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Thursday, July 6, 2006 02:39 pm

Brushetta, the right way

The toppings can vary, but good bread essential

I embarrassed my husband at a restaurant recently. It wasn’t the first time, and it probably won’t be the last. After the server described the appetizer special, I interrupted him before he could move on to the entrees. “You know,” I said nicely (I’m always nice when I do this), “It’s actually pronounced brusketta, not brushetta.”
I realize I’m geekily obsessed by this, and not only because my family has repeatedly told me so. I also realize that my one-woman campaign to inform Americans about the proper pronunciation of this increasing popular item stands little chance of success. Even servers have incorrectly corrected me: “You mean you want the ‘brushetta’?” I’ve nicely set them straight, though I’m not sure they’ve believed me. (By the way, it’s never appropriate for a server to correct a customer’s pronunciation.) Maybe it’s because as a vocal-performance major I had proper Italian pronunciation drilled into me — or maybe it’s just that I’m a geek. Whatever the reason, and even though I know it’s hopeless, I have to give it a try. “Brushetta” is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. As my husband said with a sigh when I told him what I was writing about, “You might as well get it out of your system.”
It’s really very easy. The Italian pronunciation of “ch” and “c” that precede “i” and “e” is exactly the opposite of English. So “ch” in Italian is pronounced “k,” and “c” is pronounced “ch” as in “cheese”; and the Italian word for goodbye, ciao, sounds like “cheeow, not “seeouw.”
Now that that’s out of the way: Bruschetti (the plural of bruschetta) are easy to make and offer almost limitless variations. Like most simple preparations, success depends on the quality of the ingredients. (Incidentally, many people wonder about the difference between bruschetti and crostini. Though there’s some debate on the subject, bruschetti are generally defined as grilled slices of bread topped while still warm with either warm or room-temperature ingredients. Crostini are usually thinner, smaller toasted bread rounds, with both bread and toppings served at room temperature.) Good bread is essential. Choose a rustic-type loaf or round. Incredibly Delicious has several wonderful options, including King Midas, sourdough, and country French. That bakery’s Pepper Parmesan bread, available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the farmers’ market and at the bakery, is outstanding with any bruschetta not dressed with fish or other seafood. Bruschetti are an ideal way to showcase produce at its seasonal peak. In the spring I make them with asparagus, then move on to fava beans and peas as they appear. Now that summer is here, there are many delicious possibilities. But bruschetta toppings are not limited to vegetables; one of my favorites is the lemon shrimp that follows. Consider preparing a variety of toppings and letting guests compose their own bruschetti for an easy and informal dinner party. Two or more with a salad can make a satisfying meal. It’s an especially good way to entertain if some of your guests are vegetarians. To prepare bread for bruschetti: Cut slices of fresh rustic bread into 1-inch slices. Brush both sides very lightly with olive oil. Grill over a medium hot fire or in a grill pan until the bread has grill marks and is lightly browned. Top while still warm. Topping ideas:  Sliced or coarsely chopped fresh tomatoes (The first seasonal tomatoes made their appearance at the farmers’ market last week.)  Fresh herbs, especially basil  Pesto  Sautéed greens  Garlic, either minced fresh, thinly sliced, whole roasted cloves, or rub the bread with a cut clove right after grilling  Grilled eggplant  Roasted sliced beets  Sliced fresh or roasted bell peppers  Thinly sliced sweet raw onions  Onions sautéed until golden brown and caramelized  Grilled zucchini  Cooked chickpeas, tossed with a little olive oil  Cheeses: fresh goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, provolone, shaved Parmesan, Gorgonzola  Thinly sliced prosciutto or salami  Grilled calamari or shrimp (Italians never combine fish or seafood with cheese, by the way.)  Seared tuna, tuna canned in olive oil, or anchovies  Olives, olive salad, or capers Don’t let this list limit you. All of the above ingredients will make a fine Italian bruschetta, but you don’t have to stop there. How about an American version with grilled fresh corn kernels, chopped red peppers, sweet onions, ham, and Cheddar? Or a dessert bruschetta spread with goat cheese or cream cheese, grilled fresh figs or peaches, and a drizzling of honey? The possibilities are as limitless as your imagination. But please, however you make it, please, just for me, say “brusketta. I’ll be listening!  
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