy olive oil for bruschetta, but if you happen to have it, now is the time to pull it out! A fruity extra-virgin olive oil would pair well with the asparagus in bruschetta.
Extra-virgin oil comes from the first pressing of the olives, usually within a day or two of harvesting. It is extracted from the olives by mechanical means (with low heat and no chemicals), has low acidity, and just tastes better than olive oil without the extra-virgin label. (Those other types might be labeled as pure, light, or simply olive oil.)
CAN I MAKE THIS AHEAD OF TIME?
The ricotta, lemon, herbs, and spices can be mixed together at least a day ahead of time, covered, and kept in the refrigerator.
It’s best to cook the asparagus and toast the bread the day you serve it. But since life can get busy, you can make the asparagus ahead of time by following these few tips:
- Cooked asparagus can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for three to five days.
- Bring asparagus to room temperature before serving.
- You can keep the asparagus at room temperature for up to four hours.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
Now that you know how to toast the bread, what kind of ricotta to buy, and how to cook the spears, you are in business!
Slather those toasts with olive oil, ricotta, and your perfectly cooked asparagus. Sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper, a little more olive oil, and serve with lemon wedges if you like.
MORE FAVORITE SPRING ASPARAGUS RECIPES!
Asparagus and Ricotta Bruschetta Recipe
- 1 pound thick asparagus
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Pinch freshly ground black pepper
- 8 (1/2-inch thick) slices good crusty bread cut from a sourdough or country loaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Lemon wedges
1 Peel the asparagus: Cut off about 1 inch of the bottom end of each asparagus spear. Lay the spears on a flat surface and hold the tip. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off the skin from the bottom half of each asparagus spear to expose the lighter green part of the stems under the peel.
2 Cook the asparagus: In a deep skillet, bring 1 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus, and cook at a rapid simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the stalks are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. With a slotted spoon, remove to a flat tray and blot dry with a paper towel.
Cut the spears into 1 1/4-inch long pieces.
3 Mix the ricotta and lemon: In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, lemon zest, lemon juice, parsley, salt, and pepper.
4 Make the toast: Set an oven shelf close to the broiler, and turn on the broiler. Place the bread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toast for about 1 minute on each side, or until browned and crisp on top, but still slightly chewy in the center.
Stay near the oven and watch carefully to keep the bread from burning. The exact time depends on the distance from the broiler and the heat of your particular broiler.
Remove the toasts from the oven and brush each slice with olive oil.
5 Assemble the bruschetta: Spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of ricotta on each slice of bread. Top it with the asparagus. Drizzle with more olive oil, flaky sea salt and pepper. Serve with lemon wedges.
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