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The first thing to remember is not to judge by appearance alone. While bruschetta, with its history spanning centuries of Tuscan tradition, may seem like just a slice of garnished bread, it is actually one of the most flavorful, enjoyable dishes in the Italian repertoire. It’s beloved for its disarming and simple deliciousness, and its high-quality - but affordable - ingredients. Even renowned chefs like Jamie Oliver extoll its virtues and propose their own variations of this “kind of half-sandwich”.
The farmer’s recipe
The history of the bruschetta dates back to the Etruscan age: while occupying the land between Rome and Tuscany, they began dressing the local, salt-less bread (best when it’s a day old and a little bit stale) and baking slices in ovens. Before placing it in the oven, tradition calls for brushing it with a clove of garlic and drizzling a bit of olive oil over each slice. Farmers believe that the oil should be very young and recently pressed and that bruschetta is best accompanied by a glass of wine. As an old Italian proverb goes, “Day-old bread, month-old oil, and year-old wine”.
The Neapolitan tomato
And while the quality of the oil – which should be extra-virgin and Italian – is the most important ingredient for making a perfect bruschetta, good tomatoes are another key factor. They should be diced into small pieces, sprinkled with salt and herbs like oregano or basil, and then put on the bread while still raw. Legend has it that farmers who were busy picking tomatoes, would sit down and rub them on pieces of bread as a snack while working in the fields. And even the name bruschetta has its origins in the farming tradition: the “brusca” is a kind of brush used for grooming horses and cattle. Some Tuscans believe that the name comes from the verb “bruscare”, which is a dialectic way of saying “to toast”.
The joy of meat
The kind of bruschetta you’ll eat in Italy depends on where you are. While the basic Tuscan recipe calls for just garlic and oil, and in Naples it’s served with tomato, every city has it’s own way of serving this appetizer – which often comes before the first pasta or soup course. In Piedmont, it’s called “soma d’aj”, and is covered with garlic, oil and a slice of tomato – and is often enjoyed during the grape harvest season, along with a bunch of grapes. In Calabria, pepper and oregano is added.
Many parts of Tuscany serve bruschetta along with cuts of meat like prosciutto crudo, chicken livers, fresh sausage or lard, which melts delightfully into the warm toasted bread. Guinness-worthy versions Italian variants of bruschetta include versions served with zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, bell peppers and many different kids of cheeses, which can either be sprinkled or spread onto the bread. True gourmands may enjoy a bit of shaved truffle from Alba, if it’s in season. Italians are so proud of this simple, but irresistible dish, that every year an enormous version is created for the Guinness Book of World Records – last year’s entry was 225 meters long – which is prepared during the country fairs at the end of the year, when the new olive oil is bottled.