The first thing to know before making this genius antipasto staple and its creative variations is how to pronounce its name correctly.
Not 'brushetta,' please. That's mortifying. It's bru–SKET–tah. An onomatopoeic homage to the sharp sound made when digging your teeth in the crisp charcoal baked sourdough bread, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt. Sk! Sk! Think skyscraper! Basket! Skipper! Helter Skelter! Brusketta! Yeah, that's it.
In Tuscany, bruschetta is more commonly called fettunta, a contraction of two words (fetta unta) meaning oiled slice. When olives are taken to the local frantoio mill for pressing in late November, the growers typically take some country casereccio bread with them. There is usually a small fireplace burning in the corner of the pressing room, and when the fragrant liquid gold emerges from the press spout, the grower toasts a bit of the bread on the fire to sample the oil.
The meaning of the noun bruschetta has changed so that now some use the word bruschetta incorrectly to refer to the topping instead of the dish. Many grocery store chains worldwide sell bottled bruschetta, which is simply a mix of tomatoes, onion, garlic and oregano, usually cooked!
For original "red" bruschetta, only fresh tomatoes are used and never a sauce. And allow me to say this one more time, we Italians limit the use of oregano to few special dishes: common pizza toppings, Costata alla Pizzaiola and very few other applications. Any other use is a distortion of Italian flavor and a cliché.
All this said, here's my way of making delicious messy slabs of heaven.
For authentic bruschetta you will need:
Good, thick-crust preferably wood oven-baked bread: whole wheat, sourdough (with its typical chip structure and characteristic aroma) or delicious home-style pane casareccio bread. Bruschetta is a good way of recycling day old, or stale bread too.
Organic, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. The finest quality is key, particularly for this dish.
Numerous cloves of garlic, peeled
Sea or Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cherry tomatoes, chopped
Fresh basil leaves, hand-torn (cutting with a metal blade alters the flavor)
The term bruschetta comes from the word bruscare, which means to toast on the fire. So this is a procedure to be carried out on any red-hot surface, be it a barbecue grill, a wood burning oven or fireplace. Pop in a tosater if all else fails. The important thing is the degree of crunch.
While you wait for the coals or logs to reach meat-cooking temperature, place bread slices (max 1 inch thick) on the grill and keep a close watch. Turn with a pair of tongs and remove when lightly charred on the surface.
On a large serving platter place the hot slices and begin rubbing with the peeled garlic cloves to flavor the bread. The more vigorous the scrub, the more intense the taste will be.
Drizzle with abundant olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
You can dress with chopped tomatoes and basil, or any other interesting variation you may wish to invent. I personally love bruschetta plain, but in the summer when I have guest over for a barbecue, I always like to present them with a variety of choices. Some favorite sample bruschettas include: slices of Prosciutto and a thin wafer slices of mild Nero di Pienza Pecorino cheese, sundried tomatoes and Gaeta olives, veggie spreads like olive or artichoke paste or a dollop of pesto sauce mixed with cream cheese. A very successful coastal bruschetta topping is a spoonful of shelled wedge clams stewed in garlic and olive oil, sprinkled with (very little) parsley.