When many years ago and newly arrived in America, I was asked at the table of friends if I’d like some Italian garlic bread, I thought, as I accepted, how nice that they know about bruschetta. After a while, a warm bundle in a napkin was brought to the table and unwrapped to disclose a steaming loaf of bread, split in two, its redolently garlicky inside drenched in butter. I rethought, no, they don’t know about bruschetta.
Garlic bread in Italy, bruschetta, is never made with butter but with fruity extra virgin olive oil. It isn’t heated in an oven: It is sliced, crusty bread that is grilled–preferably, if possible, over charcoal. It must be crisp, never steamy. The garlic is rubbed lightly over the hot bread after it is removed from the grill. Then it is drizzled with olive oil and is deliciously complete.
This version goes one step further, featuring tiny cubes of ripe, firm, fresh tomatoes and the added fragrance of basil or oregano.
Yield: Up to 6 portions
4 fresh, ripe, firm plum tomatoes
4 large or 6 small fresh basil leaves, or a few pinches oregano
Six ½-inch-thick slices good, crusty country-style bread
A hot charcoal grill
3 or 4 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
Black pepper in a grinder
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1. Wash the tomatoes, split them in half lengthwise, pick out as many seeds as possible with the tip of a paring knife, and dice the tomatoes into ¾-inch cubes.
2. Wash the basil leaves, shake them thoroughly dry, and tear them by hand into tiny pieces. (For more pungent flavor, a few pinches of oregano can be substituted for the basil.)
3. Grill the bread on both sides. While still hot from the grill, rub one side of each slice with the mashed garlic. Spread over it the tomato and basil (or oregano), sprinkle with salt and a grinding of pepper, and top with a trickle of olive oil. If the olive oil is truly choice, you can increase the amount. Serve at once.
Bruschetta is best when served hot from the grill, as described above. If it is necessary to grill it in advance, however, rub it with garlic while it is still hot, then add all the other ingredients when ready to serve.
As an appetizer, when making a barbecue; as part of a buffet; if cut into bite-size squares, with drinks before dinner. It would be inappropriate at table for a formal sit-down meal.