You may have participated in a ritual of Italian cuisine without even being aware of it. Your tagliatelle with a ragu of bolognese was so good that you wanted to continue after the pasta was done. So you took a piece of bread and dipped it in the remaining sauce to clean up your plate. In Italian culture this ritual is important enough to merit its own name - fare la scarpetta or ‘making the little shoe’. This just goes to show how essential bread is to Italian food culture.
Bread is a cornerstone of the Italian dining experience. The types of types of Italian bread available across Italy are as diverse as its remarkable cities — from the well known ciabatta and focaccia, to dessert breads such as Panettone, to obscure offerings such as taralli, a circular bread snack.
The word for bakery in Italian is forno. Let’s imagine a trip to the forno and discover a few types of Italian bread you may taste there.
Breads in the Bakery
For breakfast you might find yourself in a cafe or bakery snacking on a cornetto. Similar in appearance to a French croissant but sweeter, a cornetto is often filled with jam or cream.
If you’re strolling around Rome in search of lunch, you might pick up a rosette, a hollow roll shaped like a rose the locals like to use for sandwiches.
Perhaps it’s time for a late afternoon snack? Taralli - a circular Italian bread with a similar consistency to pretzels will take the edge right off your hunger.
If you’re visiting for the Christmas or New Year’s holidays you might eat some panettone - a hearty dessert bread containing candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins. It has also been known to show up on the banquet table for other special occasions.
Now let’s discuss the two most famous Italian breads you’ve come to know and love due to their wide availability outside of Italy - focaccia and ciabatta.
For the home of focaccia we head to the northwest of Italy and the intense blues of the Ligurian Sea. Liguria has numerous small villages, each with their own variant of focaccia, contributing to the wide varieties eaten today. Focaccia is usually characterized by a crispy bottom crust and a soft spongy top layer. It remains an incredibly versatile bread, one Italians have adapted into both sweet and savoury variations.
The most famous of these is the well-known focaccia alla genovese, topped with olive oil and salt. For those with a sweet tooth, you can also find focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia) in Italy’s Northwest, a basic focaccia base topped with sugar or honey and fresh figs.
For a more unusual variant, the town of Recco makes focaccia col formaggio, which consists of a layer of stracchino, a local soft cheese, sealed in between two thin sheets of pastry and baked.
Ciabatta (slipper) is actually a very modern bread, created in the early 1980s in Verona as a response to the popularity of sandwiches made with imported French baguettes. You may have had a panini, a toasted sandwich, made with small loaves of ciabatta. Keep in mind panini is largely used in this way outside of Italy. In Italy a panini (plural) or panino (singular) can refer to any sandwich, regardless of bread type. So although your sandwich will likely be delicious, it might not be what you’re used to at home.
There you have it, consider yourself well-prepped to explore some of the famous breads of Italy. Buon appetito!