August 20, 2007
Red, White and
Green: Flag or Food, It’s All Italian
Lore has it that the
three colors of the Italian flag – green, white and red – symbolize the
three virtues of hope, faith and charity.
The Old Gods tell
us, however, that this is not true. The colors of the Italian flag, they
say, represent the tomato, the basil leaf and mozzarella cheese. It is
believed, they say, that this is why pizzas are constructed the way they
are, with tomato sauce on the bottom, cheese in the middle and the basil
What about the
crust, you ask? Never mind the crust, is the appropriate response.
Despite what you might have heard on television about crusts stuffed
with cheese, it serves mostly as a delivery vehicle for one of nature’s
most harmonious relationships.
The beauty of this
relationship is that you may mix it up. While some relationships of this
kind only work when one of the ingredients acts as a middle man, keeping
the peace between two combative brothers, these three work together.
Try rearranging the
flag’s colors to this scheme – red, green, white. It is not
aesthetically pleasing, of course, and the makers of flags had the good
design sense not to put white near the outside.
But the arrangement
would mean tomato, basil and then cheese. Not so good perhaps for a
pizza, but just plain swell as an appetizer of slightly pizza-esque
appearance known as bruschetta.
Start by preheating
your broiler, which will take some time. If you prepare your food before
doing that, a lot of time will be spent sitting around and waiting. The
thrill of eating will vanish, the suspense will subside and you will
generally have a failed experience.
The base of the
thing, like pizza, is bread. In this case, a thick slice of bread of a
loaf that is small in diameter like a French baguette (best to keep this
a secret so as not to reopen old regional wounds). Brush it with olive
oil and lay a slice of tomato over the top.
This is food with a
decidedly Italian feel to it, which means that it demands a tomato with
a decidedly Italian flavor to it – our old friend the Roma, which is
small enough to fit on a slice of baguette. As an added bonus it also
has (so much so that one starts to think that it’s perhaps
pre-ordained), a rind thick enough that it maintains its shape and few
enough juices to not make a soupy mess.
Over the top, lay a
freshly picked basil leaf, or enough small ones that it covers the
tomato. Freshness here is the key, because separating a basil leaf from
its stem begins to sap its will to live, causing the oils that provide
its flavor (so rich it is, that to this day, it’s the only herb the
English are known to name their sons after) to dry up.
And, finally, add
the white – mozzarella cheese. Either grated or as a portion of a slice,
it is as snow atop the Italian Alps.
It goes without
saying that bruschetta is not enough. You will want to make several,
both to justify the effort in constructing something so small, and
because one will whet your appetite for more. Assume three or four per
person, and attempt to make double that – cook until the ingredients run
Now that your
broiler is appropriately hot, slide your cookie sheet in and wait until
the cheese is melted.
© 2007 North Star Writers
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