Can’t imagine what Italian food
would be like without bread.
Bread in Italian society has always been at the very centre of
religious, family and social life.
Michelangelo once said “I
feast on wine and bread and feasts they are”.
preference or dependence relatively neatly divided the ancient
Mediterranean world in half. In the east, the Greeks cultivated and
consumed barley, while wheat was the principal grain of the Latin West.
Italians did not reject barley. They grew it and ate it in various
preparations as they still do, usually in soups. But it was never a
major or vital part of their diet.
was grown to a certain extent in the Alps but it, too, was and is still
today a minor food resource. Millet and oats never acquired much of a
following in Italy but buckwheat (grano saraceno) is popular in northern
Italy and particularly Lombardy’s Valtellina.
Wheat in the form of bread and puls (boiled meal flavored in innumerable
ways) was the mainstay of the diet for centuries. With the decline in
hard physical labor in recent years, bread has lost some of its
essentiality but puls has become a standard entry on restaurant menus
not only in
Italy but also in countries worldwide. However, it changed its form in
the 17th century after the arrival of corn (maize) from the New World.
Corn replaced wheat and the result was polenta.
Various types of wheat evolved at an early date. Some are specifically
adapted to use in bread because of their substantial content of gluten,
which gives dough elasticity. Hard wheat (durum) is more compact and the
its shape during cooking. It is the ideal grain for the production of
pastas. Farro or spelt wheat is a rare survivor of ancient agriculture.
Cultivated primarily in
Tuscany’s Garfagnana zone, it was only recently rediscovered. Today,
production barely keeps up with demand.
Italians have developed a wide range of breads over the centuries and
many ancient types are still produced–-in most cases on a local or
regional basis. Commercial bakers account for most of the bread consumed
Italy today as they have since professionals started turning out loaves
in ancient Rome in the 2nd century BC. Baking is still practiced at home
to a certain extent, as at Genzano, a village near Rome. The selection
nationwide ranges from extremely large loaves, once intended to keep a
household supplied for a full week, to small rolls. Most breads are
leavened but many are not, like the Sardinian carta da musica (thin as
sheets of music paper) or carasau.
Crackers are a relatively recent addition to the Italian roster of
breads and related products. However, the concept is basically the same
as that of the communion wafer. Grissini or breadsticks are a specialty
of Turin, although they are now found virtually everywhere. Most are
pencil-thin but in their homeland bakers still shape them by hand so
that they are thick and irregular. Flat breads are extremely popular in
central Italy and include Tuscany’s rosemary-flavored schiacciata, the
Romagna’s piadina and Emilia’s crescentina and gnocco. Some are fried
and some are baked. Sweetened breads are common but they belong to the
dolce or confectionery category.
There are over 350 bread types of which 250 are readily available. We
have listed around 100 below and we will describe the history behind
some of them.
Michetta- Pan coi fichi- Pane di segale- Busella
Plava- Puccia- Pane Azzimo- Pan biscotto- Montasu- Clòpa- Ciabatta
Pane di segale- Micoula
Grissini- Blòva- Pane di Carlo Alberto- Pane nero di Coimo
Carpasinna- Focaccia Classica- Grissa di Dolceacqua
Pan di Frizze- Rosetta- Pane di mais- Grispolenta- Cornetto Istriano-
Panina gialla aretina- Bozza pratese- Ciaccino- Schiaccia- Testarolo
- Pane di Montegemoli- Neccio- Focaccetta d'Aulla- Ficattola- Ciaccino
Pane di Terni- Pane casereccio- Torta al testo- Pizza di Pasqua
Pane di strettura- Pan nociato- Pan caciato
Filone casereccio- Pane di Farro- Focaccia Farcita- Crescia maceratese- Crostolo
Ciriola romana- Pane di Lariano- Pizza bianca- Ciambella sorana- Falia
Pane di mais- Pane di spiga- Pane di senatori
Pane del pescatore- Pane di Padula- Pane cafone- Pane con i
cicoli- Pizza, Tarallo
Puccetto rustico- Tòrtano
Pane di Altamura- Rota- Sckanata
Frese- Pane di castagne- Filone- Cuddurra- Buccellato
Pane di Monreale- Cucciddatu- Mafalda- Pane nero- Pane e Birra-
Pane Carasau- Pane con Gerda- Civraxiu- Moddizzosu
This flat bread topped with olive oil, spices and other products an
early prototype of modern pizza. The basic recipe is thought by some to
have originated with the Etruscans or Ancient Greeks.
"Focaccia, a flat bread which belongs essentially to the northern shores
of the Mediterranean and has its origin in classical antiquity. In
ancient Rome panis focacius denoted a flat bread cooked in the ashes
("focus" meant hearth). These came the term focacia, focaccia in modern
Italian which has branched out in various directions, both savory and
sweet...Numerous regional specialties such as the fitascetta of
Lombardy, the Tuscan stiacciata, and the schiacciata of Emilia are all
descendants. Also, a focaccia may be made with flavorings such as onion
and sage or anise, or honey, etc."
earliest written document describing the Altamura bread is Horatio's
"Satires" in which the Roman poet recalls that during a trip to his
native land in the spring of A.D. 37 he tasted "the world’s most
delicious bread—so delicious, in fact, that the discerning traveler
stacks up on it for the rest of his journey”.
an era closer to ours, the 1527 statute of the town of Altamura
dedicates numerous paragraphs outlining the duties of the town's bakers,
including the taxes they had to pay to the authorities.
