I was inspired by a post on Food 52 (one of my favorite food websites!) in May, where co-founder Merrill Stubbs described a simple and mouth-watering Bruschetta With Ricotta, Honey, and Lemon Zest. Salty and sweet with a bright touch of lemon… how could that be bad?? I wondered how this concept would taste on lightly charred challah slices. Challah has such a terrific flavor, and when lightly toasted it really sings—crispy on the outside, soft and moist and eggy on the inside. I thought it might suit this recipe perfectly, so I put the idea on my “to try” list.
Sukkot seemed like the perfect opportunity to give this recipe a go. The Jewish holiday of Sukkot is a harvest festival, and bruschetta is traditionally served during the olive oil harvest in Italy. The dish was developed to show off the season’s new oil during the Italian olive harvest.
I learned about bruschetta on a culinary trip to Tuscany, where we sampled freshly pressed olive oil at an olive farm about 2 hours outside of Rome. The farm is called Frantoio Archibusacci G & F; it’s been there for generations.
While there, we learned how olives are harvested. They also taught us a bit about the history of the farm, which was founded in the late 1800’s by a Tuscan oil trader. It was purchased in 1935 by the Archibusacci family, who grew it into a thriving olive oil business.
Today, the farm produces cold pressed extra virgin organic olive oil the old fashioned way, by stone grinding the olives. Archibusacci is known for having a “slightly fruity” flavor, and has been ranked as one of the top ten olive oils in Italy.
After a short lesson in olive oil production, we got to sample the good stuff. Bruschetta is traditionally made with only four ingredients—bread, garlic, olive oil and salt. The bread is toasted and rubbed with garlic. Then, the garlicky slices are drenched in olive oil and sprinkled with salt to taste.
Over time, fresh seasonal ingredients have been added to enhance the bruschetta concept. One of the most popular combinations is ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and garlic. Sometimes chopped olives mixed with olive oil are mounded on top. And of course, there are delectable cheese versions, like the one I’m sharing with you today.
No matter how fancy a bruschetta might be, four things always remain the same—bread, garlic, salt, and olive oil. Bruschetta = olive oil harvest, Sukkot = harvest festival. Appropriate? Yes. Delicious? Absolutely!
You guys are going to love this one. Simple, rustic, divine. I didn’t change much from the original recipe besides using challah as the bread; I did add a bit of fresh lemon juice to the ricotta for a more pronounced lemon flavor. Choose the best quality cow’s milk ricotta you can find (the highest quality is usually the most expensive; buy whatever your budget allows!). Make sure you choose a nice quality extra virgin olive oil, too. I found that a light colored honey works best flavor-wise. I prefer sprinkling the bruschetta with sea salt, but kosher salt can also be used if you prefer a more coarse salt texture. If you’re a vegetarian, look for a vegetarian ricotta cheese (no animal rennet).
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- Before you begin, zest the yellow part of the peel from the two lemons using a fine microplane grater. Reserve the zest.
- Juice both of the lemons. Stir the fresh lemon juice into the ricotta cheese with a fork. Reserve the ricotta.
- Slice the halved challah loaf lengthwise to create two long, thinner loaves.
- Slice each loaf into slices that are about ¾ inch thick.
- To char the bread, you can grill it or broil it. If grilling, make sure your grill or grill pan is preheated before you start.
- Brush both sides of each challah slice lightly with olive oil.
- Put the bread to the grill or griddle, and cook until slightly charred on each side, about 2 minutes per side.
- Alternatively, broil the bread slices about 3 inches from the heating element, flipping them after about a minute and watching them closely to make sure they don’t get overly cooked/burnt.
- When the bread is charred to your liking, remove it. Cut the peeled garlic clove in half. Rub the toasted side of each slice lightly with the cut side of the garlic clove.
- To the side you've rubbed with garlic, add a generous smear of ricotta (best to leave it kind of messy and rustic-looking).
- Drizzle slices with more olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Drizzle a bit of honey over each bruschetta.
- Sprinkle each slice with a generous amount of lemon zest.
- Serve immediately while the bread is still toasty warm. Be prepared to make another batch! It's addictive. :)