Making “The Most Luxurious Weeknight Pasta”

I don’t know about y’all, but my entire Facebook feed is filled with food videos…from Buzzfeed Tasty to Food Network to Southern Living. I have always loved watching cooking shows on TV and I feel like these videos are cooking shows jampacked into just a few minutes. They are so informative and fun. I always save the ones that look really good and go back to my “Saved” videos on Facebook when I don’t know what I want cook.

So, that happened earlier this week. I went back to my “Saved” videos and stumbled across this one that I had saved from Bon Appétit (you can print out a version of the recipe here!) They described the pasta with mushrooms and prosciutto as “the most luxurious weeknight pasta” that could be prepared in about 20 minutes. I was sold.

I think Italian food is the easiest kind of food to make because it’s so adaptable. You can personalize and adjust most recipes to fit with whatever you have in your kitchen. As long as you’re working with the core ingredients (for this recipe, pasta, prosciutto, olive oil), there’s no way it’s going to taste bad! 

I started off by cooking/frying some prosciutto in a pan with olive oil. I love prosciutto so much and basically subsided on it as my main form of protein while abroad. If you haven’t tried prosciutto, I highly recommend it. If you like pork, you will love prosciutto. Prosciutto is just that good.

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However, this recipe requires you to get prosciutto really crispy, so you could totally substitute bacon for this part, if that’s what you have/prefer. Once it starts to get kind of bubbly, you should remove it from the pan and let it cool off/rest on a paper towel. The prosciutto will continue to shrink once it’s moved to the paper towel. I like really crispy bacon, so I cooked mine longer than they do in the video and that’s why it really resembles bacon in the picture below. But if you like your bacon at average crispiness, I would recommend that you remove the prosciutto from the pan after the prosciutto starts to crisp and shrink up.

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From there, I added some baby portobello mushrooms to the pan. I cooked the mushrooms in the same oil that I cooked the prosciutto in because the prosciutto left behind some of its fat and flavor in the oil. 

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I added about a tablespoon of butter to give the mushrooms a nice brown color. As soon as they browned, I added about a half an onion and three cloves of garlic. Because how can you possibly cook an Italian meal without garlic?

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I cooked everything together for a few more minutes and then added a cup of chicken stock.

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While I let everything marinate in the pan, I added some dried fettuccine to boiling water. It’s important to stick with dried pasta for this part because dried pasta has a longer cooking time than fresh pasta and that will give us enough time to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce! 

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Once the pasta was about a few minutes away from being al dente, I used tongs to transfer the pasta from the boiling water to the pan. I also added a cup of the starchy, boiling water to the sauce to help the sauce take on a thicker consistency. This is something you can do with pretty much any sauce to make it thicker without actually adding any ingredients!

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I then continued to use the tongs to mix the pasta into the sauce. The recipe calls for this to be done in a dutch oven, but I don’t have one at school (I wish I did!) and I feel like it was definitely doable in a really big pan. 

Once I had mixed the the pasta and sauce together for a few minutes, I noticed that the pasta was finally cooked al dente. At that point, I added a little bit of cream to the pan and continued to mix everything together.

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I stirred this for about one minute before crumbling up half of the crispy prosciutto and adding it to the pan. You don’t want to do this until you’re ready to serve it because the prosciutto will become soggy in the sauce if it sits too long. 

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I quickly mixed half of the prosciutto into the pasta and then divided it up into bowls. I sprinkled the remainder of the prosciutto on top of the pasta.

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Buon appetito!! This was delicious! While I wasn’t able to do this in 20 minutes like the video said, it definitely didn’t take me much longer to make!

Blog Reflection and Analytics:

Food has always been one of my biggest passions in life. It has always been something that has united my family together and given us something to talk about. I grew up watching (and trying to help!) my grandma and aunts make classic Italian dishes. My grandma’s ravioli is something I haven’t and won’t ever try to make on my own! When I was in fourth grade, I would come from school and watch the Food Network everyday. I made food seem like so much less of a mystery to me. I loved how so many unique recipes could be made from such simple ingredients. I also loved watching shows like Good Eats and learning about foods and dishes from other cultures.

This love of food followed me throughout high school and college, however, I feel like I really fell in love with food and cooking in a whole new way after studying abroad in Perugia, Italy. I mean, how could I not? Farmers, chefs, store owners poured their heart and soul into their food. Every food and dish came with a story. They didn’t just want to sell you something; they wanted to teach you something, to show you something. Things as simple as pasta and olive oil were tied to thousands of years of history and legend. In Italy, it seemed as if food could cure the world. It was inspirational and, honestly, very moving.

