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Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Give us this day our daily… bruschetta

I was amused to note last week that Subway bread is no longer bread, or so Ireland’s Supreme Court has ruled.

It’s all to do with VAT but ultimately the five judges ruled that Subway bread’s 10 per-cent sugar content (compared to the weight of the flour in the dough) is above and beyond what is considered acceptable. You see, the South’s VAT Act (1972), demands that ingredients in bread such as sugar and fat should not exceed two per-cent of the weight of flour in the dough if the bread is to be classed as a ‘staple product’ with zero VAT. Therefore with Subway’s higher sweetness content, it’s too sugary to be bread.

Now, if I was Mr Subway, I’d likely be annoyed, given that that this regulation seems a tad overly punctilious and also, there are worse things bakers use in their breads than sugar.

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Did you know for example that phospholipase, an enzyme derived from pig pancreatic tissue, is used by some commercial bakers. It’s true. Apparently, such ‘additives’ are one reason modern bread stays so light and soft for so long. However, according to an article I read on the Beeb recently, under the UK’s food labelling rules at least, these enzymes don’t need to appear on the bread packaging because they are broken down in the manufacturing process and “therefore they are not considered to be present in the final product.”

And yet bakers are punished for extra sugar?

I personally don’t have anything against dining on swine but if you’re Jewish or Muslim, there where does that leave you?

More and more I find myself making bread-y products at home, whether it’s flatbreads, soda bread, wheaten breads and for the most part they are a world away from what comes out of a plastic wrapper. There’s also something wholesome and fulfilling about making your own bread, the very process of weighing and kneading and proving. But at the same time, because it’s home-made, you can also rest assured that it isn’t full of additives and/or enzymes, porcine or otherwise.

And yet for me at least, there are exceptions to the rules, namely shop-bought sourdough loaves and ciabatta. These usually hail from in-store bakeries in supermarkets and whilst I understand only too well that in some cases they are twice baked (once in a factory setting and then again in the store), I reassure myself that because they’re solid as stones a day or
two later, they aren’t packed with the stay-soft additives – oink!

More to the point, I don’t mind eating stale bread. I have never forgotten what author and master-baker, Andrew Whitley once told me during an interview many moons ago. He said, “If you never eat stale bread how are you going to appreciate fresh bread?”

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So more and more I find myself hacking up solid quarters of sourdough bloomers or sections or ciabatta and either making croutons, or dumping them into soups and stews.

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Unsurprisingly, a soup packed with tasty bread can be very satisfying.

But as you can see from the pictures herein, it isn’t soups or stews we’re talking about this week, but rather, bruschetta.

Essentially an antipasto from Italy consisting of sliced and grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil and salt, bruschetta is great at any time of the day and works well with both fresh and not-too stale bread. Luckily for me, sourdough breads and ciabattas are both great when it comes to making this Italian staple. You could even use a big baguette, thinly sliced – or thickly, depending on how much crunch you want.

Nine times out of ten, when I’m making this at home I use the holy trinity of summer ingredients, basil, buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes but even a ripe tomato mashed onto a slice of bruschetta is surprisingly luscious and the combinations are endless: Cherries, ricotta and parma ham or sliced steak and blue cheese or bacon and brie or broad beans and parmesan or black olive tapenade or goats cheese and caramelized onions… And there are no rules either. You could do Branston and cheddar or beans and cheese or chicken mayo mix with shredded lettuce or mackerel pate and lemon juice, leftover bolognaise and extra cheese… endless. Round our house though, everybody loves the holy trinity.

There are varying ways to make bruschetta too (baking the sliced bread in the oven, or brushing with oil and then grilling) but for me, it’s hard to look past the good old toaster. My way is probably a cheaty version but hey-ho, it works – so there!

INGREDIENTS FOR THE BREAD BASE
• slices of your bread of choice (either ciabatta, baguette or sourdough)
• on glove of garlic, peeled
• extra virgin olive oil
• decent salt

HOLY TRINITY INGREDIENTS
• 1 pack of buffalo mozzarella, sliced and diced
• about a dozen cherry or plum tomatoes, quartered
• lots of torn basil
• and another few pinches of salt

THE PLAN
Stick your slices of bread into the toaster and as that’s happening, get your topping ingredients together.

You only want the bread lightly toasted and golden, so keep an eye. When golden, remove from the toaster and place on a plate. Rub each toasted slice LIGHTLY with the clove of garlic (lightly because if you give it too much gusto all you’ll be able to taste is garlic – trust me on this) and then drizzle on a thin stream of olive oil, making sure you cover the whole slice. Repeat for all the slices and then add a small pinch of salt to each slice.

Top each slice with the holy trinity and then add another small pinch of salt as a finishing touch. And that’s that.

You may notice some pepper in the pictures. This pepper argument is a debate still raging at Rancho Relaxo in recent weeks but as I like pepper, it goes on mine at least.

And anyway, there are no rules – except of course you’re subject to the South’s VAT Act (1972)!

Andiamo!

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