Alimentary, My Dear
Bruschetta? You Betcha!
By Tamia Nelson
June 19, 2007
A day on the water is more than a welcome
break. It's also a great workout. But no engine can run forever without
refueling, can it? Sooner or later, you need to top up your tank. That's why
you'll probably have one thing uppermost on your mind when you put your
paddle down at day's end food. Luckily, you have plenty of choices.
You can build a meal on pasta, rice, or couscous.
All are satisfying, tasty, and easy to prepare. But there's another way to
fill 'er up. Bread. Anthropologists used to argue whether it was bread or
beer that persuaded wandering bands of hunter-gatherers to settle down on
the farm, and for all I know, they're still at it. No matter. We can leave
that question for the experts to decide. This much at least is certain,
however: bread has been part of our diet for a long, long time. There are
lots of reasons. Bread is filling, nutritious, delicious, and versatile.
Even today, with neighborhood bakeries almost as hard to find in most towns
as blacksmiths, and with a corporal's guard of nutrition gurus damning
"carb" as just another four-letter word, bread remains a cornerstone of the
Western diet. That doesn't mean it's always easy to buy good bread,
of course, but things are improving. "Artisan breads" and "rustic loaves"
are now crowding the squishy pillows of Marvel Mush off the shelves of many
HyperMarts. And many of these new boutique breads are perfect additions to
Let's face it, though, bread isn't always a good traveling companion. The
rough-and-tumble of pack and
can quickly crush the life out of almost any loaf, and no bread can survive
a dunking. But don't despair. With just a bit of care, you can have "soft
tack" at every meal on every weekend if that's what you want. And no,
you don't need to become a backcountry baker to do so. Sure, you can make your own
flatbread, bannock, or biscuits in camp, but it's wonderful to have a
crusty loaf (or two) in your pack, ready to eat without any fuss or bother.
Foodies will tell you that bread is at its best on the day it's baked.
They're right, too. But hungry paddlers aren't quite as fussy as finicky
foodies, and good bread will taste plenty good enough right through any weekend
adventure. The key? Start your trip with a fresh loaf. OK. Does
this mean you have to get up early on the morning of the day you leave to
catch a baker at the moment she lifts her loaves out of the oven? Nope. It
just means you have to
Put a Couple of Fresh Loaves on Ice
The next time you go shopping, buy two or three freshly baked loaves. But
don't think that any bread will do. It won't. Leave the yard-long pillows of
Marvel Mush on the shelf. Get your bread from a HyperMart with an on-site
bakery, instead. Talk to the baker first. Find out when the loaves are
lifted, and be on hand shortly after they come out of the oven.
Knowledgeable bakers cool their bread on racks where air can circulate
freely. This yields a crispy crust and tender crumb (that's the name bakers
give the soft interior). If the oven-hot bread is bagged too soon, however,
steam is trapped inside, softening the crust and toughening the crumb. Check
before buying, then bring your bread home in an open-ended paper sack or
second-best a perforated plastic bag. Shun impermeable
plastic bags. They're doubleplus ungood.
I take no chances. Even though I select and bag loaves with care, I leave
newly purchased bread on a rack for a couple of hours after I bring it home,
then pack it in doubled plastic freezer bags, expelling as much air as
possible and sealing the package tight before popping it into the deep
freeze. And there it sits, until day dawns on the morning of a trip, when I
pull a loaf out of cold storage and stow it in the top of a pack, freezer
bags and all. By lunch time, the bread has thawed and is
Ready to Eat
And not a moment too soon. After all, few trail lunches can equal bread
Eat them on a rock at the water's edge, or wolf them down while parked in a
mid-river eddy. The choice is yours, and this simple lunch is delicious in
any setting. Later, though, at day's end, when your fuel stores are at low
ebb, you'll want more. So serve bread up with soup or
stew, or just about any canned or
dehydrated main course. And feast to your heart's (and stomach's) content.
