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FOOD : A Better Bruschetta : From the Zeidler Jewish Cookbook Comes a Recipe for a Garlicky Snack

Balsley is The Times food editor.

YOU DON’T HAVE to keep kosher to find a lot of good eating ideas between the covers of Judy Zeidler’s “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” cookbook (Morrow, $22.95). The book is filled with recipes that Zeidler, co-proprietor of the Citrus restaurant on Melrose, has acquired through extensive travel, and other recipes that she has developed or adapted for the cooking classes she has taught over the years.

Zeidler’s recipes don’t avoid simplicity--an attribute many cookbook authors eschew. Nor is she afraid to tackle the most elegant of classic foods and adapt the recipes to comply with kosher law. Regardless of the changes she calls for, she retains the flavor and identity of the original.

Zeidler’s book offers nearly 600 recipes, plus sections on food preparation and entertaining without panic. She offers imaginative suggestions for Jewish holiday meals and for wines. And the author doesn’t overlook the classics of Jewish cookery--potato latkes, chopped herring, chopped chicken livers, chicken soup, Passover haroseth (an apple-nut mixture) and the like.

Believing that appetizers needn’t be so filling that they spoil appetites for the meal to come, Zeidler favors serving light, “new and tempting little dishes” that perk up the palate before dinner. “It’s not how many, but how good (they are),” she says in the section of the book on tips and techniques for entertaining.

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The following recipe for a simple Bruschetta, topped with a garlic and fresh basil-tomato mixture, makes a delicious pass-around appetizer. As it is equally good with home-dried tomatoes used in place of fresh tomatoes, Zeidler’s recipe for Oven-Dried Tomatoes follows the Bruschetta recipe.

BRUSCHETTA

1/2 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons minced garlic

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12 slices crusty Italian bread, cut 1/2-inch thick

12 to 24 Oven-Dried Tomatoes or 5 fresh tomatoes, diced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

12 whole small basil leaves for garnish

Heat olive oil and 1 tablespoon garlic in large skillet over medium-low heat. (Do not allow garlic to brown because it will become bitter.) Add bread slices in single layer and fry on both sides until crisp.

Meanwhile, if Oven-Dried Tomatoes have been kept in olive oil, drain on paper towel. Transfer to small bowl, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons minced garlic, chopped basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Or, if using fresh tomatoes, place tomatoes in small bowl, add remaining 2 tablespoons garlic, chopped basil, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Place bread slices on large serving platter, and spoon dried or fresh tomato mixture onto each slice. Garnish with whole basil leaves and serve immediately. Makes 6 to 12 appetizer servings.

Note: This is a strong garlic mixture. Amount of garlic can be reduced to taste if desired.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes

24 small tomatoes (preferably Roma)

2 whole heads garlic

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons sugar

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16 fresh sprigs thyme, with stems

3/4 cup olive

With sharp knife, cut small X in skin at bottom of each tomato. Drop tomatoes, 2 or 3 at a time, into boiling water. Count to 10, then remove them, using slotted spoon, to bowl filled with ice and water. Peel tomatoes, cut in halves and gently squeeze juice and seeds from each half.

Place tomato halves side by side, cut side down, in well-oiled jelly-roll pan. Mash each unpeeled clove of garlic with broad side of knife. Scatter garlic over tomatoes in pan. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sugar, thyme and olive oil. Bake at 300 degrees 3 to 4 hours, shaking pan occasionally so that tomatoes don’t stick. Cook until all liquid in tomatoes has evaporated and they have become very brown around edges. Immediately transfer to glass dish, arranging in single layer with spatula. Allow to cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. If keeping more than 2 to 3 hours, cover with olive oil, and store in covered jar. Makes 2 dozen.

Food styled by Norman Stewart; prop styling by RoseMary Aguayo; plate courtesy of By Design, Beverly Center.


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