You say tomato, I say pomodoro.
Some people just have an affinity for languages – a gift of gab in a native tongue, and my husband is totally one of them. Because of his very worldly background of living in exotic and glamorous places as a boy and a teenager, Adam learned to speak four languages. Five, if you count his being able to curse fluently in every one of them. But it’s his Italian that sends me over the moon. Besides being the most exquisite language on the planet, his intonation is intoxicating and I could listen to him parlare endless hours for the sheer seduction in the musicality of the foreign, flowing words. (He could read the freakin’ dictionary in Italian and I’d get just as unstitched, all doe-eyed, swooning.) Listening to the sing-song cadence is mesmerizing and it catapults me smack-dab to the heart of Rome, lazily draped on a bench under the shadow of the Spanish Steps, languishing over a gelato. Viva Italia! The food! The wine! The fountains! The people who openly, comfortably, tell you that you have belli cappelli, beautiful hair. (Worth the trip alone!) The utterly heart-wrenching beauty of the place. It’s not a question of if we’ll return to the Eternal City, it’s merely a matter of when. So, I want to be better prepared for our next trip. That’s why I constantly plead to him, “Will you give me an Italian lesson?” I do this all the time.
As it is with learning most languages, I understand what’s being said a heck of lot better than I can fluidly articulate a conjugated response. (At least for now, anyways. Just keep me in the present tense and I’m good.) And, like everything else that Adam’s exceptionally good at, he’s a marvelous teacher, too – gently enunciating the delicate and intricate differences in vowel pronunciations to correct the inevitable muddling from my high school French. Move over, Rosetta Stone! Because not only do I get to get all ju-ju and “Be still my beating heart” from his teaching (Oh, say it again, per piacere!), but I can exploit my proverbial schoolgirl crush on The Professor. Ladies, you with me, here? Thought so.
Anyway, I know that studying a language that is spoken in what, maybe two countries on the planet, is not the most practical thing in the world, but it makes me feel incredibly sexy and chic and I know that all my hard work will so pay off one day when I return to the boot-shaped land that I adore and actually be able to engage in titillating conversation with the locals. I feel the early stages of contentment coming on already!
So, at the risk of becoming one of those people with just enough Italian under my belt to be dangerously annoying, I am paying it forward to you! Here’s my little lesson for you. We all know bruschetta, right? From the Italian bruscare, meaning “to toast or to burn” (as in a slice of bread), or “to roast,” this traditional garlic bread is made by rubbing toasted bread with garlic cloves, then drizzling the bread with extra-virgin olive oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper and served warm. Bruschetta has become an appetizer fixture on just about every, single menu in America (and now served with about as many variations of toppings, including my sweet/savory cantaloupe version). There seems to be some confusion on the word’s pronunciation, so I will let you in on a little secret so you can feel especially inflated when you hear a poor, uncultured person publicly botch the thing and you feel embarrassed and sorry for their inherent ignorance so you tell them the proper way to say it.
It’s broo-SKEH-tah…not broo-SHEH-tah.
Capisce? In Italian, “ch” is pronounced with a hard “k.” Think Chianti. Zucchini. A little more ammo in case someone (like a snotty restaurant server) annoyingly says, “Oh, you mean bru-SHETTA?” after you pronounce it correctly when ordering your first course. Yep, that happened to me. I, however, bit my tongue and resisted my internal knee-jerk reply of, “No, you unenlightened moron. I mean exactly what I said – broo-SKEH, SKEH, SKEH tah!” Well, because I am, above all things, a lady. But, had I been entertaining my second glass of vino rosso, well, let’s just say that I may have voiced my, um, position.
Now, down to the ciao (chow). Get it? The recipe development for this dish actually began after watching the film Julie & Julia. I call it the “bruschetta scene” that’s shown early in the movie when Julie decides to start writing a blog. I actually had to freeze the frame and stare at that beautiful plate for several minutes. The stylist did an incredible job on that dish because it did exactly what every one of us wants from our photos – to make the viewer stop and say, “Must. Have. Now!” Well, it worked its magic on me and I absolutely had to make my version. So, as the recent flurry of gorgeous, colorful tomatoes began to make their long-awaited debut in my market (and soothing my produce-weary soul), I picked up several pounds and dove head first to create the first bite of summer. Taking inspiration from the Italians and their magical touch with vegetables, I kept it simple so the flavors of the tomatoes can sing. A little olive oil, some salt and pepper, fresh basil and garlic. Then, a spritz of lemon juice to wake it all up. Golden, crusty bread that lustily soaks up all those fantastic juices. Molto buono!
- For the tomatoes:
- 8 fresh, ripe tomatoes, seeded and small-diced
- 1 garlic clove, finely minced or grated
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh basil
- For the bread:
- 1 loaf crusty, country bread, cut crosswise into ¾-inch pieces
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 whole, peeled garlic clove
- In a large bowl, combine the chopped tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add in the basil and toss well. To grill the bread: Drizzle each slice of bread with a moderate amount of olive oil. Bake, broil, fry or grill until golden brown on both sides.
- As soon as the bread is ready and is still hot, rub one side with the garlic clove. Top with a spoonful of the tomato mixture and serve warm.
…from the Picture-Perfect kitchen:
Planning: To toast the bread in the oven, adjust an oven rack 4 inches from the broiler and heat the broiler to high. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and broil the bread until deep golden on both sides, about 1 to 2 minutes per side.
Product Purity: I used a combination of heirloom and cherry tomatoes, but you can use whatever kind of tomato you prefer, just as long as they’re perfectly ripe. Always store tomatoes, stem down, at room temperature. Bruschetta’s most important component besides the bread itself, is olive oil. This is the time to break out a young, fruity extra-virgin.
Presentation: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – there’s a reason so many restaurants use white plates – they really make the food pop. Or you can go all rustic and do a self-serve style on a well-worn cutting board.