Bruschetta 101

Bruschetta is a celebration of seasonal ingredients. It could be a simple version with newly pressed olive oil or a summer version with vine – ripened tomatoes. On the surface, it is an uncomplicated Italian antipasto dish and yet it is so often misunderstood and easily stuffed up. The key to good bruschette is the quality of the ingredients.

Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.
Some freshly picked tomatoes and basil.

Let’s start with the pronunciation. I am sure I have posted on this topic before, but as Bruschetta is the most mispronounced culinary term in Australia, with wait staff leading the way, it is worth another go. Phonetically, the word can be divided into three parts: Broo- Skeh- Ta. There is no SHHH sound in the middle, as sche in Italian makes the SKE sound. ( sce or sci makes the shh sound). The next thing to note is that there is a subtlety to the sound of the broo part of the word. American speakers of Italian invariably turn this sound into Brew, whereas the sound is much closer to Brook or lies somewhere between the two. Here’s a little sound bite that might assist:

http://inogolo.com/pronunciation/bruschetta

This season's garlic.
This season’s garlic.

Next the bread. The best bread to use for this dish is a rustic and fairly dense white bread such as Pane di Casa or Sourdough ( not ciabatta- too holey- and not fluffy French breadsticks). As the word Bruschetta is derived from Bruciare, to burn, and Bruscare ( Roman dialect) to roast over coals, an open charcoal grill or BBQ achieves both these outcomes best, especially if serving simply with garlic, new oil and salt. Many family run trattorie throughout country Sicily and Campania have a small open fire in the wall near the kitchen for cooking alla brace. For the home cook, the nearest version is to use a heavy cast iron ridged grill over a gas flame. Also keep in mind that the size of each bruschetta should not be too large. The diminutive ending –‘etta’- suggests something small and dainty, not a boat-sized toasted thing. Bruschette are not the same as Crostini. Crostini are small rounds of bread baked in olive oil in the oven and are much harder and crunchier.

Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.
Grilling the bread for Bruschetta.

About the toppings. Bruschetta is a classic example of a dish where less is more. Originally, the dish consisted of bread, oil, and garlic. If you have some new season freshly pressed olive oil on hand, I recommend you go no further, other than rubbing the grilled bread with garlic. In tomato season, a topping of garlic, tomato and maybe a little basil, is just right. This is not a dish for imported winter tomatoes that have sat in storage for eons. I also find hydroponic tomatoes extremely disappointing in flavour. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, ask how they are grown before buying seasonal tomatoes. If they look completely regular in size with neatly cut stems, chances are they are hydroponically grown. Choose those that have grown organically and in the open air. The best tomatoes to use for this dish are Roma or Egg tomatoes. The flesh on these is much firmer and they are not so wet and seedy.  My photos show Rouge de Marmande tomatoes, which are very tasty but a little too mushy for this dish.

a little salt brings bruschetta to life.
A little flaked salt brings bruschetta to life.

Adding other non-Italian things, such as fetta cheese, is a real distraction from the simplicity of this dish. Australian cafes have a ‘dog’s dinner’ approach to Bruschetta presentation, shoving too much stuff on top. Some celebrity chefs, like Ottolenghi, also have a tendency to muck around with classic dishes. Keep it simple and authentic, especially if you happen to have top ingredients.

Assembling the bruschetta
Assembling the bruschetta

This tomato Bruschetta recipe is based on an old classic by Anna Del Conte.¹ The recipe serves 8 people. Halve or quarter according to your numbers.

  • 6 sun ripened firm tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum tomatoes
  • a handful of torn fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of freshly dried oregano
  • 8 slices of good crusty bread, cut 1cm thick
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • flaked salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Blanch and skin the tomatoes, cut them in half  and remove most of the seeds. Dice the flesh into 1.5 cm cubes. Tear the basil into small pieces, or if using dried oregano, strip from the stem and crush it finely in your hands.

Grill the bread on both sides then rub with the garlic. Cut each slice in half to make them easier to eat. ( or thirds, depending on the size of your slices).

Spoon on some tomato cubes and some torn basil over each slice and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle on the oil and serve at once.

