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Authentic Southern Italian Cuisine
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Carlino’s Italian Breads: More Than a Side Dish

September 1, 2012 Carlino's Restaurant no comments
“Italian breads are a versatile complement to sandwiches, salads and sauces”

The Italian outlook on cooking is a joyful one, and that extends to the wonderful assortment of breads that come from a uniquely Italian baking tradition. Carlino’s Italian breads play far more than a supporting role in a sandwich; they deserve a spotlight of their own. From crisp slices of bruschetta to rustic ciabatta to dimpled focaccia, Italian breads are a versatile complement to sandwiches, salads and sauces.

All bread is a form of alchemy; simple ingredients like wheat flour, water, salt and yeast combine to produce a light and airy loaf so vital to a good meal that it’s been called the staff of life. What makes Italian bread Italian is its texture. Unlike a crusty French loaf, Italian bread has a finer texture and a more tender exterior that makes it a good all-purpose sandwich bread. Toasted and topped with tangy tomatoes, it becomes bruschetta. When it’s formed into small, thin loaves and baked, the soft dough transforms into breadsticks. Soft Italian bread is also perfectly designed for enjoying that last bit of sauce after you’ve eaten your pasta. Italian bread gets dressed with an egg or olive oil wash before baking to keep the crust softer.

Many bakers also add a little olive oil to the dough to make the bread exceptionally tender and rich. Ciabatta is distinctly different from other Italian loaves. It has an open texture and a firm, almost chewy crust that makes it ideal for saucy sandwiches. The original panini loaf, ciabatta was created to hold up to the substantial layers of meat and cheese that grace an Italian sandwich. Unlike other Italian breads, it’s a fairly new creation. It’s as authentically Italian as the oldest Roman-style loaf, though. Italian bakers developed it as an answer to the French baguettes that invaded Rome’s sandwich shops in the 1980s. Its name means “slipper” and refers to the loaf’s low profile.

At the other end of the spectrum is focaccia, one of Italy’s oldest breads. This soft bread with an exquisitely fine grain was the likely precursor to the modern pizza. It’s descended from Roman panus focacius, a round, flat loaf baked on the stones of a hot hearth and topped with olive oil and herbs. The modern version bakes in an oven, but the shape of the dough and its dimpled appearance from the baker’s fingertips remain the same. Food historians believe that as focaccia’s toppings grew more intensely flavored and the bread grew thinner, it evolved into pizza.

Another traditional Italian bread, the panettone, has its roots in ancient Rome. The Romans served the bread only on festival days because preparing it took so much time. Lavishly studded with candied fruit and raisins, panettone is a dessert bread that often accompanies a cup of espresso at the end of a holiday meal.

Whether you’re enjoying a panini, eating a slice of pizza or mopping up the last of your sauce with a slice of soft Italian bread, you’re part of an Italian baking tradition that spans millennia. An Italian meal just wouldn’t be the same without hearty Italian bread.

Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s

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