Italy's Breadbasket: Focacce, Pizza, Piadine… A Bounty of Bread

Discover a whole world of Italian baked goods and breads. North to South, bread specialties are part of an amazing Italian culinary world waiting to be tasted.

By Lele Gobbi
Mon, Jun 14

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PIZZAS, FOCACCE, PIADINE, CALZONI: THE ALLURE OF STREET FOOD
 

Focacce, pizzas, piadine are at the heart of immediate gratification when it comes to hunger and cravings.  Better yet, they all represent the original “eating on the street” concept.  In extreme synthesis, these bready goodies are simply primordial (and healthier) fast food.  You can find variations on these themes from north to south of Italy, and really, all over the world as Pizza can now be considered a world dish.  But the best Pizza naturally, comes from Italy, in this writer’s mind.

We know what goes perfectly with specialty bread:  specialty Cheese.  Check out the story behind Italy’s Cheese: Not Just Food but a Festival of Flavors - a true Italian cheese festival accessible even to the most casual of cheese lovers.

 

LIGURIAN SPECIALTIES ARE EVERYONE’S FAVORITE TREATS

Let’s start at the Northern part of Italy as we explore how a few simple ingredients managed to unite themselves in a marriage of explosive flavors.  Starting from Liguria (in its Ponenete), we find the Pissadella specialty.  This is a simple bread dough that transforms itself into a most refined dish.  How?  With the simple addition of tomato sauce, onions, brine-cured olives, garlic, and anchovies.  Pissadella as such is the ideal representative of the family of focaccia breads that have been “pizza-ed,” and includes the Sardenaria (typically found in the San Remo area), and Machetusa, from the Apricale area and made with artisanal anchovy paste.

In the Ligurian city of Genoa, and throughout the entire Liguria region, we find a copious amount of different Farinata recipes.  Farinata is a tasty baked treat made with chickpea flour, water, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt.  This very flat baked torte is served fresh from the oven, with crispy oven-baked edges and a filling consistency.  Farinata is a cornerstone of the classic Italian Cucina Povera tradition.

In addition to Farinata, some classic variations on traditional Focaccia (a traditional Italian bread made with flour, water, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt) exist.  Locally referred to as fügassa, one of our very favorite versions is famous throughout Italy for its creamy filling and satisfying bready exterior.  Welcome to the world of Focaccia di Recco.

Focaccia di Recco is very thin, and slightly tanned from the heat of the wood-burning oven where it’s baked.  The inside of Focaccia di Recco however is its pièce de résistance, as it’s a creamy, dreamy trip through dairy-goodnessRecco Focaccia is filled with the delicious Prescinseua cheese, a traditional Ligurian fresh curd cheese very similar to Stracchino or Crescenza cheese.  Today’s Focaccia di Recco sometimes substitutes these two alternative cheeses for the traditional prescinseua.  Whichever cheese is used, Focaccia di Recco is best enjoyed straight out of the oven, when the two layers of focaccia imprison the cheese to perfection.

Not a cheese fan?  Not to worry - Ligurian focaccia styles include a range of toppings, like onions, olives, even potatoes or fresh sage.  A whole range of bread flavors to enjoy and explore.

We conclude our trip through Liguria in the Levante area, where we find Testaroli.  This local specialty takes the form of small discs of wheat flour, water, and salt.  The discs are then baked on heated irons, and are subsequently seasoned with local Basil pesto or extra-virgin olive oil and cheese.

Breads, wines, cheeses - what do they all have in common?  They’re all part of the ever-popular Mediterranean Diet, a healthy lifestyle approach towards eating we can all get behind.  Especially if it means you get to eat bread, cheese, and wine together!  Check out Live the Mediterranean Diet for a healthy, happy life for the run-down.
 

 

TUSCAN BAKERIES CREATE POWERFUL TREATS TO STAVE OFF HUNGER

Heading south to Tuscany, we find Ficattole, delicious and irregular-shaped bundles of bread dough.  While that might already sound quite appealing, the bread bundles are then deep-fried in hot oil, resulting in a decidedly decadent crispy exterior and a pillowy soft interior.

This epicurean treat is followed by the inevitable dive into Focaccia - in Tuscany, the bread is referred to as Schiacciata (Stiacciata in local lingo), and is a simple, delicious focaccia variant.  With clear roots in peasant traditions, and therefore, treated with pragmatism and common sense, the Schiacciata dough followed the bread-baking patterns of more traditional rustic-style bread-baking.  Made once a week alongside classic bread, the dough for Schiacciata, made with water, flour, and yeast, is the exact same recipe as the dough recipe for peasant-style Tuscan bread.

Farmers tended to set aside a little portion of their weekly leavened dough, which was the heart of Schiacciata.  Stretching the dough out themselves and preparing the dough for baking on the floured baking tray, the peasants used to prod the dough into shape directly with their hands, leaving in fact the dimples we see in schiacciata slabs in all Tuscan bakeries.
 

 

EMILIA-ROMAGNA LEAVES NO STOMACHS HUNGRY WHEN IT COMES TO BAKED GOODS

Romagna is the undisputed birthplace of the Piadina, the saviour of many a snack-related urgency.  This flat disk, not unlike an Italian version of a South American tortilla, but with more flavor, is approximately 25cm across, and is the ideal surface to line with soft cheese like crescenza, and a salty layer of Prosciutto Crudo on top.  Be sure to follow the locals, and enjoy your Piadina warm - this flatbread is truly a versatile bread perfect with smoked meats, cheese, vegetable fillings - anything you’d put in a classic sandwich is fair game for the resilient Piadina.