Small bites of Brushcetta con Pomodori
Small bites of Bruschetta con Pomodori

Another approach is to mix the chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic, oil and dried oregano together and to let the mix steep for 10 minutes. Try it both ways and see which way you like it. The salt at the end brings out the flavour.

‘Con il passare del tempo ed il continuo mutare della cucina napoletana, da molti anni si possono assaggiare in tante versioni condite con creme e paté di peperoni, funghi, zucchine,piccoli tocchetti di melanzane, mozzarelle, scamorze e salumi vari.’

With the passing of time and the continuing changing of Neapolitan cuisine over the years, you can taste many versions dressed with pate or pesto of pepper ( Red capsicum), mushrooms, zucchini, small chunks of eggplant, mozzarella, scamorza and various salami.  Again, use one seasonal ingredient or meat and keep the topping simple.

¹ Anna del Conte Entertaining All’ Italiana, Bantom Press 1991. This beautiful book presents seasonal menus. This recipe appeared as an antipasto in a summer luncheon for 8 people, and was followed by freshly made Tagliatelle with Mozzarella, Anchovy fillets and Parsley, a side dish of Pepperoni in Vinegar, and finished with Walnuts, Grapes and Parmesan. Traditional, classic food that is not over fiddly.

Dal giardino.
Dal giardino.

63 thoughts on “Bruschetta 101”

  1. Simply gorgeous Francesca, this type of food I love! My cast iron grill pan has taken up permanent residence on the stovetop for this very purpose. Nothing beats that delicious carry flavour. It’s so irritating to hear bruschetta mispronounced, over and over and over, some people just don’t want to know and are determined that there mangled verson is correct.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. We must be twins. Mine has taken up permanent residence on the stove too. Loving my double layered version. Speaking of the mangling of this word, some restaurants are now changing the spelling on their menu to reflect this mispronunciation.

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  2. Thank you with your “keep it simple” recommendation. The best bruschette I’ve ever had have been rubbed with a little garlic and drizzled with really good olive oil. There’s nothing worse than having to balance a mound of ingredients that fall all over your wrist and bounce everywhere you don’t want them, not that you wanted the chunks of tasteless tomatoes on your palate, but you certainly didn’t want their oil-soaked presence on your freshly laundered trousers, either.

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    1. Yes, I agree- the best bruschette are with good oil and garlic- though again, this comes down to the quality of the oil, garlic and the type of bread used. Tasteless winter tomatoes are not worth eating.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have argued with many waitstaff about the pronunciation. It drives me nuts. I end up saying “if you want to call it brooshetta then it is just toast”. I had a barista in very well known coffee place call espresso expresso the other day….oh dear!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. But everyone Lol you have to realise that this is Australia and people want to call it Brushetta! They don’t want to pronounce it the Italian way. It’s like pronouncing school and school schewl or school as in Tutsie – which is correct? – depends whether you live in SA or Vic, and Reservoir or Reservoir – depends whether you come from north or south of the Yarra. I would probably pronounce it the Italian way if I was over there but. By the way Francesca, can you recommend a good Virgin Olive Oil to sprinkle on these oversized croutons?

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    1. No, Chris, on this point I have to strongly disagree. The pronunciation is about language and it’s quite a simple thing to learn how to say things correctly. It is not a matter of suburb or schooling. It is simply a word, like any other word. Learn it or just say toast.

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      1. Well I’m going to continue with Brushetta Francesca cos it’s understood here in Oz. You’ll have to put your hands over your ears! Do you say Porsche (Porsh) or Porsche (Porsha)? I’ve always pronounced it Porsh but it’s actually pronounced Porsha.

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        1. I still don’t understand what is so hard about learning to say words correctly. My grandchildren manage it quite well. But go ahead, dig your head, and ears in the sand, if that’s your preference.

