One of the things on my “makes me crazy” list is when labeling is misleading or incorrect.
All too often, what is on a label becomes a fact for the consumer. We forget to remember that labels are marketing and not always factual.
One of the biggest offenders is extra virgin olive oil. The label tells us that what’s in the bottle is extra virgin olive oil. Not always so. A bottle of mass-produced olive oil need only be 2 percent olive oil to carry a label that says extra virgin olive oil. The remaining 98 percent could be seed oil, vegetable oil or any number of other combinations. By the mere fact that there is anything other than olive oil in the bottle tells us that it cannot be extra virgin. Virgin means untouched.
Today, my rant is not about the extra virgin olive oil. That will come, again, in a few weeks.
Today, my frustration are products labeled as bruschetta.
Bruschetta is an Italian appetizer, aka, antipasti or starter.
Bruschetta (from the Italian word “bruscare,” which means to cook over coals) is an oven-toasted slice of bread, which may or may not be rubbed with fresh garlic, brushed with olive oil and salted prior to toasting. Bruschetta are lightly toasted on the outside so that the bread bites themselves are still slightly soft centered.
Slices of toasted bruschetta are topped with a variety of garnishes. The most well known being finely chopped and seasoned tomatoes.
All too often, when I am in Italy with my “Let’s Go Cook Italian” guests, I see looks of confusion and even disappointment when bruschetta is served and the toast slices are topped with fresh mushrooms, beans, pate or cheese.
It’s also confusing for the chef when he’s asked in class how to prepare bruschetta and all he initially makes for the demonstration is the toast, followed by confused gazes.
It’s not your fault if you are among the confused. We do, after all, see an endless number of commercial toppings in jars that are labeled “bruschetta.” Inside the jar may be a topping made of tomatoes, peppers, or even artichokes. Like I said, makes me crazy. Trader Giotto’s, Roland and Delallo all market jarred products they call bruschetta, while a number of other manufacturer’s label their products properly as “bruschetta topping” or “bruschetta spread.”
Further to the bruschetta confusion is the fact that the bread may actually be a crostini and not a bruschetta.
What’s the difference?
Crostini is an Italian word that means “little toasts.”
Like the bruschetta, crostini are made by slicing baguettes, ciabatta or crusty Italian bread into thin rounds or squares. Sourdough bread is not a “thing” in Italy, so you won’t find this on your travels. That being said, you could make it a “thing” at your house with a sourdough baguette. Why not?
Unlike bruschetta, crostini is grilled and crispy. You should see actual grill marks from the barbecue or grill top. Slices can be drizzled with olive oil and salt, prior to grilling, as one prefers. Often crostini are served with soup because of their crunchy texture. If you’d like to serve something meaty, I’d opt for making crostini so that you have a firmer base for the heavier topping.
Crostini can also be finished off with any number of interesting goodies.
If you are in Italy and order either of these options ,you will receive two entirely different bread-based offerings. Both can be served hot or cold. Both can be prepared in advance and stored in airtight containers for a few days.
I hope today’s Italian Lesson helps you while shopping and dining. I also hope that you have learned a fun thing and will pass it on.
The following toppings are some of my personal favorites. Mangia bene.
Fagioli con Pesto
(Italian Bean with Pesto)
1/3 cup mayonnaise (I use Best Foods)
1 16 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. pesto
Mix all ingredients in bowl. Blend in food processor until smooth (not runny). Stir with spoon twice during blending. Cover and chill before serving atop bruschetta.
If you’ve never been a fan of pate, this next recipe just might change your mind. I was a convert. Whipped and served warm, instead of molded, chilled and heavier, this Tuscan pate offers the rich flavors without the spreadable paste effect.
1 1/4 lbs. chicken livers
4 chicken hearts
1 link pork sausage (plain or with garlic only)
1/8 lb. unsalted butter
1/4 cup Vin Santo
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup warm water
1 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, quartered
2—3 anchovy fillets (the secret ingredient)
1 1/2 Tbsp. capers
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 small sage leaf
Pinch of rosemary
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Clean hearts and livers, removing any green or yellow veins or gristle.
Remove sausage meat from skin
Place hearts and sausage in simmering butter. Add onion quarters. Simmer on low heat 20 minutes. Add chicken livers, wine and Vin Santo. Simmer additional 15 minutes. Add water.
Continue simmering until liquids are reduced and there is a light “cream” remaining the the skillet.
Clean anchovies. Remove fin, bones and tail. You will have very thin fillets. Add anchovies and capers to mixture.
Add 2 cups broth and pinch of salt. Cook over low heat until you have again reduced the liquid to a light creamy coating.
Continue deglazing your skillet during this process.
Whip ingredients plus the olive oil in food process or with hand electric hand blender until all ingredients are cream. Be careful not to puree.
Serve warm on grilled crostini.
Peperone Rosso Arrosto
(Roasted Red Bell Pepper)
1 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
1 cup firmly packed jarred roasted red bell pepper—pat off all moisture
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp. fresh minced garlic
In food processor blend mayonnaise, peppers and garlic until smooth. Gently stir in sour cream. Do not mix sour cream in using the food processor.
Cover and chill several hours before serving on crostini.
10 oz. Philly Cream Cheese
12 julienne strips of sun-dried tomato in oil
3 small cloves finely minced fresh garlic
1 1/2 Tbsp. oil from tomato
2 Tbsp. whole milk
Heaping 1/4 tsp. sweet basil
Place all ingredients in food processor and blend 1 minute, until creamy. Chill 2 hours and serve as topping for bruschetta.