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March 2, 2013

Culinary Conversation: Simple, fresh tastes of Italy

NEW CASTLE — The definition of trattoria is the Italian equivalent of a bistro.

Trattorie — that’s the proper plural — are meant to be simple places and are usually family run.

There may not be an abundance of restaurants around here that have trattoria or bistro in their name but most everyone would agree that there are plenty of places serving wonderful Italian meals.

I have been fortunate to have dined in trattorie in Italy, and there was even a wonderful one at the lighthouse in Aruba. I hope it is still there.

It might have actually been at that location where I purchased a cookbook on trattoria cooking. Osso buco — a veal shank dish — lots of variations on risotto, which is a staple of this type of dining, and polenta and pasta are some of the recipes we have prepared using this particular book.

The key to simplistic dishes is fresh ingredients, which don’t compromise flavor. Leave complex for another time.

The first recipe is basically the appetizer generally known as bruschetta.

As for true Italian omelets, they are thick, multi-egg, completely cooked concoctions that are served in wedges like a cake — and frequently, cold.

In Italy, such dishes are eaten at the evening meal, which is traditionally much lighter than lunch.

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Oven-Crisped Bread with Tomato and Fresh Basil

(La Bruschetta)

  • 6 slices thickly-cut white bread, preferably Italian
  • 1 lb. fresh tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a low oven, toast the bread until each slice is completely dry and crisp.

Roughly dice the tomatoes (there is no need to peel them) and finely chop the basil.

Add basil, olive oil and seasoning to the tomatoes.

Spoon on top of bread slices and serve immediately. The bread should still be slightly warm.

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