Every Sunday in the '80s, Marcello Farioli and his family would have a barbecue.
This was back when Farioli was a kid living in the small town of Rubiera, in Italy's Emilia-Romagna region. Each weekend, his household, his uncles, aunties and their families would gather at a different house for the weekly feast. “They were just like an Australian barbecue, but [with] less meat and more carbs involved,” Farioli says, with a laugh.
The menu would depend on the host that week – usually it was simple, but absolutely bounteous. “Generally we'd have pork neck and ribs, all sorts of savoury pastries, and heaps of desserts: tiramisu, English trifle, budino, cakes. And a bit of salad – but not much. Oh and lots of wine.” Regardless of host, backyard and whatever else, there was always one thing on the menu: bruschetta.
Every family cook had their own recipe and there’d be arguments between families about what should go in bruschetta, and whose version was the best. Will there be garlic rubbed onto the bread? Will there be parsley sprinkled on top or mixed in with the tomatoes? How should it be seasoned? Questions that have existed for centuries, maybe even millennia, without any answers. “It's always the same in Italy, we fight, talk and love around food. We can sit down for two hours around a table talking about how to make bruschetta, and everyone will be adamant why this one is better than the other,” says Farioli.
Farioli says, for the sake of order, only one person was in charge of the bruschetta at each weekly barbecue. “It was a matter of life and death, there would be fights about it.” Whoever was chosen would be the dictator, putting others to work to create their masterpiece. “There was sort of a hierarchy with the bruschetta: one person grilled the bread, that was his job; one person did the sauce; then one person [would be] serving it around. Us kids, we had a competition, 'who could eat the most bruschetta?' There was always heaps. We’d have six, seven, eight, nine, 10, just to prove to the others how big you were. I was skinny, I tried really hard but I was never the one who ate the most. I even cheated sometimes.”
"One person grilled the bread, that was his job; one person did the sauce, then one person [would be] serving it around. Us kids, we had a competition, 'who could eat the most bruschetta?'"
Everyone had their favourite bruschetta dictator. For Farioli, it was Pier Luigi Farioli, his uncle. “He had three hobbies: making illegal spirits like limoncello and walnut liqueur; the second was minerals, he loved rare stones; and the last was his two dishes – bruschetta and penne arrabbiata. Those two dishes, you knew, when he was cooking, it would be the best.”
But when Farioli moved to Australia in 2008, that was the end of Sunday afternoons eating his uncle’s perfect bruschetta. “I came just before I turned 30, I wanted to travel and see the whole continent but after I came to Sydney, just for a month, I wanted to stay.”
Farioli is now the chef and owner of I Maccheroni in Sydney's Woollahra. He’d never been able to eat the bruschetta because he’d never learnt to make it. He knew how to produce a bruschetta, of course – just not his uncle’s version. He wasn’t the only one. His uncle never taught anyone to make it and the recipe remained a secret until his death.
It was only revealed by complete accident after Pier Luigi died. Farioli’s sister was sorting through their uncle’s things, helping their aunt as she grieved, when she came upon an old notepad. She flicked through, and there it was: the secret recipe.
“My sister is the holder of the recipe. I had to go through a process of approval with her son and daughter to give it to you. They said, ‘yeah, it's a way for us to remember him,'” says Farioli. “That’s the recipe I’m giving you. I’ll give you rough measurements, but his was not very scientific, it always tasted the same but there were never any measurements – [he was] always on the fly.”
Pier Luigi Farioli’s bruschetta
Makes 10 serves
- 1 loaf day-old ciabatta bread (you can use day-old sourdough as an alternative)
- 20 g salt
- 70 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 10 hand-crushed basil leaves
- Cloves of garlic, cut in half and soaked in olive oil, optional
- 500 g fresh San Marzano tomatoes, firm and not overly ripened (substitute with vine-ripened tomatoes if not available)
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 1 tbsp red onion, roughly chopped
- 1 bunch coriander leaves, chopped
- 1 tsp fennel seeds, finely crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped (Roman mint if possible, Vietnamese mint also works, a peppery version is best)
- 1 sprig thyme leaves
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp ground cumin
1. Slice bread into 1cm-thick pieces and set aside.
2. Combine all the bruschetta topping ingredients in a mixing bowl.
2. When you’re ready to serve the bruschetta, add the salt, olive oil and basil to the mixing bowl.
3. Toast or grill the bread. If using, rub the extra garlic onto the hot bread.
4. Spread the mixture on top of the bread and serve.
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