Just returned from a fabulous trip to Italy, the southern Tuscan region,outside of Siena,where we stayed in an awe-inspiring country house. In addition to having a da Vinci-esque view of the patchworked hillside, a cook’s kitchen, and an infinity pool, this house came with a garden shed and that garden shed came with three kittens. Shut up! Will I have to pay extra for the kittens? You know what that security deposit is for.
Really when you get down to it as much as I love the landscape, driving manual transmission in all the wonder that is the Italian roadway system, bonding time with friends and family, every last one of my trips boils down to “where are we going to eat next?” It’s the food and the wine for breakfast and then the food and wine all over again.
This trip became all about pecorino cheese. I have raved to you before about my love for this sheep’s milk cheese, where so little goes a long way, especially when enlivening salads and more salads, and this infatuation came from my uninitiated pecorino palate. People, let me tell you now, I will never be the same because I have been to pecorino heaven and back. I have tasted the good life and not sure I will ever be able to look a wedge of store-bought pecorino again.
The ground zero of pecorino is within the most amazing village of Pienza. Here is where I’d show you my photograph of Pienza and its endless stacks of cheese wheels dusted in ash and hay, if not for Lufthansa airlines making me check my carryon bag, and at 4:30 am on departure day, I was too sleepy to realize that I left my camera in that bag only to find out way back in Los Angeles, when I was unpacking, that my camera was gone.
I know I can’t blame Lufthansamoney grubbing, service charging, opportunistic check-in Huns and baggage thieves airlines because I wouldn’t have had an extra bag shuffle if not for smuggling in a bottle of wine and a wheel of pecorino in my suitcase which I nearly didn’t get out of US customs because they brought out their vicious bag-sniffing beagle. What, they don’t think I can lift my bag higher than that beagle’s nose. Bring out your dobermans and then we’ll talk.
I’m home now with my cheese and memories of a wonderful vacation and of having a smaller butt. Aside from permitting myself daily slices that I savor like holy communion, I made this bruschetta that was inspired by a dish we were served in Montepulciano.
The bread, warm from toasting, softens the cheese shaving, and a no-fuss tomato garlic basil topping makes this the most succulent first course or meal. Please, as our new found friend, esteemed author and owner of an amazing Tuscan bed and breakfast farmhouse, Pamela Sheldon Johns, reminded me it’s pronounced “broo-sket -a.”
Pamela welcomed us into her farmhouse for a glass of wine. Her estate where she and her artistic husband Johnny and their beautiful teenage daughter live year round, is rich with olive trees, grape vines, and a most impressive kitchen garden. She presses and packages her own olive oil which is made with so much passion and love that she teared up telling the story of her first pressing. After wegulped sipped a glass of her commercial-worthy family made wine, toured her property, and shared in her unique stories of life on a Tuscan farm, she graciously sent us a away with a bundle of her jam crostini which we promise to share in another post.
I made the bruschetta on a Sunday, and the family – kids and all- loved it so much, I made it again Monday. Tuscan bread is unsalted, which as I heard goes back to the time when the Tuscans were at war with Pisa and the salt was withheld from this landlocked region, so they made their bread without. I would have surrendered because I like mine with salt. We bought our bread from our favorite Italian bread vendor and location of our Father’s Day lunch Bay Cities Italian Deli.
This is so good and a little something different for a family meal, especially Meatless Monday, that I encourage you to make it with or without the pecorino.
warm bruschetta with pecorino cheese
4 ripe plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic chopped
2 T fresh basil chopped
1/2 t salt
1 t extra virgin olive oil
baguette or Italian bread
2 T extra virgin olive oil
pecorino cheese (best and softest you can find), sliced thin
- Combine tomatoes, garlic, basil, tsp. olive oil, and salt and set aside.
- Slice bread at least 1/2″ thick.
- Brush olive oil on one side and scantily salt.
- Toast or broil to until the first notice of browning and remove from oven.
- Top with thin layer of cheese. If you want your cheese melted, return bread to oven for a minute.
- Place toasted bread on platter and top with tomato mixture.
- Let sit for 5-10 minutes and serve.