Peak summer tomatoes are sweet enough to eat alone or layered into a simple salad, but sometimes they need a little heft to turn into a meal. Enter bruschetta.

This long-standing Italian antipasto staple of olive-oil-grilled bread comes from the word bruscare, which originally referred to cooking with fire. That’s how I like my bread — charred over smoky coals — but stovetop-toasted slices taste great too, especially when they’ve been rubbed with garlic.

I blast the bread over high heat — with the grill, stove, broiler or toaster oven — so that it browns so much the color is almost black. That gives it a flavorful, sturdy crust outside without getting so crunchy all the way through that it cuts the roof of your mouth when you take a bite. With a generous drizzle of olive oil and light flurry of salt, the garlicky bread is a delicious vehicle for holding anything from wilted greens to smashed beans.

On warm summer days, I like it best piled with marinated tomatoes. Often, fat tomatoes are diced for bruschetta, but I find that topping too wet with a diluted taste even if the tomatoes have been seeded. Instead, I use small grape or cherry tomatoes. Good ones burst like flavor bombs when you pop them in your mouth.

Simply sliced in halves or quarters, they soak up a tangy olive oil and vinegar blend without turning to mush or diminishing in flavor. I add a splash of soy sauce to the mix to highlight the natural savory umami in tomatoes and add a smashed whole garlic clove to give the topping the aroma of garlic without the overpowering bite of minced bits. To maximize basil’s freshness, I tear leaves on top right before serving.

You can assemble the toasts as a composed appetizer platter or turn it into a family-style main dish. I simply bring the bowl of marinated tomatoes and platter of freshly grilled bread to the table with a few sprigs of basil. Each person then assembles their own toast just before eating for the most low-effort, high-flavor summer meal.

BRUSCHETTA WITH TINY TOMATOES

Yields: Serves 2 to 4

For the best texture and flavor, use a variety of tiny heirloom tomatoes that are ripe but firm. If you have tomatoes that feel like water balloons, pop them whole into your mouth for snacking while slicing the others.

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

2 garlic cloves, 1 smashed, 1 whole

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, halved if small, quartered if larger

1 loaf crusty Italian loaf or baguette or other rustic country loaf

Fresh basil leaves, for serving

1. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, 1 garlic clove, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch each of salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the tomatoes and fold gently to evenly coat. Let stand at room temperature, folding occasionally, while heating the grill.

2. Set up a charcoal grill for direct heat or heat a gas grill or stovetop grill pan over high heat.

3. While the grill heats, cut the bread into ¾-inch-thick slices. Cut the remaining garlic clove in half and gently swipe its cut sides over the surface of the bread slices. Drizzle both sides of the bread with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

4. Grill the bread, turning occasionally, until evenly toasted dark brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the bruschetta to a serving platter. Spoon the tomato mixture with its accumulated juices onto the bruschetta. Tear the basil leaves into pieces and scatter over the tomatoes. Serve immediately.

You can toast the bread under the broiler or in a toaster oven instead. For the broiler, arrange the prepared slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. For the toaster oven, place them directly on the rack.

Tribune Wire

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