The other day, I bought fresh fennel at the grocery store and made the most delicious bruschetta. This unconventional ingredient added a sweet and refreshing flavor, and satisfying crunch.
Undeterred by the way the big, awkward bulbs wouldn’t fit inside a standard tote bag, with their dill-like fronds poking out on top, I proudly carried the towering produce to the checkout line.
As someone who hates overcooked fennel, I’ve made it my mission to find the best ways to feature it raw in my recipes, to reap all the benefits of its delectably crunchy texture. And nothing I came up with was as good as this bruschetta.
I’ve always liked this fresh veggie appetizer, probably because I’ve always liked bread!
A popular antipasto with Italian origins, crostini takes many forms today. We’ve seen toast topped with pears and maple syrup, and even a chicken casserole dish inspired by the appetizer.
In its most traditional form, you’ll see bruschetta that includes a combination of tomatoes, garlic, and basil, sometimes with a sweet and tangy balsamic vinegar glaze drizzled on top.
Our version takes that classic idea and enhances it with the licorice-rich flavor and brilliant crunch of fresh fennel.
To assemble the bruschetta, toast slices of your favorite store-bought or homemade crusty baguette, top them with generous spoonfuls of the diced tomato and fennel mixture, drizzle with rich balsamic syrup, and enjoy immediately.
For garnish, we take advantage of the beautifully feathery fennel fronds and sprinkle those on top along with some reserved basil.
The result is bruschetta with a twist in both taste and texture that’s satisfying and incredibly fresh.Print
Balsamic Tomato and Fennel Bruschetta
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 24 toasts (4-6 servings) 1x
Juicy tomatoes, crunchy fennel, and tart balsamic vinegar join forces in this bruschetta recipe loaded with fresh garlic and fragrant basil.
- 2 1/2 cups diced ripe slicing tomatoes such as beefsteak or heirlooms (about 2 medium)
- 1/2 cup finely diced fennel bulb (about 1/2 medium), fronds reserved for garnish
- 2 large cloves garlic, minced
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons, divided
- 1 baguette or crusty Italian loaf (about 10 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch slices on a bias
- Balsamic syrup, for drizzling (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Add the tomatoes, fennel, garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, to a large bowl. Add the basil, reserving one tablespoon for garnish. Toss to combine. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature while you toast the bread, stirring occasionally.
- Brush both sides of each piece of bread with the remaining olive oil and arrange the slices on an unlined baking sheet. Transfer to the oven and toast, flipping each slice once halfway through baking, until golden-brown and crisp, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and arrange on a serving platter.
- Evenly and generously spoon the tomato and fennel mixture on the top using a slotted spoon. If desired, lightly drizzle the tops with the balsamic syrup. Garnish with the fennel fronds and remaining basil. Serve immediately.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Bruschetta
- Method: Toasting
- Cuisine: Appetizer
Keywords: bruschetta, tomato, fennel, garlic, basil, balsamic
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Gather, Measure, and Prep Ingredients
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Any type of juicy slicing tomatoes will work well for this recipe. Today, I chose the vine-ripened type that you often find at the store still attached to the stems. You can also use heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes from your garden, or take your pick of what’s available seasonally at the local farmers market.
Slice the tomatoes horizontally into rounds, keeping the layers stacked, then slice into strips in the opposite direction. Cut the strips crosswise to dice.
To prep the fennel, first remove the long green stalks attached to the top of the bulb by slicing them off with a sharp knife, leaving the bulb intact.
Remove the fronds from the stalks and set these aside for garnish. You can use the stalks in homemade stock or add them to your compost.
To dice the bulb, slice about 1/4 inch off at the base and remove any tough outer layers. Slice in half from root end to stalk end.
Finely dice one half as you would with an onion. Need a little help with this technique? You can review every step of slicing and dicing bulbous ingredients like onions, fennel, and shallots in our step-by-step tutorial.
Reserve the other half for future use, like in iced tea or a French bouillabaisse.
Mince the garlic and measure the oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.
Chiffonade the basil leaves by stacking, rolling, and running your knife through them to create thin ribbons. Set about a tablespoon of basil aside for garnish.
Using a serrated knife, cut the baguette into 1/4-inch slices on a bias. This will create more surface area to hold the topping.
To make a balsamic syrup or glaze, add 1 cup balsamic vinegar to a small saucepot and place it over medium heat. You can add 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar if you like, to add sweetness. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vinegar has thickened to a syrupy consistency and reduced to about 1/4 cup.
I find the smell can be somewhat overwhelming, so feel free to grab balsamic syrup from the store instead. I’m a fan of this silky-smooth variety that’s available on Amazon.
Step 2 – Make the Tomato-Fennel Mixture
Add the diced tomatoes and fennel bulb, minced garlic, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and the basil that wasn’t set aside for garnish to a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine and then season to taste with additional freshly cracked salt and pepper if necessary.