Just stepping across the borders of the Romagna area, approaching the Emilia lands, this simple preparation changes rather dynamically.  Consistency, size, fillings, cooking approaches all change, as well as its name.  Look for this bread-based dish under the name Cassoni, a very thin Piadina typically filled with mixed greens or chard.  We can also find Chizze, a fried version often filled with Grana cheese and a delightfully warming snack to soothe the pangs of sudden hunger.  Tigelle sound familiar?  You might have seen these beauties before, small fluffy discs of baked bread, cooked in beautiful circular pans placed directly on stovetops.  Perfectly portable, Tigelle are a Modena-based specialty, and can be enjoyed either on their own or with accompanying local treats - Prosciutto works in a pinch.
 

 

LE MARCHE, ABRUZZO, MOLISE, UMBRIA AND LAZIO ALL FALL IN LINE BRINGING OUT THEIR BEST BREADS

A treat typical of the Le Marche, Abruzzo and Molise areas, Calcione is a fulfilling rustic pizza bound to make you feel full and quite sated.  This country-style pizza is often topped with different cheese options, sausage, eggs and always freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.

Specific to Umbria instead, we find several different golden-brown varieties of local Schiacciate (flatbreads).  What makes these different from the schiacciate of other Italian regions?  These breads are unique in their combinations with local add-ons like fresh Ricotta cheese, eggs, pork cracklings, or even just a simple aromatic herb like Rosemary.

Le Marche
and Umbria both lay claim to a famous Italian Easter specialty dish, and one featured in the Mamablip Recipe IndexPizza da Pasqua is a traditional family favorite of Umbrian and Marchigiane families, and for good reason.  A savory yeast bread made with flour, eggs, Pecorino and Parmesan cheeses, this savory delicacy is often served for breakfast on Easter Morning.  It would work any time of the day however - taste it and see for yourself.

What’s a Lazio-based favorite?  Look no further than the local Sfrizzoli, a thin focaccia-style bread with pork cracklings worked right into the dough, lending it a particularly rich, salty flavor that lingers pleasantly on the palate.
 

 

BASILICATA, CAMPANIA, CALABRIA, PUGLIA AND SICILY BRING UP THE REAR BUT ALSO SOME OF THE BEST BREAD-BASED TREATS

Much to choose from in this southern Italian land of bread-based gourmet goodies.  Basilicata proudly presents Ruccul, a white pizza dressed with luscious garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, local oregano and hot chili pepper oil.   Not to mention the famous, award-winning Matera bread, the indisputable symbol of Basilicata’s city of Matera.  Made from custom blends of semola and grains, including the fabled Senatore Cappelli grain also used in the production of Podere Forte’s artisanal pasta lines, Matera bread is recognizable from miles away, and its taste can bring you miles closer to heaven!

Heading to Naples and the Campania area, that we’ll introduce the world of Pizza to you is almost a foregone conclusion.  We’d be remiss in overlooking the elegance of a classic Pizza Margherita with its fetching color combination recalling the Italian flag, or the captivating essence of a Pizza Napoli as the saltiness of anchovies is boosted by the acidity of cured capersBoth pizzas are born in Naples, the undisputed motherland of Italian pizza.  Let’s not overlook the Calzone however, another worthy contender for Street Food Champion par excellence.

Feel like you need to try your hand now at making a pizza at home?  Check out some Pizza ideas here and learn to perfect your pizzaiuolo skills today!

Made with leavened pizza dough, the Calzone is traditionally stuffed in Neapolitan style, with a filling of Ricotta and salami.  Another popular pairing is Prosciutto Cotto, or boiled ham, paired with local Fior di Latte mozzarella cheese, a particularly soft buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese known for its pure flavor and freshness.  Did you know calzones have multiple cooking methods?  Try it baked in the oven for that true Pizza-like flavor you might already know, or go down the more wanton road, and try a fried Calzone - your taste buds will thank you even while your brain might be cursing your street-wise culinary decisions!

Puglia is never one to step back from a gourmet challenge, and provides a specialty to taste that will cheer up any tummy with hunger urges.  Made in a similar fashion to our favorite Calzones, check out the Apulia version with a richer filling of onions, black olives, capers, tomatoes, fresh Pecorino cheese, anchovies, and parsley.

Apulia’s
treats also include Panzerotti, quite similar to the fried Calzone from Naples, and often served as a Rosticceria treat, one of the incredible dishes coming out from the classic Italian Cucina Povera as a way to lengthen the staying power of bread dough and seasonal vegetables like eggplant (they were originally included in the Panzerotti filling along with diced buffalo-milk mozzarella).  Need more?  Puglia also has its own selection of delicious, aromatic focaccia specialties to taste out for yourself to find your favorite combinations.

Calabria’s finest is also one of the simplest preparation processes to create.  The Pitta, or round focaccia, is a low, soft bread intended to be enjoyed while hot.  From the Latin Picta, or painted, this bread has since developed into a great companion for local sardines, Capocollo smoked meat, eggplants and peppers, or the eye-watering ‘nduja, a pepper-laden cured salami-like meat that enjoys a maniacal following of ‘nduja lovers across Italy.

Last but not least, we find Sicily.  What tantalizing treats await us here?  Sicilian Sfincione (in local dialect, sfinciuni or spinciuni), peculiar focaccia (flatbread) seasoned with grated cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon juice.  Resting gently on top of this power trio, we find fresh tomato sauce, onions, anchovies, and local Caciocavallo cheese - quite a spread.


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