I started this blog with a focus on Italian food because I 1.) love Italian food and 2.) wanted to try to capture some of that magic I found while abroad. I really enjoy writing this blog and I hope that some of you enjoy reading it, too.

I don’t think my blog appeals to a very clear demographic. While I think most food blogs are targeted to the post-college age range, I think mine appeals to college students (mainly because I am a college student) and college graduates. However, I don’t think I necessarily appeal to one gender more than another. But, I would love your feedback. Who do you think I appeal to the most on this site?

When looking at my analytics on WordPress, I was very surprised to see that I had gotten a little bit of international traffic on my site.

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I also saw that a lot of traffic was redirected from some other #SMPASocial sites, so a special shoutout and thank you for that!

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I found that my blog generally received the most views on Wednesdays (before we have comments due), which I expected to see based on my own commenting patterns.

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I did, however, receive the most weekly views on my blog during the last week of January, which I did not expect.

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In fact, my number of weekly views has decreased over the course of the semester, so I have proposed these solutions to boost engagement on my site:

  1. Tweet new blog posts out with the #SMPASocial hashtag every week to make it easier to find my new posts
  2. Begin sharing my posts on my personal Facebook page
  3. Boost my own engagement with other food blogs by liking/commenting on at least 5 food blogs every week

 

 

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Risotto…The Ultimate Comfort Food

While my mom loves risotto, it was never a food she ever made at home for dinner.

I never even attempted to make risotto in my kitchen until I was abroad last semester. One of my friend’s in Umbra’s Food Studies program had done it before and promised all of us that it was much easier than we thought. We settled on making a red wine and mushroom risotto. After watching her make it and helping out a bit, I agreed with her. It did seem a lot easier to make than I had anticipated. 

While I made risotto a few more times while abroad, I still didn’t feel totally confident in my risotto-making skills enough to not follow a recipe. So, it was a natural choice for me to look for guidance from my ultimate culinary inspiration, Giada De Laurentiis. While she has many risotto recipes (not surprising), I settled on her Red Wine Risotto with Peas recipe because I had never eaten risotto with peas before.

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The recipe (and most risotto recipes, I’ve found) really don’t require that many ingredients. For this one, I started with arborio rice, chicken stock, olive oil, butter, a dry red wine, parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, peas, and parsley. I had most of these ingredients in my kitchen and only had to buy the arborio rice and fresh parsley.

Even then, I think most risotto recipes are very adaptable. The two constants (or, things I’ve never not used while making risotto) are arborio rice and chicken/beef/vegetable stock. Arborio rice is a really starchy, white rice that makes it much easier to get that creamy texture we all crave in risotto. While I have heard some people say you can substitute white rice for arborio, I have also heard that arborio typically yields the best results. I have always stuck to arborio, but I am curious to hear: have you ever tried making risotto with white rice? Did it turn out well? 

However, I definitely wouldn’t recommend using any other types of rice (basmati, jasmine) to make risotto. Check out this infographic for some quick facts on different types of rice!

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So, for the Red Wine Risotto with Peas, I started by bringing about 3 1/2-4 cups of chicken stock to a boil and then leaving it to simmer on the stovetop. While the chicken stock was beginning to boil, I chopped up half an onion and about 3 cloves of garlic and added it to a pan with a few tablespoons of butter (to brown everything really well) and a few more tablespoons of olive oil (to be more healthy). This is the same pan that you’ll be cooking the risotto in, so be sure it’s pretty big!

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Once the onion and garlic cloves developed a translucent, but slightly browned color, I added one cup of arborio rice to the pan.

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I sauteed the onion, garlic, and rice together for a few minutes. This step allows the rice to toast a bit in the pan, something Giada says gives them a “nutty flavor.” After a few minutes, I added about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of dry red wine to the pan and allowed the rice to absorb the wine’s flavor for about 1 minute.

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From there, I took about 3/4 cup of the simmering chicken stock and added it to the pan.

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It was at this point that my risotto sort of started to resemble ground beef and, for that, I am sorry (I probably added a little bit too much red wine.)

After the chicken stock is added, it is important to consistently stir the mixture. This constant attention is what allows the rice to cook and gives the risotto that super creamy texture. The mixture should be stirred about 6 minutes before another 3/4 cup of chicken stock is added and then another 6 minutes before another 3/4 cup of chicken stock is added.