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        2. Here is a list of Italian culinary words and ingredients commonly used in English. For the most part, Australian speakers have learnt to pronounce these words correctly: broccoli, cannelloni, ciabatta, cappucino, espresso, focaccia, gnocchi,granita, grappa,gorgonzola,fusilli,latte,
          macchiato,minestrone,panini,
          pepperone,mozzarella,ricotta,risotto,pesto,pizza,polenta,salami, spaghetti, tagliatelle,tortellini, semolina,tutti frutti,vermicelli,and zucchini. Then there are all the other Italian words used for music, clothes, architecture and so on. With the exception of Gnocchi and Tagliatelle, the pronunciation of these words did not require special schooling. We can be taught to hear words correctly, and sound like mature adults, or we can be led by a bunch of 16 year olds working in cafes.

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        3. My apologies – but you are incorrect on BOTH counts! The car favoured by so many is naturally pronounced as ‘por-shay’ or better with a ‘shee’ ending if you can manage that European-style!!. No arguments: I do speak perfect German and happened to have had the beaut car for decades . . . agree about all of Francesca’s pronunciations . . . .

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          1. You are correct if you speak perfect German and had the beaut car for decades – you would be an expert on the pronunciation. I happen to have perfect German pronunciation but I am not German as I studied it for many years. What I was getting at is that in Oz just about everyone says Porsche (Porsh) and that’s the accepted pronunciation here, so I will continue to pronounce it that way while knowing full well it’s Por-shay. And by the way I still prefer to say Brushetta!

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            1. Forgive me for my laughter! Actually I also am not a German: just a penne-ante Baltic Baronial multiple times over !!! . . . but I must have most peculiar friends as just somehow your attitude and ‘truth’ do not quite comply!!! All the best!!

              Liked by 2 people

  5. I think it has to be one of the most commonly mispronounced food words everywhere outside of Italy, not just in Australia! Now I long for summer and those sun ripened tomatoes, but at least we are going to be warm today, a whopping 16C is forecast so I cannot complain, the only thing lacking are the ingredients in the garden to cook your yummy food! Guess I will have to get out to the market. x

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lovely post, I can sense your passion here. Brushketta is in my short list of top 10 dishes. What a perfect marriage of colour, taste, aroma and simplicity. As with pizza, less is more and shouldn’t be a competition to see how much can be loaded on top. Sorry about the cheeky pronunciation, my teachers hated me!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The mispronouncation of this word is super annoying hey! My constant correction (in a subtle way) of others makes me fear I sound a bit of a word tyrant. I try and explain it by saying (phonetically here) broo-skehta and proshooto (prosciutto) in the hope that people will remember that the two are pronounced differently to each other. Eh. Your bruschetta is simple, perfect and completely as it should be.

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  8. Yum. YUMMMMMM. I’ll have to go to the shop now and see if they have any fresh sourdough and tomatoes… I’d like to learn Italian. I’m fluent in Spanish so I feel liek it wouldn’t be THAT much of a leap but I’ve been dragging my feet…. Maybe this is the year?

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  9. This post is absolutely delightful! I appreciate the depth you put into each piece – from the ingredients to the pronunciation. (Hearing “brew-shetta” makes my skin crawl!) Thank you for taking this one back to basics, and reminding us all that sometimes simple and fresh is all you need.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I adore bruschetta… thank you for the lesson on how to say the word, most appreciated. (I have been saying it correctly all along). x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. We should not forget that our english language is, in any case, derived from a variety of different languages. To claim that pronouncing a foreign word correctly is “uppity” is, i feel, a form of snobbery. Fortunately, “yum” is universally understood:) my bruschetta-making attempts have suffered from too much of a good thing piled high and the ensuing unseemly stuffing of the wayward bits into my mouth – thank you for the post, Francesca.

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    1. I’m just reading a book that looks at how adaptable English is and how it grows faster than any other language due to it absorbing so many words from other languages. That is a funny concept, ‘uppity’, indeed. I think I would rather sound uppity than stupid though. I love trying to say words correctly and just recently had to adapt my version of the French word ‘Cassis’ to incorporate the ‘s” in a French kind of way. Thanks to those sound guides on google, we can all learn corrct pronunciation. My parents always had odd takes on place names such as Monaco and Capri: it takes a while to undo false pronunciation learnt as a child.
      Glad you liked my version of Bruschetta Jan. It’s nice to get back to basics sometimes. Cheers.

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