Spreading it about a bit.

The Italians have a knack of turning the simplest of ingredients into the most wonderful things to eat. Probably because for a long time in rural Italy, sparse ingredients were all they had. So spaghetti with cheese and pepper, pizza topped with simply tomatoes and mozzarella have become classics. And bread, sliced and toasted and topped with simple, natural bits and pieces. Bruschetta and crostini, now a popular start to a meal, almost certainly derive from a time when the slices were less dainty (and probably not so fresh), and made a handy and hearty snack for agricultural workers. If they were lucky they may have been topped with a bit of cheese or cured meats, or perhaps simply salt and olive oil, and garlic. (It used to be said that garlic is the peasant’s spice cupboard.) I’m rather partial to garlic, so I guess that puts me in my place!

Anyway, pretty much throughout Italy you will find bruschette or crostini in one form or another. But perhaps their finest exponents are the Tuscans, who have elevated topping pieces of toasted bread with things to an art form. For a start, how on earth can bread slathered (and I mean slathered) with nothing more than olive oil and garlic be such heaven? This is fett’unta and it’s traditionally made with the new season’s olive oil. But the piatto forte of Tuscan bread toppings is surely crostini topped with a velvety smooth paste of chicken livers. Making it takes some time, and making it properly takes years of experience. So we were delighted to discover this Crostino Toscano: an authentic spread of chicken livers, capers, anchovies and wine, made by Toscanacci in, you’ve guessed it, Tuscany. And available from our online shop.

The spread is soft and rich without being overpowering – though a little goes a long way! Simply toast slices of good country bread, ideally on a griddle pan, rub generously with a garlic clove and top with the spread. Mmmm. There’s a lot to be said for rural simplicity.

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