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David Lissner
for restaurants

Eat this! Bruschetta, an elevating use for stale bread

Petterino’s bruschetta.

Petterino’s bruschetta.

What it is: Bruschetta (pronounced “brus′ket-ta”), a popular appetizer or snack, consists of crusty grilled or toasted bread brushed with olive oil, rubbed with garlic and given any of a variety of toppings. It often features seasonal vegetables, as at Petterino’s in the Loop, where Chef Francis Brennan currently features a version with fresh asparagus and arugula.

Francis Brennan

Francis Brennan

Where it comes from: While many cultures use toasted bread as a foundation for finger foods, this particular rustic rendition stems from Italy, likely Tuscany, and for hundreds of years has been a means of using up day-old bread. The word bruschetta comes from the verb bruscare, “to char,” in Italian, so most authentically the bread is grilled.

What to do with it: Bread, olive oil and garlic are crucial components of bruschetta, but after that, anything goes. Still, with this essentially rustic dish, it doesn’t pay to get too complicated. Ripe tomatoes and fresh basil form a classic topping in high summer. Other fresh vegetables and herbs work well as the seasons progress. Or you can simply season your oil-brushed, garlic-rubbed, grilled bread with a little salt and pepper and let it go at that.

Petterino’s market bruschetta
with asparagus, arugula, prosciutto di Parma and mozzarella
Chef Francis Brennan

4 quarts water
Salt and pepper to taste
8 asparagus spears
8 slices crusty bread (such as a baguette), 1/2-inch-thick
Olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 thin slices prosciutto
8 slices fresh mozzarella
1/2 pound baby arugula
2 ounces shaved or grated parmesan cheese

Bring the water to a boil and season generously with salt (the water should be salty like the ocean). Prepare a bowl filled with ice and water. Plunge the asparagus into the boiling water for 90 seconds. Immediately transfer the asparagus to the bowl filled with ice water and chill for 5 minutes. Remove from the water and slice each spear in half lengthwise. Set aside.

Toss the bread slices with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place slices on a grill over medium heat, and grill for 2 minutes on each side, or until nicely toasted on the outside and still soft in the middle. Remove from the grill and rub one side of the slices with the peeled garlic (or both sides if you like a lot of garlic!).

Drizzle some olive oil over the fresh mozzarella and asparagus spears. Then season with salt and pepper. In a small bowl, toss the arugula with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Place one slice of mozzarella on each piece of grilled bread, followed by a slice of prosciutto, and top with 2 halves of asparagus. Arrange the bruschetta around a plate or platter. Place the seasoned arugula in the middle of the plate and top with the parmesan. 2 to 4 servings.

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