Friselle – The Homey Charm of the Dry Rusk

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Friselle with Wild Sicilian Oregano (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

It started with a phone call from a girlfriend who lived in Italy for years.  “Where can I find friselle?  No one knows what they are here.”  The word causes a cascade of memories. Friselle, is the simplest of foods.  A ring of bread is split horizontally when cool then put back in a low temperature oven and baked until dry and crisp.  They’re sold by the bagful all over Southern Italy.  But my earliest memories of friselle weren’t in Italy.  We used to buy them at Sarno‘s bakery on Vermont Avenue back in the day.

Memories are fine, but actual flavors in the mouth are welcome too so I ran over to Monte Carlo Deli in Burbank and bought all the friselle they had.  Yes, you can eat them plain, but the reason most of us love friselle is that they are an olive oil sponge disguised as a humble dry disk.  Depending on how hard they are you either soak them in cold water for a minute or two or just run them under cold water.  Then you put them on a plate and generously drizzle the best olive oil you can get over them. Rub a bit of garlic on if you wish, or slice a nice fat fresh clove very thin and scatter it about with some good wild oregano.  That’s the oregano you see still on the stem in greek grocery stores or at fancy spice shops (or at the little shop at Guelaguetza, which will be Oaxacan oregano).  That’s a winter friselle, but this morning the first tomatoes of the season were ready for me in the backyard so I sliced them (you can chop the tomatoes too) laid them atop the prepared friselle with more oregano, olive oil and a bit of salt.  Good breakfast!