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Italian breads

Best known for pasta-based dishes, there is a category of Italian food that should never be overlooked by those seeking great taste: Italian breads. Bread is an ancient food and nowhere has that fact been more evident than in this sun-drenched land. Come explore some of the many options...

Focaccia is perhaps the best known Italian bread, and for good reason. For those who love a tangy, spicy bread, there is nothing to compare. Seasoned with olive oil and herbs like basil and oregano, it is simply delicious.

Focaccia is prepared in a way much like its cousin, the ubiquitous pizza. But this flat bread takes on whole new dimensions. It's rolled out and pressed by hand, then baked in a stone oven. Slicing the top during baking is common, since this removes bubbles and allows for the addition of spices and oil during the process, which helps preserve interior moisture.

From Romagna comes a delightful flat bread called Piadina truly deserving of the name. Almost like an Arab pan bread or a Mexican tortilla, it is dry but delicious. Lard (such as stutto), hot water, and unbleached flour are mixed and flattened with a rolling pin. Then the dough is fried in a skillet until ready to eat, about 3-4 minutes.

Ciabatta is a delightfully different creature altogether. More like a traditional loaf, with lots of holes inside, it is the perfect tool for sopping up olive oil or eating plain. It is made all over Italy and regional styles vary somewhat. In Tuscany, the crust is crunchy as befits those hardy, sun-drenched folks. When made from biga, as it is near Lake Cuomo, the interior is fluffy and soft.

Breadsticks, of course, are a 'specialty of the house' no matter what house you are fortunate enough to visit in Italy. There are a thousand different recipes, of course, as every region and indeed every chef has a favorite style. The easiest way is to start with bread stick dough and brush on a bit of egg, then bake at 375°F/190°C for about 15 minutes. Then sprinkle on some mozzarella.

For those looking for bite-sized bread options, there is always the croissant-style Cornetti. The dough is flattened, cut into triangles, then brushed with egg (and maybe butter) and rolled. A bit of sugar often turns a plain bread into a dessert-like treat. It's baked at 350°F/175°C for about 20 minutes, then consumed with delight.

Of course, for an actual dessert, there are always Panini Dolci alla Cannella, a type of cinnamon rolls. A bit of potato flakes are often added to give them a bit more airy substance. Almonds make for a delightful addition, and naturally the whole assembly is sprinkled with cinnamon and smothered in sugar near the end of the baking cycle.

Whatever suits your fancy there is an Italian bread that will tickle your taste buds and fill your belly.