Tuscan bread, baked in a woodfired oven, is more than a staple. It’s an institution; part of the history of the land and an important ingredient of many Tuscan dishes.
What’s so special about Tuscan bread?
NO SALT – For many Tuscans, eating salted bread is almost an insult to the food that accompanies it. The Florentine poet Dante Alighieri himself mentioned the ‘homely’ unsalted bread in the “Divine Comedy” speaking of the pain of being estranged from his own city. Amongst his many woes, was the fact that he had to put up with the taste of salt in foreign bread (“come sa di salo lo pane altrui”, Paradiso XVII, 58-59).
THICK AND HARD OUTSIDE, SOFT AND SPRINGY INSIDE – The thick and crunchy ‘corteccia’ is perfect in soups and recipes when it can be soaked and made softer. Thanks to its consistency, Tuscan bread can last for many days, and when it’s stale it makes a perfect ingredient for many recipes. Tuscan cuisine just wouldn’t be the same without it.
Dishes with ‘pane toscano’
In vegetable soups like pappa al pomodoro, ribollita (Tuscan kale soup), acquacotta, stale bread is used to give substance to the dish. In the traditional fish soup cacciucco, the bread is toasted and rubbed with garlic to enhance the flavours.
There’s one recipe that has bread as the main ingredient. The lovely Summer “panzanella” is basically the Tuscan countryside on a plate. The stale bread is left to soak in water, then squeezed out and mixed with tomatoes, red onion and basil, before being dressed with copious amounts of white vinegar and olive oil.
It’s also perfect for crostini (the crostini with chicken liver pate’ can be soaked in hot broth or milk on one side) or it can be toasted, rubbed with garlic and showered with olive oil (bruschetta).
SANDWICHES – Tuscan bread is delicious with the region’s cured meat. The softness of this porous bread makes it the perfect match for savoury cold cuts. Don’t go home without trying this.
A LONG HISTORY – In Tuscany, even the poorest country farms had a wood oven for baking bread. That’s because bread was central to daily cooking, and the fact that it could last for days made it even more important.
What to buy from a bakery
There’s more to the baking scene than bread. Enter a forno (bakery) and you’ll see some heavenly treats coming out of the ovens
SCHIACCIATA is a pretty hard while flatbread. It’s very salty and oily. Perfect on its own or filled with cured meat. (The name changes depending on the area, schiacciata is the term used in Florence).
COCCOLI A Florentine speciality, absolutely delicious (but not light!) deep fried dollops of bread dough. A must, on their own (served in paper bags) or at a table with ham and stracchino soft cheese (usually as a starter).
CECINA Unleavened pancakes made with chickpea flour. A delicious snack usually found in Pisa, Lucca, Livorno and the coastal areas.