Toasted bread: it’s universal, everybody is familiar with a version of it. Whether it’s wafer-thin bread, thick with a crust or soft and round, it’s a scientific that when you warm it, in some when or another, it gets better.
Each country has its version of toasted bread with toppings and seasoning, if you think about it: meze, popular in the Mediterranean, grilled cheese in the States, croque monsieur in France, Welsh rarebit in the UK.
Toasted bread is the ultimate comfort food and that probably explains why bruschetta, Italy’s own version, is wildly popular even abroad.
What’s the reason behind the bruschetta’s success?
Most probably, its simplicity. It’s tasty, yet so simple to make.
Alas, when you get back from your holiday nothing quite tastes the same.
The secret, as it often is, lies in the ingredients quality. The recipe is so simple that demands excellent produce and that’s sometimes not easily found abroad.
Let’s take a look in more detail at how to prepare it and what you need for a mouthwatering dish.
As I wrote above, the recipe is so simple that a lengthy explanation isn’t really needed. What you need to know, however, is that in Tuscany there’s a version with a different name, fettunta, which is toasted bread with olive oil, a hint of garlic, salt and pepper to taste. In ages past that was all that people had in winter, nowadays it’s become the perfect way to taste the olive oil from the harvest.
Bruschetta is instead a broader term that indicates toasted bread with a variety of toppings.
Here in Italy there’s a “spin-off” of bruschetta: crostini, which come with an endless list of toppings, like prosciutto, cream cheese and more. Here in Tuscany there are two variants that are more common, fegatini (chicken livers pâté) and crostini with sausage and stracchino (a soft and creamy cheese). What’s the difference? For someone who’s not a local it’s probably non-existent, here in Italy it’s mainly down to habit, customs and size! Crostini are usually smaller, half a slice of bread.
In both cases, you just need to slice bread, toast it in the oven or grill it on the barbecue and then top it with a combination of ingredients.
There’s no right or wrong way of preparing it, just traditional recipes and more innovative ones. So be creative if you feel like it!
The most popular way of preparing bruschetta is with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, salt and basil. Raw tomatoes are diced and seasoned then spread on the bread. Cherry tomatoes are quite common, but any type will do, just make sure they’re high quality. At the end you may top it with basil. The best way to handle basil is with your (clean) hands, do not let it touch metal, if you want to mince the leaves do it with your hands – simple! Add it at the very end to release its flavor, don’t do it at the beginning or it’ll be lost amongst the olive oil and tomatoes. Of course, these are just tiny details, usually the combination of bread and fresh produce is so good that even the less accustomed to cooking achieve excellent results!
This is the most important element of them all! In Tuscany bread is unsalted and baked in a wood-fire oven. It’s an oval loaf with a crisp crust and a soft, tender crumb. People here call it sciocco which means stupid, it may sound strange but it probably refers to another way of saying, non avere il sale in zucca, meaning not having salt in the brain, synonym for being stupid.
The salt factor and sturdy texture is important for a good bruschetta as you need both but for different reasons. You’re going to top the bread with a variety of ingredients, so you don’t need extra salt, while you need a good structure for the slice not to cave in under all the ingredients and sogginess of veggies and olive oil. That’s why, if you can’t get your hands on authentic Tuscan bread, you’ll need to find the closest alternative that shares these characteristics.
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