Bread is said to be one of the most important, though often overlooked, components of a good, Italian meal. In this article, we take you through some of the DOs & DON’Ts of bread-making, while giving you some helpful hints that will guide you in the kitchen.
The word “companion” has a particularly touching origin—it derives from the Latin “cum panis”—which means, basically, someone with whom you share bread. Most languages and cultures are filled with expressions, proverbs, allegories and legends about bread—and sharing it. Bread is one of the most universal, ancient, and life-sustaining foods on earth with deeply human associations. Many of us have lasting childhood memories of the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked bread; it warms the body and soul like nothing else in this world. Making bread is certainly an art, but if, just once, you dare to do it yourself, in your own kitchen with your own hands, you’ll quickly realize we really are all artists at heart. It’s an amazing experience that we recommend to everyone.
In Italy, pane (bread) has a sacred aura—it’s still considered a sin to throw bread away here. Yet, for a country world-renowned for its extraordinary cuisine, it may come as a surprise that most Italians still prefer pane bianco (white bread). Some say the neutral flavor of white bread is the best complement for Italian salumi and cheeses, or even for scarpetta; others contend that there’s a cultural bias against pane nero (dark bread) because of ancient associations with war and hardship. But nutritionists everywhere agree on the overwhelming benefits of whole grain breads, and the younger generation Italians are slowly coming around.
Do it yourself
Contrary to what many of us think, it’s not difficult to make your own bread—even on your very first try, without the help of any special appliances, you will probably attain delicious results. In fact, if this is your first try, I recommend the slow, old-fashioned method of kneading the dough by hand. Just relax and get into the soothing rhythm of it: the dough must be hand-kneaded for quite a while to obtain the best results. But, if you do have a dough-kneading electrical appliance or even a large food processor, you can spare yourself quite a bit of time and labor—though the mess is half the fun of making bread!
Here are some simple suggestions for making delicious homemade bread:
Basic method for hand-kneaded salted Tuscan bread:
A delightful variation of this basic Tuscan bread is made by simply adding good-quality olives—3/4 pound or so, depending on your taste. Pit the olives (by flattening them with the side of a large knife), roughly chop them and incorporate them into the dough at the end—that is, after the dough has risen. We used Calamatas; view the recipe here.
*For another homemade bread recipe, check out our Roasted Tomato Garlic Bread.
Some fun, simpler bread recipes:
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