Breads of Heaven
Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 9 Sep 2021
It is coming up for two years since we were last in Italy and our cravings for the flavours of La Bella Italia are getting stronger. Living in Italy as we normally do for much of each year we take for granted how easily available delicious food is at any time, from the local panificio to street-stalls, bars to pizzerias, gelaterias to pasticcerias. In an attempt to feed our hunger for a taste of Italy, we have shared recipes for three of our favourite street snacks but, given that we can't be there in person yet, we thought you may like to try baking them at home!
Focaccia is a type of flat bread which can be baked using simple olive oil or flavoured with both sweet and savoury toppings, which makes it an excellent snack for eating on the street, in bars or at home. Although often associated with Liguria, there are many different kinds to be found all over Italy. It is best enjoyed when still warm from the oven.
400 g strong white bread flour
100 g fine ground semolina flour
1 sachet dried yeast
½ tablespoon golden caster sugar
300 ml lukewarm water
Extra virgin olive oil
Extra flour for dusting
Put the flours and ½ tablespoon of sea salt into a large bowl, making a well in the centre.
Add the yeast and sugar to the water and mix it together with a fork. Leave this for a little while until it starts to foam and then slowly add it into the bowl with the flour, using the fork to mix it well.
When the ingredients come together after a few minutes, knead the dough well for around 5 minutes until it is smooth, springy and soft. Now it is time to prove the dough which is done in a large bowl, lightly oiled, with a tea towl to cover it and placed in a warm spot. You can dust a little extra flour over it too. After about 30 minutes the dough should have doubled in size.
Now preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/gas 7.
When the dough has sufficiently risen, pound it and place it on a baking tray, spreading it out to cover the whole tray. Push your fingers firmly into the dough to make lots of rough dips and dents. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil into the dips and sprinkle with some coarse sea salt. Let the dough prove for a further 20 minutes and then bake it for 20 minutes, until the bread looks golden on top but still is a little soft in the middle.
The extra toppings you can prepare could include cherry tomatoes, rosemary, pinenuts, thinly sliced onions or different cheeses such as taleggio which will melt well into the dough. The toppings of course need to be added before baking in the oven.
A Piadina is another deliciously tasty snack which hails from the area of Emilia-Romagna. Traditionally cooked on a testo which was a flat terracotta plate placed inside a wood-fired oven, Piadine today can be made in non-stick frying pans. They should be eaten straight from the pan and filled like a wrap with whatever you fancy for a satisfying treat - salami or ham, soft cheeses and we love them with wilted greens and stracchino which is a local creamy cow's milk cheese. Piadine make great street food, so if you see a stall you can place your order and watch it being made.
500g plain flour
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
Rub together the flour and the lard with your fingertips until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the salt, bicarbonate of soda and water and bring it all together into a consistent dough. Leave it to rest for around an hour wrapped in a cloth. After an hour or so, divide the dough into six equal pieces.
Roll out each piece into a thin disc (1-2 mm) about the size of a dinner plate and prick it all over using a fork. In a hot non-stick frying pan cook each disc individually, turning them over frequently so they cook evenly on both sides and develop dark brown spots. Eat them while they are still hot, with the filling of your choice.
Farinata is basically a pancake made from a very simple batter of chickpea flour, water and olive oil. It is another speciality of the Ligurian region and, as is often the case with Italian dishes, recipes differ from town to town. As with these other flat breads, Farinata is excellent street food and but here's how we like to do it at home:
2/3 cup of chickpea flour
4 tbls extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup mineral water
A sprig of rosemary
In a large bowl add the flour and water and gradually season with salt. Add the rosemary too. Leave the mixture to rest for at least 4 hours or even overnight.
Remove any foam residue from the surface, add the olive oil and remove the rosemary. Pour the mixture into a well-greased flat baking tray and bake in the oven at 200°C/400°F/gas 6 for around 25 minutes.
Sprinkle with pepper, slice up and enjoy! Once again it's really best while still warm straight from the oven!