I have never been to Tuscany. The reason for this is not because I don’t want to visit the hilly Italian region, which serves as a haven to gourmets and oenophiles alike. An extended visit to Tuscany is most definitely at the top of my travel wish list, but when I do go, I want to make sure that I do it "right."
But what, you might ask, is the "right" way to experience Tuscany? Should one purchase a quaint fixer-upper a la Diane Lane as Frances Mayes in Under the Tuscan Sun, living, working, and eating among the locals? Is it better to channel Giada De Laurentiis or Mario Batali in one of their Food Network-sponsored Italian vacations, tasting the best that this region has to offer, while sparing no expense? Either method would be fine with me, so long as it involves wine, cheese, and lots and lots of unfiltered, robust olive-oil soaked up with artisinal Italian bread. Mmmmmm…….I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!
For the time being, until our schedules and travel budget allows for the 10-12 hour flight and 10-12 day stay, I am going to settle for living vicariously through others who have visited Tuscany. My parents just returned from a trip with friends, during which they rented a house and ate "the best pasta and tomatoes that they have ever tasted" (trust me, my dad knows his pasta and tomatoes.) They brought me back some incredible olive oils and balsamic vinegar, which I promptly hid so that Eric doesn’t pour the entire bottle over his Caprese salad, just because it was the first bottle that he saw.
Eric visited Tuscany after he graduated from business school. We had only known each other for 1 year at this time, and my foodie tendencies clearly had not rubbed off on him yet. When he arrived home and I inquired about what kinds of wonderful foods he had eaten during his travels, he told me that he had lived on bruschetta with tomato topping the entire trip. What?? No Prosciutto di Parma? No carbonara? No torta della nonna? Nothing against bruschetta, I mean, it’s wonderful, but the entire trip? So now, whenever I make bruschetta for Eric, I never prepare it with the tomato topping (I figure that he has had his fill.) There are hundreds, if not thousands of variations for this hors d’oeuvre, which is perfect for entertaining. It is easy to eat, filling, and it presents beautifully. This simple version features a nutty, tangy topping consisting of a unique variation on pesto. It is also a sneaky way to get your family to eat those greens! Here are some extra tips for this garlicky, good-for-you spread:
- As with most pesto recipes, this pesto leaves plenty of room for interpretation. If you are out of pistachios, feel free to substitute walnuts, macadamia nuts, blanched almonds, cashews, or pecans.
- Parmigiano-reggiano can be substituted for the pecorino romano cheese. The pesto will have a slightly less salty flavor with the parmigiano-reggiano.
- Broccoli rabe, also known as rapini, is a common vegetable in Italian cuisine. It looks similar to a small head of broccoli, with spiked leaves, and it has a nutty, slightly bitter flavor to it. If you cannot find broccoli rabe in your produce section, then you may replace it with arugula or spinach (try 4-5 cups, packed.)
- This pesto can be made ahead of time and then frozen. In my opinion, the best way to freeze pesto is to divide it among ice cube trays and freeze. Once the pesto is frozen, remove the individual "cubes" and seal them in zip-top plastic bags. You then have individual portions of pesto for future use.
Broccoli Rabe and Pistachio Pesto Bruschetta
Makes 12 servings
1 cup raw, shelled pistachios
3 cloves fresh garlic
2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spread the pistachios in a pie plate and toast for about 10 minutes, until fragrant and golden. Let cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli rabe and cook until crisp tender, 2 minutes. Rinse under cold water, squeeze dry, and coarsely chop.
In a food processor, pulse the pistachios with the garlic until coarsely chopped. Add the parsley and broccoli rabe and pulse until finely chopped. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and process until incorporated. Stir in the Pecorino. Season with Tabasco, salt, and pepper and serve on toasted slices of ciabatta.