Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The toast of the town

photo, Dan Ryan 

I once heard Jaques Pépin say that he'd be happy if his last meal was a good piece of bread with butter. I'm with him on that one—I've long thought that a fine piece of crunchy bread or toast with butter was heaven. Growing up my mom would give me tea and toast when I was not feeling well, sometimes she'd even sprinkle cinnamon sugar on it and cut it into fancy triangles. Lucky me! And though the carb police claim that white bread (also pasta and white rice) is the devil, and although I know it has little nutritional value, I can't resist this simple pleasure sometimes.

Pépin grew up in France on what was no doubt some of the best bread on Earth (Mon dieu! What IS it with French bread, and all European bread for that matter—is it really the flour?) My first French baguette, so crunchy and magnificent the way it shattered into tiny shards of golden crunch bits, ooh la laaa! It was definitely one of my top 10 culinary experiences—so far anyway. The French cheese didn't hurt the experience either. And Italian bruschetta, which is a term they use for burned bread, never fails to delight and comfort. By the way, in Italian the CH is always pronounced like a hard C or K, so bruschetta is pronounced "bru-SKet-ta" not "bru-SHet-ta," the way you would pronounce chianti or Brunelleschi's Dome). There, cleared that up I hope. 

The word bruschetta originates from the Latin verb brusicare, which means "to burn." This is how I make my basic bruschetta. I toast the bread slices on a grill (preferably) or in a toaster, rub it lightly with a clove  of garlic, then drizzle it with a good quality olive oil. It's fabulous just like that, or it could be topped with all manner of interesting tidbits, like chopped tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, or a fava bean and parm reg cheese puree. But sometimes the simple things are best, so here I rubbed each piece of bruschetta with a half of a tomato, then sprinkled some fleur de sel on top. I'm sure that Jaques would have enjoyed this!

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