Bruschetta, the right way
One of the most interesting things in the five years since I began writing this column has been readers’ responses. I’ve learned a lot from them and, hopefully, that’s been a two-way street as I’ve responded to inquiries. Apart from individual comments, though, it’s been intriguing to see which columns and topics generate the most comments.
To my surprise, what probably remains my most commented-on column (I haven’t actually kept score) was one of the earliest. And it wasn’t as much about something to eat as it was about how to pronounce it. “I just know we’re sisters under the skin,” wrote a woman from Missouri. Wow – I hadn’t realized that folks outside central Illinois read IT! I also enjoyed an exchange with a man fluent in Italian, although I’m pretty sure he was disappointed to find that my knowledge was limited to the correct pronunciation required of trained singers; conversation – in print or in person – was beyond me. Chef friends teased me about it, and my husband grumbled that now he couldn’t say the word without thinking about it ahead of time.
Five years later, bruschetta remains as popular as ever – and as mispronounced as ever. So here’s a repeat of what I wrote back in 2006, as well as a recipe for one of my most favorite, and luxurious, bruschetta toppings.
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 broo-SKETTA, not broo-SHETTA.”
I realize I’m geekily obsessed about this, and not only because my family repeatedly tells 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 ‘broo-SHETTA’?” I’ve nicely set them straight, though I’m not sure they believed me. Maybe it’s because as a classically trained singer 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. “Broo-SHETTA” is like fingernails on a blackboard to me. As my husband said with a sigh when I told him my topic, “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,” (as in Chianti) and “c” is pronounced “ch” (as in cello). It’s why the Italian word for goodbye, ciao, sounds like “cheeow, not “seeouw.”
Now that that’s out of the way: Bruschetta are easy to make and open to limitless variations. Like most simple preparations, success depends on the quality of the ingredients. (Incidentally, many people wonder about the difference between bruschetta and crostini. Though there’s some debate on the subject, bruschetta 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. Their Pepper Parmesan bread, available on Wednesdays and Saturdays at the farmers market in season as well as at the bakery, is outstanding with any bruschetta not dressed with fish or other seafood.
Bruschetta are ideal to showcase seasonal produce. In winter, top them with roasted root vegetables, especially garlic, or anything in the kohl group, from cauliflower to kale and pleasantly bitter broccoli rabe. In spring I serve them with asparagus, then fava beans and peas. In the full flush of summer the possibilities are endless, not least fresh tomatoes. Few things can top a slice of grilled rustic bread, covered with dead-ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a little garlic, shreds of basil and a drizzle of olive oil.
But bruschetta toppings aren’t limited to vegetables. One of my favorites is the lemon shrimp that follows. Yes, it’s luxurious, but it’s also a way to stretch a costly ingredient.
Consider preparing a variety of toppings and letting guests compose their own toppings 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.
Prepare the bread by cutting rustic bread into 1-inch thick 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.
Contact Julianne Glatz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lemon shrimp bruschetta
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 “broo-SKETTA. I’ll be listening! 4 to 8 servings
- 1 lb. small shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 4 T. (1/4 c.) lemon flavored vodka, or regular vodka
- 4 large or 8 small 1-inch slices rustic country bread or sourdough bread
- 1 lemon
- 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil plus extra for brushing the bread
- 4 cloves garlic, or to taste
- Hot pepper flakes, optional
Remove peel from lemon with vegetable peeler, being careful to remove only the peel, not the bitter white pith. Julienne (cut into thinnest slivers possible) the peel and reserve the lemon.
Cut the garlic cloves into paper-thin slices or mince them.
Brush the bread very lightly with olive oil and grill or toast until browned but not completely dried out and keep warm.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet until hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and lemon peel, stirring constantly just until the garlic starts to color. Do not allow to brown. Add the shrimp all at once, continuing to stir. Sauté the shrimp for a minute or two, until almost done.
Add the vodka and hot pepper. If you have a gas stove, tip the edge of the pan over just enough to catch the flame and shake the pan until the flames subside. If using an electric stove, touch a lighted match to the pan and continue as above.
As soon as the flames have died down, squeeze half the reserved lemon over the mixture, then divide the shrimp and juices evenly over the bread. Serve immediately.