“Give me yesterday’s bread, this day’s flesh, and last year’s cider” – Benjamin Franklin
Is there anything better than freshly baked bread? The crispy crust surrounding the most delicate crumb, the slices still warm accompanied by a little bit of butter and salt, the smell filling the house within minutes. Freshly baked bread is the smell of home, in all its warmth and cosiness, but it is also the smell of the little shop at the end of the road, in that small city where we all know each other; it is the smell of Paris, where the only boulangerie open saved the day, when it was too late for dinner in a restaurant and too early to have breakfast.
Have you ever played the game “Word Association”? Basically the first player says a word out loud, the second player has to say a word that has some connection to the previous word, and so on. If I played this game and the word I needed to connect was bread, my first response would be respect. I have a profound sense of respect for food in general, but I always felt a special connection for bread: all the process behind its preparation, the affordability despite all the time and work invested to make it, the fact that no matter who you are and what is your background, bread is in almost every house, it is like a “link” between all sorts of families or households. What can I say, call me a hopeless romantic.
This respect and reverence towards bread is not only something that I developed during the years, but it is an interesting aspect of the Italian culture, and actually led to the creation of one of the most famous symbols of Italian cuisine: bruschetta.
Bruschetta (Italian pronunciation [bruˈsketta]), is literally old bread that has been grilled – so Benjamin Franklin was onto something. It is believed that it was invented during the Roman Empire, but over the centuries it became the food of the farmers that couldn’t afford to waste any food. In every house, they used to have something called madia, a wooden box that contained the bread in order to keep it fresh. When the madia wasn’t enough, and the bread was starting to go stale, the farmers used to grill some slices and eat them with some olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Curiosity: the name bruschetta comes from the Roman dialect word “bruscato”, which means “grilled”.
The concept of bruschetta has evolved with time, and as of today the toppings of this starter, and even its name, might differ from one region to another:
- Tuscany – in this region bruschetta in known as fettunta (fetta=slice, unta=greasy). It is made of a slice of pane sciocco, garlic, oil salt and pepper. Curiosity:Pane sciocco means bread with no salt, but sciocco in Italian is also the word for stupid. It is believed that this bread was invented in 1100, during the war between Pisa and Florence. Allegedly, Pisa interrupted all the supplies of salt to Florence to force the city to surrender, but this wasn’t an option for people in Florence who found the very zen solution of just cooking with no salt.
- Puglia – in this region bruschetta is usually topped with olive oil and cherry tomatoes (either grown in your own allotment, or Pomodorini del Piennolo del Vesuvio
- Campania – in this area, bruschetta is topped with cherry tomatoes, oregano,olive oil and garlic
- Piemonte – here bruschetta is called soma d’aj, which means “full of garlic”, and it is made of a grilled slice or bread, rubbed with a garlic clove on both sides
- Calabria – in this region bruschetta is called fedda ruscia, which literally translate from dialect as “grilled slice”. It is topped with tomatoes,salt, pepper, olive oil and oregano
In the years, the toppings for bruschetta evolved: cured meat, cheese, vegetables, etc… the sky is the limit!
Here are a few delicious examples: