The truth is, one of the best Fourth of July parties that I ever attended was in England. It was at the estate of some American friends who were cheeky enough to throw an American Independence Day party and even went so far as to invite the Prince of Wales. I was visiting one of the REAL fab four in the English countryside which was enchanting enough, but I decided to party with a few American friends and their eclectic international clan for the Fourth. It was glitzy, a bit outrageous and it was a shindig of the likes I may not see again.
As fun as that all was, my most cherished memories of Fourth of July celebrations revolve around Fishers Island, New York, where the children decorated their bikes and rode with local veterans in a parade that was over in a flash. As brief as it was, it was the process of helping my young son decorate his bike and his excitement as we made our way to the starting point of the parade that I found so sweet. As I watched Sean make his way around the town square on his bike amongst a sea of smiley faced children with flags waving and a fife and drum group playing, I always had a lump in my throat. The simple joys are often the best and those are the wonderful memories that I hang on to.
So what to serve as an easy and scrumptious appetizer or light lunch on the Fourth?
How about a grilled tomato and fresh mozzarella bruschetta? I know, I realize it is an Italian dish, but with the amazing fresh tomatoes ripe on the vines, why not stoke up the grill and just call it grilled toast with tomatoes and cheese?
The key here is to use top of the line ingredients. Aged balsamic vinegar, a fruity olive oil, vine ripened tomatoes and fresh basil.
It is almost too simple but every time I make it, I hear the oohs and aahs as my guests bite into this divine marriage of tart, creamy, sweet and savory flavors loaded on a crusty piece of toast, and I know that I have a hit on my hands!
Note: if you don’t have really great balsamic vinegar on hand, you can fake it by making a balsamic syrup by simmering some balsamic vinegar for a few minutes until it thickens to the consistency of a thin maple syrup. Allow to cool before using.
1-2 cups assorted cherry and pear tomatoes, halved or quartered
2 tablespoons olive oil for the tomato mixture
1/2 cup olive oil for brushing on the bread
1/4-1/2 cup aged balsamic vinegar
A few sprigs of basil and oregano leaves, thinly sliced, plus small leaves for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced (optional)
1 clove garlic, pushed thru a garlic press for the tomato mixture
1 clove garlic, crushed but still in one piece for the brushing oil
8 thick cut slices of country-style bread
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, drained and patted dry with a paper towel and sliced into thin rounds and then half the rounds
2 tablespoons capers, drained of their brine
Combine tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, capers, onion, a few chopped oregano leaves and pressed garlic in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the crushed garlic in a small bowl or cup with the 1/2 cup of remaining olive oil. Mince one of the basil leaves and add that to the oil, give it a stir. Brush the bread slices on both sides with the seasoned olive oil and grill over a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill, a gas grill on high or on a Panini maker on high. Toast bread on both sides for about a minute per side.
Cut toasts in half on a diagonal. Place a slice or two of mozzarella on each piece of bread and then spoon the tomato mixture evenly amongst the toast. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Drizzle the bruschetta with the balsamic vinegar and garnish with the fresh basil leaves.
Happy Fourth of July!