Explore the baking and culture of Europe: Italy
Italy has many different kinds of bread, cakes and baked goods, which reflect the regional and cultural diversity of the 20 regions. Typical of Emilia Romagna is the piadina, a type of unleavened flatbread which goes back to ancient times and is cooked on a griddle or testo. Some Sicilian cakes go back to the period of Arab domination in Sicily, like cassata, it’s a cake not an ice-cream! Cassata is prepared with exotic ingredients such as saffron, dried fruit and candied fruit. At Christmas time, the panettone of Milan is now found in almost all Italian homes. Lastly, let’s not forget pizza, which, originally prepared in the back streets of Naples, has now spread to the entire world!
L'Italia offre una vasta varietà di pane, dolci e pietanze cotte al forno, riflettendo la diversità culturale e culinaria delle venti regioni. Tipica dell'Emilia Romagna è la piadina, un tipo di pane azzimo che risale ai tempi antichi e viene cotto su una piastra o testo. Alcuni dolci siciliani risalgono alla dominazione araba in Sicilia, per esempio la cassata - non è un gelato ma un dolce! La cassata è preparato con ingredienti esotici come zafferano, frutta secca e canditi. A Natale, poi, il panettone milanese è ormai presente in quasi tutte le case italiane. Infine non dimentichiamo la pizza che, originariamente preparata nelle viuzze di Napoli, è ora diffusa in tutto il mondo!
At the bakery
-Buongiorno. Mi dà un filone da mezzo chilo, per favore?
-Un filone da mezzo chilo, ecco.
-Good day, signora.
-Good day. Can you give me a half-kilo loaf please?
-A half kilo loaf, here you are.
-Thank you. -You’re welcome. Bye!
Quando vado dal panettiere, compro sempre un pezzo di focaccia. Quando ero piccolo, mia madre mi dava i soldi per andare a prendere il pane in paese. Se avanzavano i soldi, prendevo anche la focaccia calda, quella con sale e olio - e la mangiavo per strada tornando a casa!
When I go to the baker’s, I always buy a piece of focaccia. When I was a little boy, my mother used to give me money to go and get the bread in the village. If there was any money left, I used to get some warm focaccia as well, the kind with salt and oil on it - and I would eat it on the way home!
Rosetta is the typical shaped bread roll found all over Italy but particularly popular in the north. In Lombardy, northern Italy, it's also known as michetta. Almost hollow inside, its top is usually marked into four wedge-shaped segments with a round segment in the centre. It doesn't keep well, so used to be baked at least three times a day. Because lifestyles have changed, and people no longer go to the baker’s before every meal, rosetta is now losing popularity to other breads such as ciabatta or filone.
Image: © Franca Pellegrini
Focaccia is a popular Italian bread made with a dough similar to pizza dough and baked in large rectangular trays. In Liguria, where it originated, it has no adornments other than sea salt, fresh rosemary and of course the best virgin olive oil. It is now found in bakers and cafés throughout Italy, sometimes with additional toppings, and often used in place of bread to make a tasty sandwich.
Piadina is a very thin flatbread popular in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy (Rimini, Riccione). It provided the poor with a cheap alternative to bread. Piadina is made with unleavened dough, rolled out thinly and fried quickly on a hot ‘testo’, a round metal plate. Filled with local cheese or thin slices of meat and salad, piadine are often sold on street stalls as well as in cafés throughout the region.
Cornetto is the Italian version of the French croissant. In fact, in the north of Italy, it’s sometimes called ‘croissant’. Straighter in shape than the French crescent-shaped croissant, the cornetto can be plain vuoto, filled with jam marmellata, crème patisserie crema or even chocolate cioccolato. It’s eaten with a coffee, whether espresso or cappuccino, at breakfast or a mid-morning coffee break.
No Italian Christmas is complete without a panettone, literally a ‘large loaf’, from the local baker or mass-produced. The traditional version of this cake, originally from Milan, is a deliciously light dome-shaped confection of bread dough, enriched with eggs, butter and sugar, and dotted with raisins and candied peel. Nowadays you can also buy a panettone covered in chocolate or filled with Strega liqueur. Panettone is normally served with a glass of prosecco to round off a Christmas or New Year’s Eve meal.
Panforte is a Christmas speciality from Siena, in Tuscany. A dense cake only a few centimetres high, it is made largely of candied fruit, dried fruit and nuts, covered in icing sugar. It is very sweet and usually served in small portions with coffee or a dessert wine after a meal. Panforte dates back to the 13th century. Most people buy the commercially produced panforte but of course in Siena you can buy a handmade one at a pasticceria.
Colomba means dove in Italian and colomba di Pasqua is eaten all over Italy at Easter time. The texture is similar to panettone, but without the dried fruit. It's formed into a dove shape and sprinkled with sugar and almonds. Commercially produced colomba do not always look very much like doves, so some people prefer to buy a handcrafted colomba from the local pasticceria, cake shop or panetteria, bread shop.
La pastiera napoletana
Pastiera napoletana, as the name suggests, originates from Naples but goes back to the Pagan celebrations of springtime, with wheat from the earth, eggs to symbolise new birth, ricotta cheese, perfumed orange flower water, cinnamon and candied peel from the orient. The nuns of San Gregorio Armeno were famous for their pastiera but every Neapolitan family has their own recipe for this sweet exotically scented cake, traditionally made a few days before Easter to allow the flavours to merge.
Le sfogliatelle napoletane
Sfogliatelle literally means leaves or layers. This delicious speciality from Naples is a little pastry parcel filled with ricotta, semolina and candied fruit. Sfogliatelle are made in different shapes but the most common are sfogliatella riccia, crisp in texture and made with a flaky pastry and sfogliatella frolla, rounder and made with sweet shortcrust pastry. They are usually eaten with coffee or served as a treat at the end of a special meal. Sfogliatelle can be found in almost any pasticceria or in Naples.
Filone, from Italian ‘filo’ or ‘thread’ is the traditional long Italian loaf. Not as thin as the French baguette, it is probably the most popular bread in north and central Italy. In the south, the ciabatta loaf is probably more popular. Filone is sold by weight, normally mezzo chilo. Italians love to have different varieties of bread with their meals, and filone is more practical than individual rolls for a large family, and for mopping up a delicious sauce at the end of a main course. In Italy, bread is never eaten with the pasta course.
Image: © Franca Pellegrini