Giada De Laurentiis' Favorite Lightning-Fast Appetizer

Putting together an appetizer when you've been greeted with unexpected company doesn't have to be difficult. In a pinch, you can open up a bag of chips and a jar of salsa, or heat up some frozen pigs in a blanket. But if you want something quick that tastes good and is also on the more elegant side, look to Giada De Laurentiis' advice. When the Italian pro chef finds herself in need of a quick hors d'oeuvre, she whips up some bruschetta.

At its most basic, Italian bruschetta (pronounced broo-sket-ah) is grilled bread that is rubbed with a raw clove of garlic and drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. It takes very little time to prepare, even in more elaborate recipes with a variety of toppings, making it a go-to choice for De Laurentiis. She told Eating Well that bruschetta topped with white beans or tomatoes are just two varieties she enjoys. Those toppings may be among the most popular, but she added that her choice "Depends on the season" — fresh, seasonal ingredients are a top priority of hers.

Easy, breezy bruschetta

On her website, Giadzy, Giada De Laurentiis shares a recipe for bruschetta rubbed with tomato, which is supposed to take 20 minutes, though judging from the short steps required, it may not even take that long. Thick slices of bread are brushed with oil and cooked in a grill pan, then rubbed with the cut side of a halved tomato, sprinkled with salt, and drizzled with more oil. The result is crunchy, fresh, and satisfying. It resembles the classic Spanish tapa pan con tomate, and is also a simplified version of bruschetta with chopped tomatoes and basil. If you can get ahold of good fresh tomatoes, that classic recipe is a must-try.

White bean bruschetta, which De Laurentiis also mentioned, can be equally as simple. Top grilled, garlic-rubbed bread with cannellini beans that have been warmed through with some garlic, rosemary, and chili flakes, and drizzle the toasts with extra virgin olive oil before serving. This is an example of a bruschetta that can be delicious regardless of the season, since you can easily use canned beans. And if you have a little extra time or are willing to do some prep in advance, you can make even more creative bruschetta.

The topping possibilities are limitless

Bruschetta is an incredibly versatile dish. Not only can it be the base for hundreds of varieties of ingredients, but it can be served as a first course, a light lunch, a nibble with cocktails, or even as breakfast or dinner, if the toppings are hearty enough. Sliced avocado and soft scrambled eggs with a little homemade chili crisp could make for a tasty breakfast bruschetta, while meat could bulk it up for supper.

If you prefer working with fresh, seasonal ingredients, consider using dark leafy greens in the winter, like broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and chili flakes. Spread a layer of fresh ricotta cheese on your rounds of toast before topping with the veggie. Spring is the perfect time to smash peas with ricotta, lemon zest, and mint to create a spread for the bread. You can even top it with thin slices of leftover Easter lamb. In summer, spread grilled bread with fresh goat cheese and top with peaches, prosciutto, and arugula; and in autumn, spread toasted bread with ricotta and top with roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts. Drizzle with an aged balsamic vinegar.

The next time you want to whip up something that's quick and delicious — and far more interesting than chips and dip — just toast up some bread and spoon on a couple of your favorite ingredients. You'll have an appetizer that Giada De Laurentiis would definitely approve of.