Pane e Amore
Fall in Love with Bread in Italy
by Anita Santorum
It’s early morning on a summer’s day in Bardonecchia, a small town in the Western Alps of Piedmont, less than a one hour drive from Turin. I am going for a walk in the old town before the sun scorches the streets and the vacationers crowd the shops. It’s 8AM. My favorite bakery is about to open its doors and there are already many customers in line.
Panificio Minniti, in Borgo Vecchio, has baked and sold bread in Bardonecchia since 1977 and is extremely popular both with locals and tourists. Doors open…the aroma of freshly baked breads, pizzas and brioches fill the shop. My eyes wander onto the bread shelves and the pizza displays while I take mental note of what to buy, adding quite a few items to my original list. Everything looks just so tasty! When I walk out of the shop, I can’t resist opening my big white paper bag and eating a few morsels before returning home.
In Italy, ‘pane’ (bread) is both a staple food and a well established culinary tradition. Italians purchase their fresh bread from the local ‘panetteria’ every day, many before breakfast time. Indeed, bakeries are the first shops to open in the morning, as early as 7am. A few have their own oven and bake their fresh bread daily….look out for this sign: ‘Panificio Artigianale’ (Artisan Bakery). Bread is prepared during the night, with the first batch out of the oven around 430am. Get there early morning and you will bring home bread so fresh from the oven that it’s still warm. Most of the bread is sold before noon so you want to get there early!
Bread in Italy – A Guide to Italian Breads
The range of breads, pizzas, focaccia, brioche and croissants in Italy is overwhelming. One can find similar types of breads throughout the country; however, each region may have a different recipe. In Piedmont, each bakery also has its own specialties, although some types produced are common to most of the region.
Typically bread is stored in baskets on shelves behind the bakery counter. Italians usually eat bread with their main meals, without butter on it. Most Italian breads are made with white flour, yeast, water and a bit of salt and very few types have added fat. No other ingredients; and, yet such a variety!
Types of Bread in Italy
The many types of bread in Italy will fulfill any bread lovers craving! There are large bread varieties with a crunchy brown crust, such as: ‘miconi’ (huge and round), ‘ruote’ (wheels), ‘ciabatte’(long and squashed), ‘filoni’ (long and good for slicing), ‘coccodrilli’ (crocodiles), ‘ciambelle’ (big donut shapes) and baguettes. All of these can be sliced and eaten during breakfast with Nutella or jam, or used for bruschetta, sandwiches or drizzled with a bit of extra virgin olive oil (pane e olio).
There are also small breads with a white and more delicate crusts, such as ‘tartarughe’ (turtles), ‘trapunte’ (quilts), ‘foglie’ (leaves), ‘ciabattine’ (small ciabatta) and the tiny and delicious ‘bocconcini’, which are ideal for ‘panini’ (sandwiches) or for serving them in a basket on the dinner table. There is even the Italian version of crunchy guaranteed-no-spill hot dog roll.
If that’s not enough, you can also find softer breads, with dough similar to Arabic bread, such as ‘treccine’ (braids) and ‘ossa’ (bones).
Looking for healthier whole grain options? There are breads made with whole wheat flour, whole grains and ‘grano antico’ (“ancient wheat variety”). These are great sliced, and in this case, lightly buttered or eaten with a plate of your favorite Italian cured meats. This ‘healthy’ option becomes a lot less healthy, yet so delicious!
Next to the main bread counter, there is invariably the mouthwatering pizza display… simply impossible to resist! These are not the same pizzas you find at a pizzeria – round and larger than your plate, with various toppings and crunchy crust. These pizzas are square or rectangular and made of soft focaccia bread. The simplest version with no toppings is the white pizza (called ‘pizza bianca’ or also focaccia), with just extra-virgin olive oil and salt. The white pizza can also be found topped with onions, olives, or cheese.
There is also the red pizza, with just tomato puree or with more elaborate toppings. You can buy pieces of the large pizzas, or a whole ‘lingua’ (tongue) or smaller rounded pizzas. Whichever you choose, these are loved by children of any age, from 1 to 100 years old!
To complete your bakery shopping experience, pick up some grissini ‘rubatà’ (handmade bread sticks which are typical of Turin), or a freshly baked ‘cornetto’ (Italian croissant), or sample the ‘pasticceria secca’ (dry pastries, cookies, small meringues, and much more). Finally, you can walk out of the shop and down the street, proudly clutching your white paper bag in your arms, while secretively sampling small morsels when no one is looking, feeling completely in love with Italian bread and Italy!