Writing about traditional pane (bread) in a previous article made me realise just how many different variations we actually have here in Italy. Let’s have a look at the names of a few of the different breads that you’ll find at the panettiere (baker’s):
la pagnotta is the most common name for a standard loaf
il filone is a long loaf, similar to the French baguette but much thicker
la ciabatta (the slipper) is a rectangular, uneven, flat bread, and should look like … an old worn out slipper! It’s very crusty on the outside, with the mollica (the soft inner part of the bread) full of big holes. The Italian ciabatta doesn’t bear any resemblance to the schifezza that we’ve found masquerading under that name in certain supermarkets in England. Their version of ciabatta was a small soft bread with an even mollica, no hard crosta (crust), and some strange looking diagonal burnt stripes on the top, which I suppose were meant to make it look ‘rustic’, you have been warned!
la crescente (literally ‘the growing’, from crescere = to grow) is the name used here in Pontremoli for a very big round flat loaf, about 40 cm in diameter and 1kg in weight. If you turn it upside down, you will often find chestnut leaves stuck on the bottom. This is because in the past it was baked inside il testo, a large cast-iron skillet. The chestnut leafs were used to prevent the bread from sticking to the pan, whilst at the same time giving it a characteristic flavour. Nowadays they’re used mostly for decoration.
Alongside the big, traditional pani (loafs of bread), you will normally have a choice of panini (small breads):
The generic name for a bread roll is un panino (literally: ‘a small bread’), which becomes panini in the plural, a regular masculine noun, so in Italian there isn’t such a thing as paninis (little breadses! a pluralisation of the plural). If you cut un panino in half and stuff some cheese in it, you’ll have un panino al formaggio (a bread roll with cheese), or un panino al prosciutto if you use Parma ham, and so on. Here are some of the local variations on the standard panino:
la frusta (the whip) or lo sfilatino are more or less the equivalent of the French baguette, but perhaps a bit shorter
la rosetta (the little rose), also known as la michetta in some parts of Italy, is a roundish roll composed of a central pentagonal shape surrounded by five more pentagons
la tartaruga (the turtle) is another round roll with a pattern cut on the top that resemble the design of a turtle’s shell. The cuts make it easy to break the bread by hand into small chunks
lo spaccato (the cracked one) is a roll with a hard crust which is split (‘cracked’) lengthwise
l’osso (the bone) is a small ciabatta which resembles … a bone!
This is just a small selection of the almost infinite bread names that you’ll encounter in Italy, some of which change not only from town to town, but also from shop to shop. E.g just down the road in Lucca la frusta (the whip) is known as il soldato (the soldier).
I can’t finish without mentioning one of our favourite types of bread, the ubiquitous focaccia, also known in some regions as pizza bianca (white pizza) or la schiacciata (the squashed one). The standard focaccia is a flat rectangular or round bread, roughly dented on the top, brushed with olive oil and dusted with coarse sea salt, and it can be morbida (soft) or croccante (crunchy). There are many different variations on the basic focaccia, such as the delicious focaccia al rosmarino (focaccia with rosemary), focaccia alle olive (focaccia with olives), alle cipolle (with onions), and ai pomodorini (with small tomatoes). A few days ago, in the pizzeria of our friend Natale Calvo (check it out if you ever visit Aulla in Lunigiana) we sampled some focaccia tipo Recco, Recco style focaccia, which originally comes the town of Recco near Genova in Liguria. It consists of two very thin layers of pastry encasing melted stracchino cheese (a soft fresh cheese with a slightly tangy taste), baked in the forno a legna (wood fired oven) like a pizza. Squisita!