Last night I watched an open-air screening of The French Connection as part of the Central Park Film Festival with one of my friends from my law school days (since he's clean-cut and preppy and decidedly prefers khakhi, we're calling him "J.Crew"*). So J.Crew and I had a picnic under the stars (along with 200 or so other New Yorkers) on an Astroturf-ed surface just west of East 65th and 5th Avenue as we watched a young Gene Hackman chase French heroin-dealers on the silver screen. I brought homemade bruschetta, strawberries, and seltzer. J.Crew brought a bottle of red wine, which the park authorities promptly confiscated, and we conveniently hid in the brambles for future use.
Bruschetta (pronounced "brus-ke-ta" in Italian, but "bru-she-ta" by Americans) is sort of a fancy Italian way of saying: "open-faced tomato basil toast." It sounds vaguely melodic and pretty, but the word is actually derived from the Roman verb "bruscare," which means "to roast over hot coals." Go figure, right? Very tricky...
Bruschetta is also truly perfect picnic fare. I was inspired to make it after watching Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona over the weekend, which had its own picnic scene with Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz. I was entranced by Woody Allen's newest work (and not simply because of the Sapphic kiss between Scarlett and Penelope!). Perhaps it was the film's sumptuous golden and ochre colors, dreamy Catalonian scenery decorated with Gaudi sculptures and Spanish tile, or the hypnotic strumming of the flamenco guitar. As a viewer, you feel as if you're not merely watching the film - you are drinking it all in and basking in the afterglow.
There are some stick-in-the-mud Woody Allen fans who think that the director peaked artistically with Annie Hall (1977) and Manhattan (1979). I'm not one of those. Allen's willing exploration of humanity's darker side, perhaps inspired by his luscious new muse, Scarlett Johanssen, seems far more compelling than his earlier, more facetious work. I was spellbound by Allen's recent film, Match Point (2005). And though he hit a lull with Scoop and Cassandra's Dream, which followed, Vicky Cristina - which poses the provocative question of whether we should toss away comfort and convention for love that is wild, dangerous and passionate - redeems him and eclipses Match Point even still.
But back to why is bruschetta so wonderful? As an avid picnicker, I love that it doesn't soil your fingers during a picnic. Also: it uses olives and olive oil - the secret to the "Mediterranean Diet," a theory explaining why people in Mediterranean countries have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and even cancer. To make, we use:
- 1 French baguette
- 2 tomatoes
- 20 basil leaves
- 2 garlic cloves
- 16 multicolored olives
- Slice baguette into 3/4 in" thick pieces.
- Toast (or put in broiler) until firm and crispy.
- Wash tomatoes and basil.
- Dice tomatoes roughly. Puree tomatoes and basil leaves in blender or food processor.
- Slice garlic cloves in half and rub against the toasted baguette slices.
- Spread tomato-basil puree over the toasted baguette slices.
- Pit the olives. Dice the pitted olives and decorate the bagette slices with them.
- Drizzle all with olive oil.
- Season as desired with salt and pepper.
Servings: 4 (approximately 2 slices per serving), Prep time: 10 min., Calories per Serving: 97, Pair with: Cava