Bread may well be the staff of life, it is also a primal way to convey morsel to mouth. As late as medieval times, only wealthy aristocrats used plates and, even then, the only utensil at the table was the knife at your belt. (Hmmm, I wonder how that played in the political discussions of the day.) Usually partially stale bread carried all manner of other foods and sopped up whatever juices were available. Given that dining tables were generally a luxury for those of means, such bread-borne meals were likely to have been the first takeaway meals.
Then some brilliant cook invented toast, or at least saw the potential value of turning stale bread into something appealing. As frequently happens, one thing led to another. From grilled cheese to caviar toast points, slightly scorched bread has become integral to many, perhaps most cuisines. Even the breadless Japanese cuisine offers Hatoshi, a shrimp toast. What is puzzling is the very elegant British Victorian invention of the silver toast rack, apparently designed to bring carefully toasted bread to the table perfectly cold.
As history would have it, the cooks of Italy combined the idea of toast and a multiplicity of fresh ingredients together to make both Bruschetta and her little brother, Crostini. Thus, toast was elevated to a culinary art form often used as a nibble to whet the appetite and stave off hunger before the main meal. Bruschetta has become popular across Europe and across the Atlantic in the United States. Both the larger and the smaller of these siblings can be topped with almost anything. For example, a smear of last week’s Beet Cream topped by a mint leaf would be a refreshing bite with drinks before dinner.
Somewhere in the Abruzzi Mountains, a clever device was created to toast the bread for bruschetta and crostini. This stovetop or open flame toaster called a brustolina, distributes heat evenly across the bread it contains. The question is, even if it could be found on eBay, is there room for it in the kitchen?
The classic Bruschetta is topped with fresh diced tomatoes, chopped basil, a bit of grated cheese and occasionally drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. This is a place where imagination should be given free reign as it is almost impossible to put anything fresh on a slice of such toast and not improve the experience of eating.
This week we are offering a Spinach Cannellini Bruschetta and a number of variations. Personal tastes should definitely be your guide. Have fun with it.