From the perspective of cost, this simple dish must be seen to carry the banner for Italian peasant food. Its traditional ingredients–old bread, garlic, and water–are even cheaper and more pedestrian than the handful of basics required for a spaghetti alla puttanesca. But they acquire majesty in their symbiosis (especially if you make the profligate choice of using good stock in place of the water.)
2 QUARTS (2 L) VEGETABLE OR CHICKEN STOCK (PAGE 286)
4 BAY LEAVES
4 JUNIPER BERRIES, CRUSHED
30 CLOVES GARLIC, PEELED
15 SAGE LEAVES
1 TSP (5 ML) THYME LEAVES
2 CUPS (500 ML) CUBED DAY-OLD ITALIAN BREAD, CRUSTS TRIMMED
1/3 CUP (75 ML) 35% CREAM
SALT AND WHITE PEPPER
6 SLICES CIABATTA
1 TBSP (15 ML) OLIVE OIL
SALT AND PEPPER
GRATED GRANA PADANO OR PECORINO ROMANO
FINE OLIVE OIL
CRISPY-FRIED SAGE LEAVES (OPTIONAL; PAGE 278)
Bring the stock to a boil. Wrap the bay leaves and juniper berries in cheesecloth, tie the bundles closed, and add to the stock along with the garlic, sage, and thyme. Return to a boil and then lower heat. Simmer until the garlic is tender, about 30 minutes.
Add the bread and cream. Return to a simmer, stir, and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove spice sachet and blitz the soup in a blender (or with a hand blender). Pass through a strainer if desired. Season to taste.
Sprinkle one side of the ciabatta with some of the olive oil, season, and grill until crisp and golden. Turn, sprinkle with more oil, seasonings, and a little cheese, and grill until crisp and golden. Place the crostini in 6 warm bowls. Pour the soup around the crostini, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with sage (optional), and serve.