Holiday munchies the Italian way


The savory taste of bruschetta brings me back to the holiday season with my dad’s Italian side of the family in Oakland. The smell of garlic fills every room in the small house we are crowded into. Everyone’s favorite dish, the traditional Piedmont, Italian bagna cauda, is being stirred slowly in the three electric skillets in the center of the long tables pushed together. Their aroma of the mixture of olive oil, butter, anchovies, and lot and lot of garlic comfort me with a feeling of warmth and happiness. As we wait for the main meal we all mingle and snack on the various appetizers of cheese, fruit, hummus, and, my favorite, the homemade bruschetta.

If we arrive early enough, I am able to help my aunts peal and chop tomatoes, mince the garlic and basil, and then mix it all together with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My aunt then some how manages to toast the bread, covered in garlic and olive oil, just enough to become crisp and crunchy, but also not so much that it strains our teeth. The scale of the batches are huge to feed all of the aunts, uncles, cousins and welcomed  guests gathered for the warmth of family and the holidays.

I try to sneak as much onto my plate as I can before all of the grandsons my grandparents were blessed with find out that it is done. Although they are all adults now they still, too, remember the dish from every holiday and eat just as much as they did back then. Silk-smooth olive oil, big red tomatoes and the subtle hint of garlic on the tuscan bread invite people of all ages to migrate towards the food to grab a few pieces to enjoy before the main meal. Even as the bagna cauda is done and the oil is heated and mixed and people are grabbing vegetables off the plates to cook in, what my mom calls, the Italian fondue, you still see a few plates savoring their last piece of bruschetta and then a few, myself included, sneak to the counter for more.

As the last cousins continue to eat more and more, seeming to be the boys who never become full, and the desserts of pie and ice cream begin to vanish, and as groups go out to take late night walks in the neighborhood. I always hope that by the end of the night there will be enough of the bruschetta left to take home, but always knowing that, in a house full of Italians, there never will be.