What Is Bruschetta?

Staff Writer
It’s broo-skeh-tah, not broo-shedda
Grilled Bread

Jothan Yeager

The definition of bruschetta, and how we've strayed away from it.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. In Italian, the consonant “ch” has a hard “k” sound, not a soft “sh” sound. It’s not unforgivable to make that mistake, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong.

But it’s not just the pronunciation that’s been muddled up; the true identity of bruschetta is now rather fuzzy as well. What is bruschetta, exactly? It’s a popular food that, like many other Italian foods and dishes adopted into the American culinary lexicon, has seen its share of creative modifications (not just in pronunciation) since crossing the Atlantic.

Originally, there wasn’t much to it. One would take thick slices of good country bread, toast it, rub it with cloves of garlic, and drizzle some olive oil on top — good olive oil, since bruschetta was also served in commemoration of the olive harvest in Tuscany. In fact, bruschetta is derived from the Italian bruscare, which means “to roast over coals.” And in some parts of Italy, one might top it with a few chopped tomatoes, if they were in season. But essentially, it was supposed to be, and is still supposed to be, a simple thing. As Colman Andrews writes in The Country Cooking of Italy, “Call it the original ‘garlic bread.’” (Photo courtesy of Stock.XCHNG/pyong)

But here in America, some chefs and restaurateurs have been taking a fairly laissez-faire approach to this simple appetizer, treating it as a tabula rasa for their creative impulses; the chicken breast of appetizers, if you will. For instance, take this beautiful eggplant and charred pepper bruschetta from James Beard Award-winning chef Chad Robertson of San Francisco. It’s a delicious interpretation, for sure, but Italians visiting from abroad would probably be hard-pressed to call it “bruschetta.” (Photo courtesy of Eric Wolfinger)

Others go too far — yours truly once had a pile of black mission figs, baby arugula, grilled mushrooms, and manchego cheese on some bread burdened by an aged balsamic vinegar reduction together with a fig syrup. A complex and interesting mix of flavors, for sure, but it didn’t leave much of an appetite for anything else afterwards; it was closer to a meal than an appetizer — think of an open-faced sandwich.

There’s nothing wrong with a little creative reinterpretation. America, after all, is a nation of enterprise and innovation. Just, whatever you do, don’t call it bruschetta, and definitely don’t call it broo-shedda.

Click here to see How to Order at an Italian Restaurant Without Sounding Dumb (or Pretentious).