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Sandwiches : The Real Italian Garlic Bread : Earthy appeal: Bruschetta is a robust, sensual delight. But it's so basic that it places few demands on the cook.

July 05, 1991|VIANNA LA PLACE | La Place is the author of the newly published "Verdure" and co-author of three other cookbooks. and

Bruschetta is the original garlic bread, but in its authentic form it bears little relationship to garlic bread as it is known in America.

Although both contain the same basic ingredients--bread, garlic, olive oil--the similarities end there. Bruschetta begins with a thick slice of country bread, which is first grilled over fragrant coals. It is then rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The appeal of bruschetta is basic and earthy--the robust pleasures of biting into coarse bread, the warm perfume of fresh garlic, and the sensual delight of luminous, green olive oil. The demands it places on the cook are few; it is one of the simplest dishes in the Italian repertoire. It perfectly reflects the guiding principle of Italian cooking: the pairing of easy cooking techniques with a few ingredients of extraordinary freshness and flavor to create memorable dishes.

Although the time-honored method is grilling, bruschetta can also be made under the broiler or even popped into the toaster. The idea is to turn the surface of the bread golden and crisp, abrasive enough to break down the garlic, and hot enough to release the fragrance of the garlic and olive oil.

The very simplicity of bruschetta lends itself to lots of variations. After the bread is grilled and rubbed with garlic and olive oil, it can be topped with sauteed greens or roasted peppers, with crushed white beans scented with fresh rosemary, with herbs, olive pastes or other tangy condiments such as capers and anchovies. The classic bruschetta --the one most often seen in country kitchens and trattorias across Italy--is topped with a brilliant red stain of vine-ripened tomatoes and a scattering of sharply aromatic basil leaves.

Although bruschetta is most often served at the beginning of the meal as an antipasto or first course, it can easily be transformed into a quick lunch dish. Top the bruschetta with warm ricotta cheese, sprinkle with pungent oregano and accompany it with black olives for an easy, nutritious and satisfying midday meal for one.

As the main offering of a rustic dinner, use bruschetta as the base for a stew of domestic and wild mushrooms, served with a peppery green salad and a glass of robust red wine to complete the picture.

Bruschetta is even adaptable to less traditional Italian ingredients. Consider topping it with creamy avocado seasoned with lemon juice and chopped green onions.

The permutations are infinite, but the key is to keep it simple and seasonal, and to use only the best products. The main point about bruschetta is that we now have all the ingredients required to do justice to the dish: good, nourishing bread; fresh garlic; extra-virgin olive oil and really good produce.

Use the best rustic loaf of bread you can find. Then take the time to select bulbs of garlic with firm, white cloves. Avoid bulbs that are sprouting or withered and yellowed, signs that the garlic is past its prime and will be unpleasantly strong-flavored and bitter. Extra-virgin olive oil is now widely available in all price ranges--from good-quality, large-scale production oils to the finest artisan-style extra-virgin olive oil made from estate-grown olives.

Our produce is also improving. During the past few years we have seen a revolution in our markets, a direct response to customer demand for fresher produce and greater selection. Supermarkets now offer fresh herbs, vine-ripened tomatoes and a larger selection of greens.

Without fuss or bother, you can now create one of the great rustic dishes of Italy. One bite of bruschetta and you will feel you have been transported to the Italian countryside--seated at a rough-hewn table under an ancient olive tree, contendedly gazing out at endless green fields and vineyards.

This is the basic recipe for bruschetta with a slight twist--a light sprinkling of oregano is added at the final moment. The heat of the bruschetta brings out the pungent perfume of the herb. For other recipes calling for bruschetta, follow the directions below but omit the oregano.


4 thick slices country bread

1 large clove garlic, cut in half

Extra-virgin olive oil

Salt, preferably sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Dried oregano leaves

Grill or lightly toast bread slices. While warm, rub bread on one side only with cut end of garlic clove. Drizzle with olive oil to taste. Season to taste with salt, pepper and oregano. Serve immediately. Makes 4 bruschettas.

Here is a topping for bruschetta featuring strips of roasted tomatoes, anchovy and fresh basil. Follow with assorted grilled seafood garnished with thick wedges of fragrant lemon for a delightful summer dinner served out-of-doors.


2 red ripe tomatoes

4 thick slices country bread

1 large clove garlic, cut in half

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