This bread was traditionally made in very large loaves and in the old
days, it was customary to knead the dough at home and then take it to
public ovens to be baked. In order to distinguish the loaves, the bakers
would stamp them with the initials of the head of the family that owned
the dough before placing them in their ovens.
Pane di Altamura is a very crisp, fragrant bread. Its crumb, the soft
part of the bread, is the color of straw and soft to the touch. Its most
distinctive characteristic, however, is that it keeps for a long time,
an essential quality for a bread that, dipped briefly in boiling water
and dressed with olive oil and salt, provided nutrition to peasants and
shepherds for a week or more in isolated farms scattered in the hills of
and pasta are the mainstays of the Sardinian diet.Among the Sardinian
breads with an international reputation pane carasau is probably the
most well known. This bread is called carta da musica ( music paper) by
foreigners. It consists of very thin circular crisp sheets of pastry and
it keeps a long time. "Pane carasau" was the bread eaten by shepherds
when they were away from home for long periods tending their flocks. If
caraus is served with tomatoes and eggs, it becomes a speciality
called pane frattau The same bread seasoned with oil and salt is called
pane guttiau. Another well known Sardinian bread is civraxiu. It is
large and circular in shape and has a crisp crust and soft interior . It
is delicious when dipped in the fat of roasted pig or lamb. It is
worthwhile mentioning su coccoi which is made from semolina or very fine
flour in the Campidano area. Su coccoi is a very popular bread not only
for its taste but also for its shape which changes from village to
village. There is also su moddizzosu which is a circular and very soft
bread. It is particularly good with cheese and sausages. Another bread
is spianadas which is circular in shape, soft and easy to transport.
The Grissino (Piemonte)
Vittorio Amedeo II Duke of Savoy was born at Turin in 1666 and was
crowned the first Savoy King in 1713.
As a child Vittorio Amedeo was frail and sickly so his mother, the
second Madama Reale, worried by the state of his health called to court
a famous physician of the time, Don Baldo Pecchio from Lanzo Torinese.
The doctor immediately had a stroke of genius and diagnosed food
poisoning (gastro-enteritis in modern parlance) caused by the ingestion
of bread polluted with intestinal pathogenic germs. Those days, bread (the so-called ghëssa or grissia) was produced rather improperly from
the hygienic standpoint and was generally cooked badly, indeed not
So Don Baldo, remembering certain small grissias his mother was wont to
bake for him when he suffered from a similar intestinal form as a child,
ordered Court master baker Antonio Brunero to prepare a very thin and
well cooked bread, indeed cooked twice, to destroy any micro-organism
present in the dough with perfect baking. The end result was the
grissino, hygienically perfect and un-polluted by any germ whatsoever.
The story goes that the Duke's physician fed and cured the noble scion
with this bread.
The ghëssa led to the ghërsin or small ghëssa, Italianized into grissino.
So the first grissino was made and Turin also won the nickname of Grissinopoli.
As we said, Vittorio Amedeo II, miraculously healed by the grissino,
grew to become the first Savoy king. There followed the rapid rise of
the Savoy dynasty, that privileged Piedmont, laid the foundations of the
Italian Risorgimento and the subsequent creation of the Kingdom of
The success of this celebrated Turin bread (greatly appreciated by
Napoleon who called it Le petit bâton de Turin) grew rapidly and
conquered the whole world and became the Bread of Kings and the King of
origins of this product are rooted in the peasant culture of its zone of
production. The bread, which households used to make for themselves, is
baked in wood-fired ovens known as soccie. Pane Casareccio di Genzano
was already known and appreciated in the last century for its particular
aroma and fragrance which last up to seven or eight days. It was not
until the 1940s, however, that the bread become extremely popular in
Rome to which it was brought from Genzano at night and sold fresh the
next day by local grocers and bakeries. Pane Casareccio di Genzano is
made from choice flour, natural yeast, mineral salt and water. The bread
is shaped into either round loaves or long broad sticks. The area of
production is the whole town district of Genzano in the province of
genuine and homemade Romagna piadina has however lost its legendary
roots in the mists of time. One of these legends has it that it was none
other than Aeneas, the hero in Virgil's poem, who on landing on Italian
coasts after escaping from Troy had to eat unleavened ship's biscuits
that the sailors used for plates. According to other sources, the recipe
was handed down to the ancient Romans by the Etruscans, who prepared an
unleavened bread using flour and water, cooking it on scalding hot
tiles. This idea is recalled by the word teggia, similar to the Italian
for tile (tegola), and is the name for the tin with raised sides still
used by piadina vendors today.Closer
to the present day, the debate as to who can boast paternity of the
piadina is still disputed amongst the villages and towns of Romagna.
Those from Rimini, who prepare a version that is thin and low in fats,
are those most convinced that it was of their own invention. But each
area of Romagna has a local variation: small, thick and soft in Ravenna
and the hinterland, large and thin in the south of Romagna.
In any case, it is an unleavened bread without yeast and its name would
seem to derive from the Greek plakous, which means flat bread and harks
back to the days of the Byzantine domination of Romagna.
The Piadina, piada or "piè" as it is known in Romagna, has gone
on to conquer all of Italy with endless kiosks now preparing them, and
they are even to be found in New York..It
is a specialty made of a disk of pasta that can be substituted for
bread. It can be eaten with a soft cheese (squaquarone, a delicacy of
Romagna) or with prosciutto either cotto or crudo. It is best served
warm, and must be cooked on the proper flat iron pan called a testo, on
a lively flame.
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