Set the bowl aside and allow the mixture to marinate at room temperature while you toast the bread, so the flavors can meld. Give it an occasional stir to make sure all of the diced pieces are evenly coated in the juices that collect in the bottom of the bowl.
Step 3 – Toast the Bread
Place the remaining oil in a small bowl.
Using a pastry brush, lightly brush both sides of each piece of bread and then arrange them on an unlined baking sheet.
Toast, flipping each slice once halfway through to make sure the bread is evenly, until it’s golden brown and crispy. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes.
Step 4 – Top and Serve
Assemble the toast on a platter, decorative wooden cutting board, or charcuterie board.
Using a slotted spoon so you don’t oversaturate the bread with all the liquid in the bowl, evenly heap the tomato and fennel mixture over each piece of toast.
If you’re using balsamic syrup, lightly drizzle it over the slices. Garnish each slice with the fronds and reserved basil.
It’s best to serve this appetizer immediately, so you and your company can enjoy crispy slices of toast that aren’t soggy! To make this dish ahead of time, the vegetable mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for several hours and the bread can be toasted just before topping and serving.
It’s in the Baguette
Just like a superior sandwich, delicious bruschetta starts with excellent bread. If you can’t find a nice crusty baguette, use a good quality sourdough loaf, ciabatta, or pain paillasse to create a sturdy base.
Use a serrated knife to make even slices. For the vegetables, select a sharp knife to complete your prep work that will easily glide through the skin of the tomatoes and make your fennel prep a snap.
A dull blade just won’t cut it – pun 100% intended!
Will you keep this pretty platter all to yourself, or put it up for grabs at a party with the rest of the finger food? Share how you plated and enjoyed this bruschetta in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
For more brilliant bruschetta and crostini ideas, try these tasty recipes next:
- Olive, Red Pepper, and Goat Cheese Crostini
- Peach Basil Crostini
- Camembert Cheese and Pistachio Basil Pesto Bruschetta
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on April 23, 2013. Last updated on August 7, 2022. With additional writing and editing by Nikki Cervone and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”
29 thoughts on “Balsamic Tomato and Fennel Bruschetta”
I can’t stand fennel – it’s slightly better in raw form but it’s one of the few things that I actually can’t bring myself to eat. Bread and tomatoes and garlic on the other hand…
Right? Why is bread so easy to love….
I absolutely adore the honesty in this post! I sometimes get frustrated with food bloggers hopping on every flavor train out there and wonder if they truly really eat what they write and post to their blog. I, personally, will never ever eat beets or fennel again. I’ve given them a fair go in multiple formats and never found love. Or even tolerance! So I appreciate the breath of fresh air you bring to the whole ‘food blogging’ world. From the start, you’ve drawn me in with your writing. And you continue to keep me engaged and involved with post like these!
Side note – love the recipe for fresh bruschetta topping! Can’t wait till my own garden is producing basil + tomatoes perfect for this.
Ha! You know, I want so much to like every food, but some ingredients don’t make it easy, haha! And Alexandra! A garden with basil and tomatoes! What a dream!
I loved this post – especially as I did not see the hate of fennel coming! I very much agree with Alexandra’s comment as well that so many bloggers seem to embrace every single flavour combination which just seems weird and unrealistic above all. We can’t all love all of the strong flavours like smoked fish, fennel, anchovies, radishes etc.! Although, admittedly, I am sad you didn’t like the fennel – I used to hate it too but am now making up for almost an entire life of not eating fennel by picking up 1-2 bulbs every time I spot it in the supermarket. My favourite ways to eat it are:
– thinly sliced (ideally with a mandoline) and served with some fresh mozzarella, a glug of good olive oil and sea salt on top;
– thinly sliced and marinated in plenty of salt to soften, then, after the salt has been washed off and the fennel has been patted dry, dress with a glug of olive oil, some lime juice, sliced chilies, salt and pepper for a vegetarian twist on ceviche (perfect as a starter),
– for sweet dishes, I like adding toasted ground fennel seeds to cookie dough or even to some cream to make a flavoured panna cotta or flavoured truffles (and they also worked a treat in a batch of brownies I made a while ago),
– if you can ever embrace cooked fennel, then I can highly recommend Pasta Aglio et Olio with a small handful of sliced fennel stems thrown in with the garlic to cook until just al dente before adding the pasta. I also love pizza with thinly sliced fennel (letting the fennel cook and dry out slightly before adding the cheese) and risotto with sliced fennel. Oh and I definitely add some chopped fennel when I make Minestrone (actually the first dish I ate where I did not hate the fennel!).
Oooh, Sophia, I love all your ideas here! I will tell you that I already enjoy raw fennel in salads and boiled fennel in tea and have high hopes for our stock. I love anise and licorice, so I imagine I could like fennel in sweet dishes, too. And in minestrone! Great idea!