While I stirred the risotto, I brought the chicken stock to a boil again. After the 12 minutes were up, I added the remaining 3/4 cup chicken stock to the mixture. However, this time, I left everything to simmer and stirred far less frequently. I used this time to chop a few tablespoons of fresh parsley, grate about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, and transfer about a 1/3 cup of frozen peas into a bowl.

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After the mixture simmered about 2 minutes, I added the remaining chicken stock (only a few tablespoons) and let it simmer for another 5 minutes. This part is what really allows the rice to cook.

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At this point, you can really see how the risotto mixture has taken on a very creamy texture.

After everything had simmered down, I added the parsley, parmesan cheese, and frozen peas (the heat from the risotto warmed them immediately!) and plated it up!

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This was my first-time doing risotto totally on my own and it actually wasn’t that hard! The most difficult part is remembering to continually stir the rice mixture with the chicken stock. But, it tasted delicious! I know I will be making this again!

I Made Homemade Pasta for the First-Time

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t love pasta.

Fettuccine, campanelle, pappardelle, cavatelli, rigatoni…the list goes on and on. There a million ways to make and cut pasta and they’re all absolutely delicious. You can’t go wrong when you’re in pasta territory.

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For me, it’s comfort in a bowl and food for the soul in a way that no other food is or can ever be. The sight of some old-school spaghetti and meatballs brings up a whirl of family memories from my childhood. The thought of my favorite Umbrian dish, umbricelli alla norcina, reminds me of the super long (but also super delicious and even more fun) dinners my study abroad friends and I would gather around a tiny table to eat at our favorite restaurants in Perugia.

Italians believe that food has the power to unite people. It brings families together. It is best way to show that you care for someone. And, I will say, making pasta at home is definitely a labor of love.

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But, it is still very doable. And soooooooooooooooo worth it. 

While I have helped my grandma and aunt make homemade pasta in the past, I had never attempted to make my own. But, I decided to embark on this new challenge over spring break.

All of the recipes online are pretty identical. All call for three core ingredients: flour, eggs, and a pinch of salt. I synthesized a few that I saw online with what I remembered my grandma doing, but mainly followed Mario Batali‘s recipe because how could I go wrong with a co-owner of Eataly?

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I started by adding all of the flour (about 3 1/2 cups) and a tablespoon of salt to the bowl. I then used my hands to press the flour up on the sides of the bowl to create a sort of flour-bowl within the bowl.

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From there, I cracked 4 eggs right into the center of the flour.

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I then used a fork to whisk the eggs and slowly began incorporating the flour into the egg mixture.

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The dough really started to come together after I had incorporated about 3/4 of the flour. From there, I transferred the dough to the countertop and started to knead it, slowly adding more flour.

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This part was the most difficult part of the pasta-making process because it’s all about adding just enough flour to the mix so that it’s not sticky, but not too that much that it’s too dry and falling apart. I really didn’t know where this line was, so just used my best judgement and crossed my fingers that everything would turn out all right (it did.) This instinct definitely seems to be something that is learned through practice. I gained a whole new appreciation for how my grandma understands dough and just knows when it is ready to move on to the next step.

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I kneaded the dough to the point that I could cut it open just a bit and not see any air bubbles.

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I then dusted the ball of dough in a bit of excess flour before wrapping the ball of dough in plastic wrap and setting it aside for 30 minutes at room temperature.

I used this time to get started on the tomato sauce for the pasta (but, I’ll save that recipe for another blog post!)

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Once the dough is done resting, the fun part begins: rolling and cutting the dough!

If you are dedicated and want a good arm workout, this part can totally be done with just a rolling pin and a pasta cutter (or knife). However, you can also find tons of reasonably-priced pasta rollers and cutters online. For example, check out this one at Walmart for less than $20. If you have a KitchenAid stand mixer, you can buy a pasta roller and cutter that attaches right to the front of it. While definitely pricey-er, it is a great option if you want to cut down on clutter in your kitchen.

I used the KitchenAid pasta roller attachment because that’s what we had at my house but the technique is the same no matter how you choose to roll! (ha ha)

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You want to start by rolling the dough as thin as possible. It is important to take the ball of dough and divide it into 4 sections. Take one section and slightly pound it with your hand and feed it through the widest setting on the pasta roller. After running the dough through the roller once, fold the first-third of the long sheet of dough onto the second-third and then onto the third-third. Gently knead the dough together and run it through the widest setting on the pasta roller again. This helps the gluten in the dough bond together better. After this, begin to decrease the number on the pasta roller. This will help you roll the pasta dough thinner each time. The widest setting on the KitchenAid attachment was 9 and I didn’t bring it down past 4 because my dough was starting to get fragile. I was really happy with the thickness of my pasta after it was cooked, so I really don’t think it’s necessary to go below 4 unless you are making angel hair or want a really thin pasta.

