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
Every cuisine that bakes bread has developed some variation on the sandwich, and Italian cuisine is no exception. However, only the Italian panini has become such a hit that it now rivals classics like spaghetti and meatballs in popularity on restaurant menus. What makes the panini so special?
Pressed to Perfection
Pressing a sandwich concentrates its flavors. Cheese melds with meats and vegetables. Herbs release their flavor into the surrounding sandwich fillings. Bread becomes toasty and crisp. It’s almost as magical a transformation as turning plain carbon into a sparkling diamond through pressure, albeit with much less force. A compact panini is also easier to eat than a thick sandwich, making it a great choice for a quick and hearty lunch. You want to eat your sandwich, not wear it, and a panini’s the perfect portable meal.
The secret to a great panini lies in the pressing; the chef must press firmly enough to blend flavors, but not so firmly that juices leave tender fillings like homemade sausage or roasted chicken. More delicate ingredients like eggplant, broccoli rabe and portobello mushrooms take a lighter hand with the press than stacks of sliced ham and provolone cheese. Knowing how far to go with the panini press is as much an art as a science, but a great panini is worth that attention to detail.
Some Like It Hot
Heat is another vital element to making the perfect panini. Without it, you’d just have a flat sandwich. It’s heat that toasts the bread, adding another layer of flavor to the rich assortment of tastes that comprise a well-made panini. That heat melts cheese, releases the volatile flavors in herbs and adds savor to meats. Hot food feels more satisfying, yet a panini still feels light enough to enjoy for lunch.
While its outer surfaces turn crisp in the heated press, the inner surfaces of the bread become infused with flavors from the meats or vegetables in the sandwich. Heat keeps the bread from softening under pressure, creating a crunchy crust around the sandwich that makes it easier to eat while adding flavor. Thick slices of Italian bread do more than hold a panini together; they’re an important element in the sandwich’s taste too. Toasting in the panini press brings out the full flavor of a robust Italian loaf.
Fillings and Flavors
Like any sandwich, the panini is incredibly versatile. Fill it with saucy meatballs, homemade sausage or a juicy chicken cutlet, and it becomes substantial enough for a hearty dinner. When it’s stuffed with roasted vegetables or grilled shrimp, it’s a satisfying lunch. Confirmed meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans may not share many favorite dishes, but they can all agree on one thing: a panini is always welcome. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in a panini.
Come to Carlino’s for lunch or dinner and tell us how you’d like your panini today. We’ll make it to order. After one bite, you’ll know what’s so special about a great panini.
Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’sTweet read more