Bruschetta originally meant "slices of toast with things on them, depending for success on the quality of the bread and olive oil," according to The Oxford Companion to Italian Food by Gillian Riley. During earlier, less prosperous times, Italian farmworkers and laborers spread salt, oil, salami or cheese on stale bread. Today "the concept has been turned upside down, and small, exquisitely put-together morsels are served with wine to stimulate jaded appetites ... . Bruschetta was known and loved in Lazio before its current popularity, as well as in Tuscany and Umbria." (p. 79)
As I said about Crudités, recipes change, and definitions change, just as words change. What Italian farmworker eating his meager snack would have dreamed of the Jack-in-the-Box brand Bruschetta Chicken Ciabatta Sandwich with 660 calories and 26 grams of fat? He might have loved it. (I haven't tried it, as I never eat at that chain.)
I decided to make a version of bruschetta for a first course to take to a friend's house last night. My first experience with this dish was partway through its Americanization process -- the garlic-and-olive-oil flavored toast is spread with chopped tomato and basil Maybe this is the trendy Italian version. Here's my product, in progress, and on the table:
We all spread our own tomato mixture on the bread, which was sliced from a Zingerman's baguette and browned in good olive oil and crushed garlic.
The morphing of bruschetta has in fact taken one really odd turn. At some restaurants in California, they serve the chopped tomatoes -- but not the bread! In one little cafe where I ate last year, in DelMar (near La Jolla), the waitress apologized profusely, when we considered ordering the dish, explaining that she had lost the argument with the chef when she tried to convince him that there should be bread. He was essentially serving bruschetta as a breadless salad. But as Riley says, "Definitions are best not agonized over."