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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 on top.


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 out.


Now that your broiler is appropriately hot, slide your cookie sheet in and wait until the cheese is melted.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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