Then, at breakfast on Day Two of your trip, it's bread's turn to take the
starring role as French toast, perhaps, or simply smothered in peanut
butter, jam, or honey. Or it can continue in the supporting cast, if you
prefer, served up alongside oatmeal, eggs, and
Simple and good. What could be better? Of course, even the simplest
things need practice. Take slicing bread, for instance. It's almost a lost
art. And the typical waterman's stubby blade doesn't make the job any
easier. That's why I bought an inexpensive santoku. Think of it as a
Japanese chef's knife, if you like. Mine was a promotional offer at the
HyperMart, and it cost me all of a buck. Don't get me wrong. It's not a
masterpiece of the cutler's art. No chef would look at it twice. But it
makes a perfect bread knife in camp. It's light, and the eight-inch blade
has enough backbone to cut through a chewy boule, as well as a
micro-serrated edge that makes short work of even the toughest crust. Best
of all, the blunt point won't poke through the canvas tool roll where the
knife lives between jobs.
Whatever you use to cut your crust, though, bread is more than food. It
can be also pinch-hit for dinnerware. Slice it thick and use it as a
trencher (edible plate). Or gouge out part of the crumb, and use the
resulting hollow as a bowl. Then, when you've finished your meal, nobody has
to do the dishes. You eat them, instead. It's not a new idea, of
course. Trenchers were de rigueur on medieval tables, and the idea has now
been revived by modern chefs, who've brought an Italian staple to tables
It's Called Bruschetta
Pronounced brew-SKET-ta. The idea couldn't be simpler. Slice good
bread into one-inch-thick slabs, and toast both sides on a grill (or in a
thin film of hot oil in a skillet), then smear one face with the cut end of
a garlic clove. Now drizzle a stream of extra-virgin olive oil
over the hot bread. That's all there is to it. Don't be deceived by the
short list of ingredients and simple prep. If your bread and oil are high
quality, basic bruschetta makes an outstanding appetizer as if active
paddlers need appetizers! or a welcome accompaniment to any dish. But
with a more substantial topping, bruschetta can be a meal in itself. And you
won't have to wash the plate when you're done.
One of my favorite toppings is a boldly flavored tomato garnish. Make it
in camp, or prepare it in your home kitchen before leaving for the put-in.
Dice plum tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Crush a large clove of garlic
with the side of your knife, then mince the garlic and add it to the chopped
tomatoes. Now sprinkle with coarse salt
and freshly ground pepper. And if you have some fresh basil leaves, chop
some of these up and add them, too. Finally, drizzle a little extra-virgin
olive oil over the mixture, stir, and pack it into a tightly sealed plastic
container. (Put the container in a bag, just to be safe.) In hot weather, carry the
garnish in a cooler. At mealtime, toast your bread, then serve
bruschetta with a dollop or three of your tomato garnish. Enhance it with
thin shavings of Parmesan, a hard cheese which travels well and tastes
wonderful with all Italian food. Or stir small cubes of mozzarella into the
Want to broaden your culinary horizons? Then think fusion! Smear
garlic-rubbed grilled bread with goat cheese, sprinkle dried thyme on top,
and enjoy. A little olive oil goes well with this, too, as do black olives.
Treat yourself to high-quality oil-packed olives, or try oil-packed,
sun-dried tomatoes. Tapenade, a chopped olive condiment, is delicious just
as it is on bruschetta you'll find it in the HyperMart next to
bottled artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and the like. And while you're
there, look for pesto. This versatile sauce, made from pounded pine nuts,
basil, garlic, and oil, is also great with bruschetta, especially when
paired with thin slivers of Parmesan. Mushrooms are worthy additions, as
well. Top your basic bruschetta with marinated mushrooms, or sauté mushrooms
with salt, pepper, and the herb of
your choice. Then spread 'em on.
Hankering for a salad? Tuna mixed with chopped onion, capers, celery, and
olive oil makes for an elegant alternative to the familiar mayonnaise-based
sandwich spread. Or how about a bean salad from canned red, black, or white
beans? It's a snap to make. Just drain the excess fluid from the canned
beans, then add a generous squeeze of tangy lemon or lime juice, mix in
chopped veggies like onions and peppers (sweet or hot), and season (salt,
pepper and a pinch of cayenne for a bit of a kick). Now spoon the mixture on
top of bruschetta, drizzle olive oil over everything, and eat.
You get the idea, I'm sure. Bruschetta's a lot more than toasted bread.
It's the foundation of an entire culinary tradition, as well as being an
edible plate. So why not give it a try? What are you waiting for?