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After rolling and flattening the sections of dough into long sheets of dough, I took the roller attachment out and placed the fettuccine cutter attachment in. This was, by far, the easiest part of the entire process. You literally just feed the sheets of dough through the cutter and get freshly-cut fettuccine through the bottom!

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I lightly dusted the fettuccine strands with a bit of flour and wrapped them around my hand to form these little fettuccine nests. This part is not required at all, I just thought that these would be easier to transfer to the boiling water than the long strands of fettuccine that came out of the pasta cutter.

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Once all of the pasta was cut, I transferred the little fettuccine nests to a pot of boiling water to cook. It cooked so fast! The fettuccine was perfectly al-dente after only 3 or 4 minutes in the water.

After that, just drain it, cover it in some delicious sauce, sprinkle it with some tangy Romano or Parmigiano, and enjoy!!!

While it took a few hours to complete the whole process, making homemade pasta on my own wasn’t as hard as I had previously thought. It was really fun and I can’t wait to make my next batch. I totally think this is something that everyone has to try doing at least once!!

Addendum:

Our class blog assignment for this week was to attempt to engage with a social media influencer online. I chose to engage with celebrity chef Mario Batali on Twitter. I tweeted at him four times: once at night, twice in the morning, and once in the afternoon. He engages with his followers quite often on Twitter (offering restaurant recommendations, food advice, retweeting followers who cook his recipes, etc.) so I still might have a chance that he will engage with one of my tweets! I will keep y’all posted.

These are my tweets to Mario Batali:

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The Best Pesto You’ll Ever Taste (and Nut-Free, too!)

I love pesto. It’s one of the most versatile spreads to ever exist. You can layer it on sandwiches, mix it with pasta, cook it with chicken or seafood, or layer it on toasted (or, untoasted bread) and eat it plain. The possibilities that one has with pesto are endless. Pesto has no limits.

I always look forward to coming home because I 1.) get to see my family and 2.) finally have access to a food processor. Because I came home for the long weekend, I thought that this weekend would be the perfect time to make some pesto.

Pesto, like bruschetta, is very easy to make and even easier to personalize. You can easily adapt everything I’m about to tell you to suit your preferences and tastes. You can add more garlic and use less cheese or use less olive oil and add more basil. It’s totally up to you and it’ll still taste just as good. This is my favorite thing about Italian food.

First, I always want to start with a TON of basil. It’s always best to get way more than you think you’ll need because it virtually disappears once you start to chop and mix it all together in the food processor.

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My grocery store at home in North Carolina, Harris Teeter, sells fresh basil in these neat little bags. The basil plant is still physically attached to a block of dirt when you buy it. I don’t know if this actually helps the plant stay fresher longer, but it feels like the closest thing that I can get to fresh without growing it in my backyard.

From there, I detached all of the basil leaves from the stems and rinsed the leaves off in a colander. I then lay all of the basil leaves on a few paper towels and patted them dry. The leaves don’t need to be bone dry, but I tried to remove any excess moisture before putting them into the food processor. As I mentioned before, I believe that exact measurements are unnecessary for something like this. But, as a general idea, I added about three cups of tightly-compacted basil to the food processor. From there, I just added three cloves of raw garlic to the food processor and prepared to start chopping!

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I pulsed the basil and the garlic together a few times before adding the olive oil. I utilized the pulse feature as I slowly drizzled the olive oil into the basil-garlic mixture. I think this helps blend the basil, garlic, and olive oil all together and helps me avoid adding too much olive oil.

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Once I felt that the olive oil had added a nice consistency to the mixture, I removed the mixture from the food processor and put it in an airtight container. Don’t worry! It starts to look more like the pesto we all know and love once the parmesan cheese is added, which I’ll get to in a bit!

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I put the basil mixture into the fridge to chill and then got ready to make some garlic crostini for the pesto, because it’s impossible to go wrong there.

I sliced two medium-sized baguettes into vertical slices and lightly spread some salted butter on each side. I lined the slices of bread up on a cookie sheet and sprinkled them with parsley and just a pinch of garlic salt before broiling them in the oven.

