Marlene De Blasi has been writing interesting books about living in Italy for many years. And all of them are good, very good in fact. She is one of the most descriptive writers I have ever read, very romantic, and there is no way you can read one of her books, like A Thousand Days in Tuscany, without thinking seriously about a move to northern Italy.
De Blasi is a food writer and chef (and a James Beard-nominated chef at that). I am now reading The Lady in the Palazzo and am loving it more than any of the others. It is beautifully written and full of good food ideas too, like classic Italian bruschetta. I have always been a big fan of bruschetta, as a way to open a meal, but seldom took the time to do it correctly. De Blasi talks about grilling crusty bread over a wood fire, the traditional way to make bruschetta, and I decided to give it a try. Just about the same time I discovered a new Italian unfiltered olive oil at Rouses, exactly what grilled bruschetta needs to be topped with. I bought kiln-dried wood at Rouses too, properly dried wood burns so much quicker, producing the glowing hot coals that are necessary to a good grill.
I built the fire and let it burn down. Thick sliced good bread and grilled both sides until it was marked by the grill and crusty. I anointed it with lots of oil, gave it a good grind of fresh salt, and was literally blown away by how wonderful it was. Add a few thin slices of prosciutto de Parma or Italian cotta and a good glass of Italian dry red wine, and you have a meal fit for a king. Take it a step further by topping it with a good farmer’s market egg that has been poached. I used the same principle to grill fresh asparagus, which I also used as a topping for the bruschetta, with the same spectacular results.
Another great pairing option for bruschetta is fruit and cheese. I found a good pecorino Romano at Rouses and paired it with thin slices of pares. It was another wow experience. Crumbled pieces of parmesan de Reggiano would be just as good or better. The traditional pairing for prosciutto de Parma is melon, which might be hard to find this time of the year.
It’s a great time of the year to grill outside with friends and these Italian-inspired recipes are simple and absolutely delicious. Please do not cheat and use a gas grill or charcoal, wood really does make a huge difference. Take your time, let the fire die down to glowing hot embers. Sip on a glass of good red wine, and your day is about to get really, really good.