I have grilled and smoked breads lots of times. In fact, some of my favorite dishes involve fire and bread. Some of my favorite grilling memories, too.
Alongside steak, for example, I like the Catalan mainstay of pan con tomate, slices of grilled bread painted with olive oil, smeared with tomato and brightened with salt; I devoured it every chance I got during a visit two decades ago to Barcelona. For bruschetta, I normally grill rounds of Italian bread, as did one of the best grill masters I ever met, a Tuscan chef, since deceased, named Giancarlo Gianelli. Perhaps my favorite, though, is to set a slab of rustic bread above a soft fire, then, when browned, dress it with nothing more than a drizzle of olio nuovo (just-pressed “new oil”) and good salt, an unadorned pleasure that takes me back to when I first encountered it more than a decade ago at an olive oil harvest festival in Italy.
Probably because of the casualness with which I have treated it, I have never given grilled bread much thought. (After all, grilled bread is basically just toast made over fire, the original toaster.) So I decided to do it with considerable thought, to extend what I had been doing in new ways.
For inspiration, I decided to globe-hop. I turned first to an old standby: grilled pita. I have long crisped an oiled, split-open round of pita over a calm fire to use as chips for dips like hummus, baba ghanoush and tapenade. Now, I’d include it in fattoush.
Fattoush is the second-most-famous Lebanese salad, after tabbouleh. It is a summery collection of chopped raw vegetables, characterized fundamentally by the use of the faintly sour spice sumac. What defines it, though, is its crunch of crisp pita broken into bite-size pieces. The pita, when put to an open flame, imparts a resonant bass note to the salad’s sunny flavor.
I next borrowed from Mexico, making an avocado salad with homemade corn tortilla chips. This one was trickier. I wasn’t sure whether to smoke the tortillas on the cool side of an indirect fire and then fry them in vegetable oil, or grill them until crusty. I experimented and found that — ain’t it always the way? — I liked both methods. Smoking the tortilla infuses it with depth, and following up with a turn in hot oil gives it a familiar texture. Grilling it, though, lends the tortilla a fantastic char flavor (almost overwhelming) and saves on the calories added by frying. Of the two, I am drawn more to the smoke-fry technique, but probably only because I always seem to prefer the least-healthful option. Either way, when mixed with big chunks of avocado, red onion and juicy, firm tomatoes, all spritzed with lime, the dish was a great variation on guacamole.