1. A Short Primer on Tuscan
2. Recipes: Fettunta
A Short Primer on Tuscan Bread
While the advent of the European Union brought
many advantages to citizens of its member countries,
there are those who fear that strict standards for
uniformity in foods, and the ease of importation
among member countries, will destroy a part of Europe's
culinary legacy. In Italy, in order to protect our
traditional foods and wines, we seek one of two
special honors for our products; the DOP, a protected
Designation of Origin, and the IGP, which is the
indication of a particular geographic provenance.
To date, no Italian breads have been awarded a DOP,
and only the distinctive bread of the village of
Genzano in Lazio has obtained an IGP. The Toscana
Cereali , an organization of Tuscan grain producers,
is hoping to see that change.
Because our bread is central to our culture and
its unique characteristics are essential to our
cuisine, we are seriously threatened by the high
yield wheat being imported from France and Germany,
and by the industrialized yeast used in the mass
production of bread. Our bread isn't made that way.
We depend on a mix of distinct grains, Bolero
, Pandas , Col Fiorito and
Mec , all cultivated in the Val di Chiana
and around Florence, to give our bread its fragrance,
almost like toasted hazelnuts, and its delicate
taste. The agriculturists seeking the DOP for our
bread are actually waging a battle for biodiversity.
While these grains may not yield as much as some
of the high-yield, low quality imports, they produce
the flavor and tenderness of the bread that we love.
Without them, it would not exist. The DOP would
also guarantee a continuation of our agricultural
tradition, because all the ingredients would have
to be harvested, milled, and mixed right here in
Tuscany in order to live up to the standard of the
But the taste, you wonder: why is our bread made
without salt? One popular theory has it that in
the 12th Century, when the Pisans were a Maritime
empire, with control over trade coming from the
sea, they decided to wield their power over rival
Florence. In order to raise revenues, the Pisan
authorities decided to raise the cost of salt to
the inland cities that they supplied with goods
from across the water. Salt was among the products
that they imported inland, and it was easy to hike
the prices. When the price of salt rose, the Florentines
objected by baking their bread without it. Just
one of the theories? Yes, and there are many.
Despite the many theories as to why the price of
salt rose to exorbitant levels in the 12th Century,
the simplest economic explanation for the bread
of Tuscany is that no matter why the price of salt
was high, thrifty Tuscan bakers decided to do without.
They began to bake saltless bread centuries ago,
and the tradition firmly persists.
Historians of gastronomy offer yet another theory
for the saltless bread. They say that because the
people of Tuscany have always favored pungent and
salty meats, spicy salamis, rich olive oils, complex
Pecorino cheese, and pungent liver paste on toast,
a saltless product was naturally called for. What
could be a better foil for intense, complex flavors
than our neutral (some say bland) tasting bread?
Recipes Using Tuscan Bread
In the past, bread was usually made just once a
week, and as the week wore on, the bread became
tough and stale. What happens to bread that is too
dry to enjoy? Thrifty Tuscan cooks developed a series
of uses for the leftover bread; our huge traditional
Tuscan loaves provided the inspiration for a variety
of dishes that rely upon it. Ribollita and Pappa
con il Pomodoro are the winter and summer
versions of soups made with stale bread. We have
shared a Ribollita recipe in the past, and the following
dishes are my favorites among the traditional and
uniquely Tuscan treatments for leftover bread.
I first tasted Fettunta at an old inn in the countryside
near Firenze. I must tell you that I loved it at
first bite, and I've been working to duplicate the
taste of that delicious treat ever since. With some
research and experimentation, I think I have come
up with something you will enjoy.
Fettunta is particularly easy to prepare, and goes
well with a variety of antipasti. It may remind
you of bruschetta and in fact, they are quite similar.
What is known as bruschetta in other parts of Italy
becomes Fettunta in Firenze.
What does Fettunta mean in English? A fairly literal
translation would be oily slice! The friend who
introduced me to the dish called it greasy bread.
In any case, a liberal baptism with our good extra
virgin olive oil gives Fettunta its unique and delicious
taste. To prepare the Fettunta you will need:
- 1 loaf of Tuscan saltless bread, or a good,
coarse and crusty Italian country style loaf
- 2 large cloves of garlic, sliced in half across
the widest part
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Tuscany
Fettunta is best made with bread that is not too
fresh. You want some body to stand up to the rather
heavy handed treatment. One loaf of bread will make
several servings; I sometimes make just two or four
Cut the bread into slices about 1/2 inch thick,
and lightly toast them over an open flame. I have
used the outdoor grill, and in Italy you can buy
a tostapane , a devise that allows you
to toast bread over the flame of your gas range.
Rub the hot toasted bread with the cut sides of
garlic, and using a brush, liberally apply the extra
virgin olive oil. Depending on what you will serve
the Fettunta with, you can sprinkle it lightly with
sea salt and/or freshly ground pepper. Serve with
cured meats, chicken liver spread, tomato salad,
or Tuscan white beans. Delicious!
Panzanella is a wonderful summer salad made with
leftover Tuscan bread. It relies upon the freshest
summer produce that provides a contrast in texture
and flavor with the bread. I have heard it said
that the green, white and red colors of the salad
mimic the Italian flag, but I don't think the flag
was as much inspiration for this salad, that has
been around for centuries, as was the large loaf
of leftover bread sitting in the madia, or bread
cabinet, where rural women used to knead the dough
and then store their great oval loaves.
Our Tuscan bread has no preservatives; if you do
not have access to bread made in the traditional
Tuscan way, it is important to chose a loaf without
preservatives for Panzanella. Bread that won't dry
out and become stale will not provide the right
texture for this dish. The bread must be dry in
order to crumble after soaking, rather than form
a soggy ball.
There are a great many variations in recipes for
Panzanella, but here is one that works well for
me. It is especially right for this time a year,
when we have an abundance of sweet, ripe tomatoes
and fresh basil. You will need:
- 1 pound loaf of Italian country style bread,
sliced thick and left to dry
- 1 small handful of fresh basil leaves, julienne
- 1 small to medium red onion, sliced thin
- 4 large tomatoes, very ripe, cut into cubes
- 1 Tablespoon of red wine vinegar; more or less
- 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil; more or
less as needed
- sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Dip the slices of bread into cold water, getting
them wet through, but not leaving them to soak.
Gently squeeze any excess water from the bread,
and then tear the bread into small, coarse, crumbled
pieces. Place the crumbled bread in a bowl with
the tomatoes, onion, and basil, and dress with the
oil and vinegar, and salt and pepper.
As I said, there are an infinite number of variations
on Panzanella, and each cook knows what her family
likes best. In our house, where spicy foods are
a favorite, I often add finely chopped garlic and
a little crushed red pepper flakes to my Panzanella.
Some cooks like diced cucumber and while researching
this, I found a recipe that included tuna fish and
hard cooked eggs! You can experiment endlessly with
Panzanella, and I'm sure that you will develop a
version that will appear on your table at the end
of every summer, when tomatoes and basil are abundant.
This recipe will make several servings.