American-style garlic bread is a descendant of Italian bruschetta and crostini. The first recipe we found was published in 1940 in Edith Barber’s Cook Book, written by the editor of the New York Sun food column. [Source]
The loaf is sliced vertically or horizontally, topped with the butter spread and heated in a hot oven (400°F). Often, the loaf was sliced vertically and buttered between the slices before heating. Our Mom first lightly toasted the bread slices crostini-style, though she didn’t hear the word “crostini” for decades.
THE HISTORY OF GARLIC BREAD
American garlic bread began life as bruschetta, a peasant food. Some sources say in was made in ancient times, others cite medieval times as the origin. It was common for Italian peasants, who lacked costly ceramics plates, to eat their meals on slices of grilled bread. Charred, bread, rubbed with garlic and topped with olive oil, was grilled over the fire.
In medieval cuisine, “sops” were common across Europe: stale bread soaked in broth, soup or wine and topped with other foods.
Classic American garlic bread. Photo courtesy La Panineria | Facebook.
Over time, the recipe was refined into an antipasto (appetizer), on more easily handled small toasts. It became a popular bread basket freebie in Italian-American restaurants. By the 1990s, visitors to trendy restaurants were paying for bruschetta (grilled from a thinner loaf) or crostini (toasted from a wider loaf), with different toppings and the original olive oil and minced fresh garlic.
These days, garlic bread is old school, and bruschetta and crostini are the rage. Here’s the old-school recipe, followed by an example of the new school.
This recipe first slices the entire loaf in half, horizontally.
1. COMBINE butter and garlic in a small bowl. Brush the mixture over the top of the slices and sprinkle with parsley (you can also blend the parsley into the butter).
2. PLACE on a baking sheet and bake at 350° for 8 minutes. Broil for an additional 2 minutes or until golden brown, 4-6 inches. from the heat.
3. CUT into 2-inch slices. Serve warm.
RECIPE #2: GARLIC CROSTINI WITH SPRING PEAS & BURRATA (NEW SCHOOL)
Ingredients For 3-4 Servings
1. DRAIN the whey from the burrata in a colander lined with a paper towel. Don’t pierce the skin of the burrata.
2. TOAST the bread until golden brown—even with a bit of char around the edges. Rub the tops with the cut side of the garlic and drizzle with olive oil.
3. USE clean hands (instead of slicing) to carefully divide the burrata among the three pieces of toast, including all the creamy drippings. Divide the peas, olives and herbs among the slices.
4. FINISH with a hearty drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Cut in half or allow each dinner to do so.
Check them out in our Bread Glossary.