There are few dishes more elemental and satisfying than bruschetta. A mainstay at many Italian restaurants, it's an appetizer comprising slices of grilled bread adorned with any number of toppings. According to Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, bruschetta likely originated in ancient Rome. Olive growers who brought their produce there to be pressed would sample the flavor of the fresh-squeezed oil on toasted slices of bread. (The word is derived from the Roman verb bruscare, meaning "to roast over coals.")

I like to make bruschetta on my stovetop grill at home during the colder months. It's a winning accompaniment to just about any soup or stew and a reliable favorite with the family. Having recently come to the conclusion that there was no good reason why this simple and tasty concoction should be limited to an appetizer or side dish, I have here chosen to cast bruschetta as the star of a summer picnic.

As noted, bruschetta is simple to make. But you need to work with high-quality ingredients if you want it to turn out beautifully. Start with a loaf of fresh and crusty rustic bread. Then brush each slice of bread with your very best extra-virgin olive oil to before it heads for the grill. When the bread comes off the grill, and while it's still hot, rub one side of each slice with a cut clove of garlic. Then top it off with a light sprinkling of sea salt. By the way, this technique works just as well using a grill pan in the kitchen as it does with a grill outdoors.


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This recipe spells out three different toppings, all vaguely Mediterranean: a white bean salad with fresh fennel thickened with mashed beans so that the filling sticks to the bread; smoked salmon rillettes — finely-chopped salmon flavored with capers, lemon and fresh herbs and bound with sour cream; and a chopped Greek salad. Again, I recommend using your best extra-virgin olive oil for the dressings. Each topping yields roughly two cups which should be ample to top four large slices of grilled bread.

But bruschetta is nothing if not basic, meaning that just about any filling you'd ordinarily put between two slices of bread will also work as a topping for bruschetta: egg salad, tuna salad, runny cheese, hummus, grilled vegetables, you name it. Just bring the toppings in jars to the picnic, step aside, and watch everyone go for theirs. No one's going to wonder where the sandwiches are when bruschetta is on the picnic menu.

Salmon rillettes

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

8 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped

¼ cup sour cream or Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons minced shallot

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives, tarragon or dill or a mix

2 tablespoons well drained capers, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and stir gently until just combined. Chill until ready to serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 214 calories; 61 calories from fat; 7 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 89 mg cholesterol; 195 mg sodium; 3 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 36 g protein.

White bean salad

Start to finish: 25 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1/3 cup minced red onion

One 15 ½-ounce can white beans

1/3 cup finely diced fresh fennel or celery

1 teaspoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano

½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes (optional)

Kosher salt

Directions:

In a bowl of ice and water, soak the onion for 15 minutes, drain and pat dry

Drain and rinse the white beans and pat them dry. In a medium bowl, mash the beans using a potato masher, leaving about half in large pieces and the rest mashed. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, hot pepper flakes, and salt to taste and stir well. Chill until ready to serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 199 calories; 67 calories from fat; 7 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 73 mg sodium; 25 g carbohydrate; 5 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 8 g protein.

Chopped Greek salad

Start to finish: 20 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 cup coarsely chopped cherry tomatoes

1/2 cup ¼-inch dice seedless cucumber

½ cup finely cubed or crumbled feta

1/3 cup coarsely chopped pitted Kalamata olives

¼ cup chopped pepperoncini

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and stir gently until just combined. Chill until ready to serve.

Nutrition information per serving: 175 calories; 139 calories from fat; 15 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 17 mg cholesterol; 691 mg sodium; 6 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 4 g protein.

Bruschetta

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

12 slices ½-inch thick rustic bread

Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing the bread

1 garlic clove, halved

Kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat a grill or grill pan over high heat. Brush both sides of the bread slices with the oil. Add the bread to the preheated grill, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until bread is nicely browned on both sides (about 1 minute a side).

Remove the bread from the pan and, while it's still hot, rub one side of each slice with a cut clove of garlic, then sprinkle it very lightly with kosher salt.

Nutrition information per serving: 256 calories; 39 calories from fat; 4 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 552 mg sodium; 45 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 8 g protein.

Sara Moulton is the host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "Home Cooking 101."