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Because I was broiling the crostini, I only cooked the first side for about 1.5 minutes before flipping the slices. I broiled the second side for about 1 minute before removing it from the oven.

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Once the crostini was done, I removed the basil mixture from the fridge and mixed in about 1/2 of parmesan cheese. I would definitely recommend waiting to add the cheese until you want to eat the pesto. I don’t think it stays as well and fresh after the cheese is added.

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The basil mixture finally becomes true pesto with the addition of cheese.

I didn’t even think to get a picture of the pesto on top of the crostini – I was too excited to eat it! And, I think my family was, too!

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Bruschetta…the only food I need

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved tomatoes and garlic, but especially tomatoes. I devoured tomato sauce, tomato soup, tomato juice…you name it, I ate it!

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My love of tomatoes has not been lost with time. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the whole “a tomato is a fruit/vegetable” debate (while I know that they’re technically fruit, I will always consider a tomato to be a vegetable), I would classify tomatoes as both my favorite fruit AND vegetable.

For this reason, nothing makes my tastebuds more excited than some good bruschetta (broo-sket-tuh). It is the perfect, timeless combination of pomodori (tomatoes), aglio (garlic), basilico (basil), and olio d’oliva (olive oil) all stacked on top of crunchy, buttery pane (bread)!

While bruschetta is typically thought of as a warmer-weather food, I think it tastes just as good in the winter! This nice weather we’ve been getting in D.C. doesn’t hurt either…

I started by mincing 5 cloves of fresh garlic.

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I then added the minced garlic to a warm pan on very low heat with about 4 tablespoons of olive oil. I tried the Il Molino olive oil that I picked up at Via Umbria and wrote about last week. The olive oil was delicious and added the best flavor to the dish!

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I wasn’t looking to necessarily brown the garlic. I just wanted to let it all simmer for a few minutes before adding the garlic and oil in with the tomatoes. I wanted the olive oil to absorb some of the garlic’s flavor, but without losing all of the bite you get from raw garlic.

While the olive oil and garlic mingled in the pan, I started to chop up a carton of Sungold tomatoes.

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Sungold tomatoes are similar in appearance to cherry tomatoes, but tend to be even sweeter in flavor and have a distinct orange color. Serious Eats called Sungolds “the closest thing to nature’s candy that you can possibly imagine.” I agree!

I then switched to preparing my second type of tomatoes: Campari tomatoes. Campari tomatoes are kind-of like a larger version of cherry tomatoes. They are sweet (not as sweet as the Sungolds) and lower in acidity that larger tomatoes, such as beefsteak tomatoes. When tomatoes are the star of any dish, Campari tomatoes are a necessity.

You learn more about the differences between tomato varieties and get one step closer to your dream bruschetta with these articles from The Seattle Times and Serious Eats.

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While it’s certainly not vital to use two different types of tomatoes in bruschetta, I think it is what helps take your bruschetta to the next level. It adds color to the dish, as well as an extra dimension of flavor.

I added the Campari tomatoes to a bowl with the Sungolds and got to work on chopping a few fresh basil leaves.

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I removed the garlic and oil from the pan and added it to a bowl with the tomatoes and basil.

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This is always the best part! I mixed it all together and then placed it in the refrigerator to chill and to let the flavors blend together a bit more.

While the tomato mixture was in the fridge, I started to chop a baguette into diagonal slices. I heated some butter in the same pan that I had used to sautée the olive oil and garlic and then added the baguette slices face-down. I flipped each slice to allow both sides of the bread to brown well. I chose to use butter for this part rather than olive oil because I find that butter typically browns better than olive oil, especially with bread.

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After both sides of the bread browned, I removed the bread from the pan and set it aside.

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I removed the tomato mixture from the fridge and proceeded to drizzle a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar to the bowl and added a few tablespoons of parmesan cheese.

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I then got ready for the final step: assembly!!

I just took little spoonfuls of the tomato mixture and piled it on top of the toasted bread.

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Don’t be afraid of putting too much on! It may get a little messy when you’re trying to eat it but I try to savor every last bite of the delicious tomato mixture that goes on top!

I love cooking Italian food because many of their staple dishes are very simple. You don’t need to follow a specific recipe or know how to do anything really fancy in the kitchen to cook something that tastes absolutely delicious. While this recipe uses just a few simple ingredients, it has tremendous flavor. If you are someone who isn’t really a fan of tomatoes, this could be the dish that converts you!

Buon appetito!!