The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Recipe: Bruschetta and Caprese Salad – Hard To Pronounce But Easy To Prepare

Is It Still “Educational Television” If the Host Is Uneducated?

Since the decline and fall of Food Network, I have found myself turning to other outlets for cooking shows. Most often this means my local PBS station where I can catch America's Test Kitchen and
shows featuring the likes of Lidia Bastianich and Mary Ann Esposito.

But even “educational television,” as it used to be called, has some remarkably uneducated people in the kitchens. This is especially true any time some people try to do anything Italian. A Tennessee gardener named P. Allen Smith, who occasionally masquerades as a cook, lost all credibility with me when I heard him instruct his viewers to cook pasta until it was “al dante.” I'm sure he meant to say “al dente, referring to a particular state of doneness for pasta and vegetables. Maybe Al Dante was an Italian neighbor or something, but ol' P.'s credibility took a nosedive with me nonetheless.

Same thing happened with a perky blonde hostess named Lisa Prince, who hails from North Carolina. Her producers call her “Queen of the Kitchen.” Sorry. Not my Italian kitchen. Anybody who pronounces “Caprese” as “kuh-PREECE” and “bruschetta” as “broo-SHET-uh” is not qualified to be a scullery maid in my kitchen, much less a “queen.” (It should be “kah-PRAY-say” and “broo-SKAYT-tah,” in case you are among the uninformed who didn't see the problem.)

And that's as far as my linguistic commentary will go – this time. Suffice it to say, if you are going to be on “educational television” you should at least try to sound educated.

That said, I have a couple of ricette in my repertoire for the very dishes Ms. Prince was mangling. Horrible pronunciation aside, Insalata Caprese, or “Caprese Salad,” and bruschetta are both quite delicious and ridiculously simple.

(Classic Tomato Bruschetta)

Bruschetta comes from the Italian word "bruscare," which means to roast over coals. In this recipe, I use my oven's broiler, although you can also use a charcoal grill, a grill pan, or even a toaster oven – anything that gets the bread a nice golden color. Bruschetta differs from crostini in that crostini tend to be thinner and less substantial. The thicker cut on bruschetta enables it to stand up to heavier toppings.

1 loaf hearty Italian bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick (approximately 16 slices)
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup red and/or yellow tomatoes, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, torn or shredded

Preheat the broiler. Arrange the bread slices on an unheated broiler rack or pan. Broil 3 to 4 inches from the heating element for about 2 minutes or until toasted, turning once to get equal color on both sides.

Remove the toasted bread from the oven. Cut an end from a clove of garlic and lightly rub the cut edge of the clove over the surface of the bread. (The cloves will wear down fairly quickly; repeat with fresh cloves as necessary.)

Brush on enough olive oil to lightly cover the surface of the bread. Sprinkle very lightly with kosher salt then top the toasted bread slices with mozzarella cheese. Broil an additional minute to melt the cheese.

Combine the tomatoes and basil. Top the toasted bread slices with the tomato-basil mixture.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 16 servings

(Tomato, Mozzarella, and Basil Salad)

Insalata Caprese, or “Caprese salad” as it is sometimes called, is simple and simply delicious. A traditional Neapolitan dish from the island of Capri off the coast of Naples, Insalata Caprese is not a “salad” in the American sense because it doesn't contain lettuce, a garden of vegetables, and a quart of thick, creamy “dressing.” It is composed of three fresh ingredients and a light topping of salt, pepper, and olive oil. Don't “add to it.” Don't “improve on it.” It's perfectly wonderful just the way it is.

1 to 1 1/2 lbs assorted ripe tomatoes, cut into 1 /4 inch slices
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1 /4 inch slices
Fresh basil leaves
kosher or sea salt
ground black pepper
3 or 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

On a medium platter, layer the tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil leaves alternately in rows or concentric circles. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Allow flavors to develop for about 5 minutes before serving, but do not leave the salad soaking in oil for too long

Serves 4 to 6

Buon appetito!

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