What a warm summer night will make me crave: crunchy, crusty artisanal toast; crispy, pillowy roasted eggplant; salty, smokey cured pork; and sweet, succulent caramelized onions. This isn’t your typical garlic- and tomato-topped bruschetta. Don’t go skipping to the wine cellar just yet. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be oozing with all kinds of bold flavors and textures. Stacked and finished with some stinky cheese and an unsympathetic drizzle of balsamic syrup, this wild and earthy bruschetta is comforting and unabashed by whatever dirty secret you might squeal.
- 415 g. eggplant, peeled and sliced length-wise, about 1/2- to 2/3-inch thick (1 eggplant)
- 300 g. yellow onion, 1-inch julienne (1 onion)
- 225 g. baguette or other light loaf (about 1 baguette)
- 60 g. taleggio or other soft Italian cheese
- 50 g. speck (smoked prosciutto) or other cured ham, such as prosciutto or guanciale
- 1/2 cup pinot grigio or other medium-dry white wine (e.g. pinot blanc, riesling)
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil for roasting and brushing
- Canola oil (if using a frying pan)
- 6-8 sprigs of thyme, fresh
- Lemon verbena, torn
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 F.
Bring olive oil up to temperature over medium-high heat. Drop in the onions and sauté, leaving a few minutes between stirring to allow them to form crusts. After about ten minutes, or when the onions have dark, leather-colored edges, glug in the wine, swing the heat to low, stirring to release any bits stuck to the pan’s surface. Caramelize over low heat for 40 minutes, or until sticky with the centers still retaining a tiny crunch.
Meanwhile, if you have a grill, get it hot. Rub the eggplant with olive oil and grill both sides, then set aside. If don’t have a grill, get a frying pan hot over medium-high heat and fry the eggplant in canola oil until sightly blackened. Flip and repeat with the rest. In either event, put the cooked slices onto a lined sheet pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes. Flip each piece and roast 10 minutes more, until browned and slightly crusty and quite soft inside.
To make the balsamic reduction, or balsamic syrup, bring the balsamic up to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low. Whisk occasionally to prevent burning. When reduced by half, pull from heat, but keep in pan. If you reduce the balsamic too much, it will turn to caramel. This is quite delicious (depending on your taste), but is a mess and at room temperature just sticks to your molars. Any further reduction would result in a burn and a do-over.
Slice the baguette on an extreme bias, giving you an 8-inch slice. Lay them out on a sheet pan and brush with olive oil.
By this time, the eggplant should be done. Crank the oven over to the broiler.
Toast the bread for about a minute, until the crusts get golden brown. Remove. Fork on the onion mixture and thin slices of the speck. Return to the broiler. After about twenty seconds, the speck should start curling and smell like smoked ham roasting. Remove and sprinkle on the thyme while the speck is still hot.
Add the eggplant, sliced lengthwise again to fit the shape of the bread, and topped with one or two slices of cheese. Return to the broiler. As the cheese bubbles and begins melting onto the pan, pull it, garnish with lemon verbena and serve with a side salad, an assortment of olives and a cold beer, such as Peroni or Moretti.
Photos by Lori Paulson