Bruschetta and crostini are two of our favorite nibbles to serve with cocktails, wine or beer.
Both are Italian traditions, and can be made from scratch or topped with leftover cheese, meat, seafood and/or vegetables. Bruschetta can be made indoors or on the grill. Crostini, which are smaller and can fall through the grill grate, are made indoors under the broiler.
The answer is twofold: the size of the slice, plus grilling versus toasting. Bruschetta (three or four inches in diameter) are cut from a baguette and grilled; crostini (about two inches in diameter) are cut from a thinner loaf (called a ficelle) and toasted.
Bruschetta (pronounced broo-SKEH-tuh) are grilled bread slices rubbed with garlic and topped with any variety of items. The toppings can be as simple as extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, to diced tomatoes and basil, to almost any spread, vegetable, cured meat or cheese—even fruit.
Bruschetta originated in the Tuscany region of Italy; in modern times is a popular snack or appetizer. It may have been the original garlic bread.
Crunchy crostini with summer vegetables and melted cheese. Photo courtesy Castello USA.
The word comes from the verb bruscare in Roman dialect, which means “to roast over coals.” If you have access to a grill, grill the bread for authenticity. If not, you can toast it.
The word bruschetta refers to the grilled bread, not the topping. Some American manufacturers and others in the food industry misuse the term, using it to refer to the topping only and selling jars of “bruschetta” (it should be bruschetta topping). Show your superior knowledge and don’t allow the term to be distorted.
Crostini (cruh-STEE-nee) are croutons—not in the American sense of small toasted cubes of bread used to garnish soup or salad, but thin slices of toasted bread. The word is the plural of crostino, “little toast” or “little crust.”
Smaller than bruschetta, the slices are typically cut from a ficelle, a thinner baguette one to two inches wide (the word is French for string). The slices are brushed with olive oil, toasted and then topped with spreadable cheese, pâté or other ingredients. Plain crostini are served with soups and salads, (in the manner of the formerly fashionable melba toast) or set out with cheese.
Bruschetta began as peasant food, thought to originate in medieval times when it was common for Italian peasants to eat their meals from slices of bread instead of using expensive ceramics plates. The originators would have used any bread available to them.
Over time, the recipe became refined as an appetizer (antipasto), on more easily handled small toasts. While both countries make a large variety of delicious breads, the Italian repertoire didn’t include long, thin loaves like baguette (the French word for stick) or ficelle (the French word for string).
Here’s an overview of the differences between French and Italian breads.
Now, let’s eat! The crunchy, cheesy appetizer recipes that follow are from Castello Cheese, which has a website full of recipes with cheese.
The first recipe uses their Aged Havarti; the second their Creamy Havarti. You can substitute any semi-firm cheese that can be shaved (examples: Alsatian Muenster, Gouda Monterey Jack, Port du Salut, Reblochon, Tilsit, Tomme de Beaumont).
Prep time is 30 minutes.