Thirty minutes to air-time on KATU TV's AMNorthwest set in Portland. I'm prepping for a segment on bruschetta — Italy's simple toasted bread-and-tomato appetizer — and the burning question of the morning seems to be:
"So Jan, do you say bru-SHETA or bru-SKETA?"
"Bru-SKETA, Leslie. Bru-SKETA."
"Good!" said the executive producer. No faux pas on live television this morning.
Then one of the show's hosts, Dave Anderson breezes in to the studio.
"OK, Jan ... I've heard it both ways. SO is it ..."
"It's bru-SKETA, Dave. Bru-SKETA."
"But it looks like it should be with an S-H. You know, SHETA. And I've heard it both ways."
"I know. But in Italian, the 'sch' is a hard sound. It's 'SKETA.'
Then Steve, the director, drops by for his last-minute run-down. With several trips to Italy under his belt, I knew he'd weigh in. But he's more interested in reliving bruschetta experiences than pronunciation. His most amazing was a Tuscan adventure, where the bread was dense and richly toasted, and the simple topping was "a cloud of grilled sweet onions drizzled with an incredibly fruity olive oil. Heavenly! Simply heavenly!"
"Wait 'til you try my tomato-bacon-arugula-Gorgonzola topping," I say. He groans.
I tell him that only recently, good friends Jan and Rob had brought a platter of classic bruschetta (with tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil) to a party, and it was such a refreshingly simple and delicious offering we all stood around and devoured them. Which is what gave me the idea for this morning's segment.
One minute to air and Dave's co-host, Helen Raptis roars onto the set.
"Looking forward to bru-SKETA, Jan."
I just grin.
Forty minutes into the show, back from commercial and Helen, Dave and I are standing in the kitchen. Dave looks into the camera and reads the intro for the segment off the prompter. Then he turns to us. "So, is it bru-SHETA or bru-SKETA?"
Helen and Jan: "Bru-SKETA!!!"
That settles that.
If you're still struggling for a description, bruschetta (bru-sketa) is quite simply, a slice of fire-toasted bread topped with any number of ingredients, such as olive oil and salt, chopped tomato and basil, flaked tuna and capers or a smear of seasoned white bean puree. Served on a platter and presented as little appetizers, bruschetta is so incredibly pure and simple that each of its components must be the very best. Its toasty underpinning must be filled with flavor and texture, and the components on top — equally flavorful and perfect.
- The bread — Go with a dense-textured, crusty exterior, Italian style. Make thick cuts, 1/2- to 1-inch-thick pieces. And depending on how hefty a serving you want to offer, cut the slices in thirds, in half or keep them whole.
- The toasting — "Bruscare" is Italian for cooking over an open fire. So if you want to maintain an authentic presentation (and the most tasty), then the bread definitely should be toasted on both sides over coals before uniting with the topping. Second best toasting experience would be a gas grill. But the extra layer of flavor created from time over coals is worth the effort. If you must, a toaster-oven or broiler will do in a pinch. When I was prepping the bread for my morning cooking segment on AMNorthwest, I toasted slices the night before then gently reheated the slices in a 350-degree oven, and they came out great.
- The olive oil — Because olive oil is a major player in bruschetta, use the good stuff. It should be extra-virgin, and full-flavored, either buttery/fruity or peppery, or a combination of both.
- The toppings — Well, after toasting the slices of bread, the most classic approach — during tomato season — is to scrape the surface of each toasted bread slice with a garlic clove for a whisper of garlic. Alongside the bread slices, arrange several tomato halves so each diner can rub the cut surface of a tomato half over the top of the toasted bread. The tomato juices and flesh smoosh together with the toasted crustiness of the bread to form a remarkable morsel that is gobbled down on the spot before the juice-infused toast has a chance to become completely soggy. Another classic topping during tomato season is to combine diced tomato with chopped basil, a sprinkling of salt, and a drizzling of olive oil. I also like to drizzle on a bit of a balsamic vinegar reduction, and have provided a recipe below so you can too.
- Other topping ideas — (after grilling both sides of the bread slices and brushing lightly on the top side with a lovely fruity extra-virgin olive oil or drizzling the olive oil on top after the topping): thin slices of Walla Walla Sweet onion (raw or grilled), thin slices of grilled eggplant (plain, or the recipe that follows), thin slices of fresh Parmegiano-Reggiano, arugula and a few drops of lemon juice (or balsamic vinegar or balsamic vinegar reduction); chopped tomato, bits of crispy-fried bacon, arugula, combined with just a bit of mayonnaise; chopped tomato, bits of crispy-fried bacon, arugula and a sprinkling of Gorgonzola; a puree of white beans, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil; 2 cups pitted Kalamata or pimiento-stuffed green olives, 1 small garlic clove and the juice of lemon pureed in the bowl of a food processor; thin slices of marinated artichoke, sauteed in olive oil and sprinkled with lemon juice; thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano, arugula and a few drops of lemon juice; imported Italian tuna, capers and arugula.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Readers can contact her by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.