Picture the scene. Busy restaurant. Tables packed with hungry guests. A guest in jeans and a tee shirt gives the menu a cursory glance. They scan the appetizers for words they know. Their eyes fall on the heading: bruschetta. They see chicken liver bruschetta then salt cod bruschetta and, suddenly, they’re confused.
“Don’t you have a regular bruschetta?” they say in a pained voice.
“I’m sorry,” I try to say with a blank look on my face (I hear this question twenty times a night). “What exactly do you mean by regular?”
Now, I know it’s not fair asking a question I already know the answer to. But I always want to be sure that my guest really is thinking that they want garlic bread with tomato, olive oil and basil—despite the fact that they have three or four other really amazing (and far better) options to choose from on the menu.
Unfortunately, “regular”, in the mind of my restaurant customer, actually means “what I’m used to.”
You see, when it comes to food, there really is no “regular”. There are regional dishes and traditional fare, but every chef in every culture has their own way of doing things. In the case of bruschetta, bruschetta is to the Italians what toasted bread is to us—it’s just a starting point for something else.
According to Italian food expert, chef and cookbook author Marcella Hazan, the word bruschetta comes directly from the Latin verb bruscare, which means to toast (as in a slice of bread). “In bruschetta,” she says, “the most important component, aside from the grilled bread itself, is olive oil.”
So, thinking beyond the “regular bruschetta”, I’ve been experimenting. I’ve been trying to stay within the world of Italian cooking, while thinking of bruschetta as a sort of open faced sandwich or a tiny vehicle to showcase a handful of exciting flavors.
I found some gorgeous Italian dandelions and fresh goat cheese at the farmer’s market this weekend and came up with this simple, and delicious nibble that’s just perfect for a before dinner snack. The dandelion greens are bitter so I recommend using something sweet to balance out the flavor. I used a slightly spicy (as in mustard, spicy) clementine jelly for mine. If you don’t have access to an Italian market then be sure to use a nice honey in its place.
Italian Dandelion, goat cheese and bacon bruschetta with salsa di Clementine
Serves 6–but feel free to adjust recipe to make as many or as few as you want!
1 bunch of washed and dried dandelion greens (cut into 1” pieces)
1 garlic clove (whole)
olive oil (for drizzling)
1 small container of fresh goat cheese (a fresh sheep cheese would also work)
3-5 pieces of bacon (cooked and cut into 1 inch pieces)
1/2 batard of rustic bread or ½ of a well made baguette
Salsa di Clementine (an Italian, spicy clementine jelly) Feel free to use any other moustarda jelly or specialty honey.
Cut the bread into ¼ inch thick slices. Heat up a saute pan over medium high heat, then add bacon. Cook until crisp. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to remove excess oil. If bacon hasn’t given off too much grease, throw cleaned and chopped dandelion greens into the same pan and quickly cook until wilted (about 2 minutes). Otherwise, remove the excess grease, leaving about a tablespoon worth of bacon fat behind in the pan for cooking the greens.
Meanwhile, toast the bread. When bread is done, rub the bread with the garlic clove. *this is my favorite part, watching the garlic melt like butter onto the bread. Then, drizzle bread with a tiny amount of olive oil and then spread a small amount of spicy Clementine jelly on top. Note: if using honey, drizzle honey over the greens at the end. Add a teaspoon of goat cheese to each piece of bread, then top with a heaping teaspoon dandelion greens. Top with bacon. Eat immediately.