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bread spreads

Breaking bread is common to many cultures. But what do people put on their bread once it's ready to share? We asked a few Monitor writers to find out. Modern Italians serve an ancient Roman favorite.

IITALY may not have peanut butter sandwiches, but there is bruschetta. And Sonia Ferrari and her daughter Lucia are happy to explain how to make it.

First, you cut a thick piece of hearty, homemade bread (increasingly difficult to find in Italy) and toast it. Then you rub it with a cut garlic clove and drizzle olive oil on it. The result is a crunchy, flavorful treat.

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Bruschetta is a hit with children. Lucia recalls coming home on winter afternoons to enjoy a fresh-made batch. These days, you can even order it as an appetizer at pizzerias.

In the Ferraris' native Tuscany, however, bruschetta is not just a nice piece of toasted bread. It's part of the culture.

"To serve it is a sign of courtesy," says the elder Ferrari, who lives in the quiet hill town of Roccatederighi when not visiting her daughter in Rome.

According to the Ferraris, bruschetta originated in Tuscany as a way to test the quality of home-pressed olive oil.

Not everyone is convinced.

Barringer Fifield, author of "The Renaissance Cookbook," suspects the delicacy had more prosaic beginnings in Roman times.

"It probably came about as a way for poor people to deal with their stale bread," he says.

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Whatever its ancestry, bruschetta remains popular today.

Across town, Gigliola Piazza, a language student at the University of Rome, enthuses at the mere mention of the word.

"Mmmmmmmmm," she says. "I make it here at home all the time."

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