Around 1990, appetizer and hors d’oeuvres menus around the country started featuring bruschetta. Early versions of the toasted bread snack were commonly topped with fresh basil, chopped tomatoes, garlic and olive oil, a combination of garlic bread and French bread pizza. Diners embraced the concept with fervor and the choice of toppings increased with demand.
The Italian verb "bruscare" means ‘to roast over coals’ and "brusciare" means ‘to burn or toast,’ which is how the first bruschetta was made. The noun bruschetta is derived from these verbs although modern style bruschetta is often made from bread grilled in a skillet or baked in an oven until hard and dry. If you order bruschetta in Italy, you will likely be served one piece of crusty, lightly toasted Italian bread slathered with olive oil with a clove of garlic on the side. However, if you order bruschette, the plural of bruschetta, expect a plate of bruschetta with a variety of toppings.
Stories of Origin
Although all accounts of bruschetta’s origins trace it back to Italy, the exact region and year of its birth are murky. Ancient Romans reportedly used to test the quality of freshly pressed olive oil by smearing it on a piece of fire-toasted bread for tasting, a custom that is now common in all major olive-oil producing regions of Italy, specifically Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria. Certain accounts claim the oil-soaked bread was rubbed with a clove of garlic to bring out the flavors of the oil. Other historical accounts of bruschetta claim it evolved from people trying to revitalize stale bread by soaking it with olive oil.
The original, unadorned bruschetta was the poor man’s version of garlic bread. The toast was merely flavored with garlic essence instead of having pieces of garlic served on the surface of the bread. As the hors d’oeuvre gained popularity in America, olive oil and garlic remained part of the recipe but the traditional Italian toppings were frequently replaced with sausage, cheese, pancetta, mushrooms, olive spread and truffles.
For best results, use an authentic Italian bread, the more rustic the better; ciabatta is a good choice. Acceptable substitutes include French baguette or any hearty bread with a chewy body and porous texture that toasts well. Toast the bread on both sides to avoid sogginess. Use the highest quality virgin or extra virgin olive oil to impart the bruschetta with the best taste.
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