But cooked fennel is only going to be tried again when someone else makes it for me, I think, ha! : ) Honestly, I don’t even blame the fennel. I hope with all my heart it wasn’t supposed to taste like that….
Is fennel the one that kind of has a licorice taste to it? Yeah, not into that. I was trying to think of foods I don’t like the other day, and I think fennel might be one of them. Also, black licorice. And bitter melon. But I love garlic and tomatoes and basil so these tomato toasts sound awesome!
Yes indeed! Although after I was done with it, it’s hard to say what exactly the taste it had was…. and haha, bitter melon! I’ve never tasted it, but that name just sounds bad!
I can’t say I have much experience with fennel at all! I bought my first bulb a couple weeks ago and used it raw in a quinoa salad that didn’t make it to the blog. I had some roasted fennel with other vegetables in this year’s homemade Valentine’s pasta and liked it. Not sure how I feel about braised. This bruschetta I would love, I’m sure!
Kathryne, I trust you enough to say that if you made roasted or braised fennel and liked it, I’d be willing to give it another go. : )
I actually ate (and enjoyed!) braised fennel this morning… I made a version of Green Kitchen Stories’s Braised Fennel with Saffron and Tomato on Sunday, and enjoyed the leftovers today with spinach and scrambled eggs–my husband thought it smelled funny, though, so I get that braised fennel may not be for everyone. The bruschetta sounds great, though. I’ll definitely be bookmarking this recipe for later in the summer when the market (and maybe my own garden?!) is overflowing with tomatoes and basil!
What a small world! I honestly love hearing all these interesting ideas for embracing fennel —I’m definitely willing, if not eager, haha!
Not very into fennel either… I’ve tried making dishes with it a few times but always end up just eating around it in whatever dish I’ve put it in. But this sauce sounds delicious; is there a better combination than tomatoes, basil and balsamic?
Could not agree more!
I love roasted fennel, although can’t stand the taste of licorice, which some people associate with fennel. I find the taste of roasted fennel very mild, not offensive at all. I hope that you’ll give it another chance sometime :-). Perhaps in a different recipe?
Bruschetta sauce sounds delicious!
I agree with Golubka– give roasted fennel a try before you give up on the veggie completely! Remember those fennel “chips” I e-mailed you about a while ago, that converted my housemate from a fennel-hater to a fennel-lover??
Anya and Monika, I promise I’m not giving roasted fennel the brush-off; I’m just saying we had a big fight last week and I need some time, haha… And Monika, those fennel chips still sound good to me! What is it about turning something into a chip that makes it taste better? Ha!
Shanna – this made me smile – I’m sending it to my husband (although he follows your blog himself these days). Frank studied abroad in Italy and remembers only amazingly delicious things from his time there except for a certain roast fennel dish that his host mother served all the time! He says he’s sworn off fennel, but I continue to think there might be *some* way to cook it that he would like.
: ) Your comment made me smile! Vindication! Tell your husband thanks for me. : )
This looks fantastic, and has ignited my search for spelt sourdough in Seattle!
A bit random, but always pertinent: how did you build this website? It’s beautiful, and I’m trying to design and build a more professional blog of my own which will go beyond the typical blogging templates.
Oh, thank you so much, Lindsey! If you knew how much time I spent wanting the blog to look a certain way (and then another certain way… ), you’d know just how much I treasure that compliment. : ) Tim and I put it together — it’s a premium Wordpress theme (Hoarder) with a bunch of tweaks.
So sorry to hear you’re in a fight with fennel. Huge fans over here. Maybe this recipe will help? http://cheapbeets.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/guess-mother-does-know-best/
Molly! Thank you so much for the link, especially because it pointed me to your site! I was reading and reading last night, thinking about you and your little baby. Glad to connect! -s
I am definitely not a fan of fennel either! I’ve tried it fresh, braised, and baked with olive oil, but I just can’t find a way to make it work.
The bruschetta sauce looks amazing though! I’ll have to give it a try with some gluten free bread. Oh, and perhaps a glass of wine too 🙂
Haha! Kindred spirit!
Ah, the bounty of summer. Italian bruschetta (pronounced “brusketta”) is a wonderful way to capture the flavors of ripe summer tomatoes, fresh garden basil, and garlic. I had this the other night at my friend Suzanne’s house where her friend Dee explained how to make it (thanks Dee!). I customized the recipe to my own taste (isn’t that almost always the case?) and used plum tomatoes and chopped them by hand, rather than in a food processor. My family enjoyed this batch for lunch, along with some cottage cheese.
Sounds wonderful, RIcky!
The only time I really liked fennel was caramelized with spices (an Ottolenghi recipe). I think it would be good pickled. But why try to eat something that you don´t particularly like when there are so many things! You´re not alone in your bruschetta love, it´s the perfect meal for me. And tomato basil is still one of the best. Have to try the balsamic reduction!
haha! Paula, I like the way you think.