Vines & Branches, a shop and tasting room specializing in...

Vines & Branches, a shop and tasting room specializing in olive oils and specialty food products, has just opened in Greenport. Credit: iStock

What is bruschetta?

I'll tell you what it's not. It's not a synonym for "topped with salad." I was reminded of this the other day, when I was confronted by a dish, called salmon bruschetta, in which a salmon fillet had been topped with chopped tomato and some wilted mesclun greens.

The Italian word bruschetta, pronounced brew-sketta and not "brew-shetta," is derived from the verb bruscare, which means to toast or char. The Italians are champs at devising uses for stale bread, and bruschetta is the term they came up with to describe sliced bread that had been toasted, or charred over coals and then liberally anointed with olive oil. Very often, the crisped bread is rubbed with a garlic clove before being drenched in oil; this is the ancestor of what we call garlic bread. In Tuscan dialect, bruschetta is called fettunta, a word I swore was Yiddish the first time I heard it.

I've been in Umbria a few times in late October, during the olive harvest, and all over the countryside you can see little trucks full of olives on their way to the frantoio, the olive oil press. The single best thing you can eat during this period, and bear in mind that this is truffle season as well, is the garlic-rubbed toast drenched in the new olive oil. But I digress.

It is true that in Italy, bruschetta is sometimes topped with chopped tomatoes and other salad-y things. Here, in the United States, that's the most common form of bruschetta, and I suppose that's how the topping got confused with what is being topped. I could almost accept a jar of seasoned chopped tomatoes being labeled "bruschetta topping," even though it's basically salsa, but it should never be called, simply, "bruschetta." There is no bruschetta without bread. If you toasted a bagel and then topped it with lox, that would be closer to salmon bruschetta than my unfortunate lunch.

Organic milk update

A few weeks ago, I explained why the expiration dates on cartons of organic milk are so much further in the future than those of conventional milk: The former is pasteurized at ultrahigh temperatures, giving it a shelf life of up to eight weeks; whereas, conventional milk gets conventional pasteurization and will last about two weeks. Sal Bonavita of Elmont emailed me to ask whether "once the container is opened, does organic milk remain fresh longer than regular?" I put this to Eric Snowdeal, milk and cream product manager for Organic Valley, and he said, "No difference, all milk is best consumed within five to seven days of opening."

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