& COOKING ARTICLE
thinking of the staple diet of Italy most of us would
assume pasta to be the most common dish. Though the
average Italians get through quite a lot, approximately
26kg each per year, they consume bread at a rate of
66kg per annum! Pasta only started to become generally
available in the late middle ages whereas bread has
been consumed around the Mediterranean since about 3500
Like much of the rest of Italian food, bread is produced
very differently in the various parts of the peninsular,
most of it being baked locally by small family businesses.
In the UK 77% of bread is mass-produced, in Italy only
10%. Tuscany and Umbria have a particular variety, loved
by the locals and pretty much disliked by everyone else,
its lack of salt making it relatively tasteless. Visitors
often ask, "Why is it that everything else here
tastes so great, and the bread seems like cardboard?"
The answer lies in its evolution, the result of a particular
history. It didn't always taste as it does now.
Bread : Flour
Flour can be made from three of the different parts
of the grain, the white bit in the middle, mostly
starch is sold as white flour, secondly the husk on
the outside, sold as bran, and if you put the two
together you get brown flour. Whole wheat includes
the third element, wheat germ, the equivalent of the
yoke in an egg. Original Tuscan bread would have included
this too, giving the bread a nutty taste. These days
only white flour is used.
Tuscan Bread : Milling
Milling, the process of grinding up the wheat, used
to be done just once a week. Whole wheat flour is
difficult to store in Italys hot climate, as
the oils released by milling go rancid. So the wheat
itself was stored whole and turned into flour when
needed, in village mills. However wheat kept for anytime
attracts creepy crawlies so the grains were washed
before processing. This encouraged them to start germinating,
turning some of the starch into sugar. The result
being a slightly sweet or malted bread.
Modern mills dont do this any more.
Tuscan Bread : Yeasts
Yeasts are the little microbes which turn sugars
into, amongst other things, carbon dioxide. This puts
the bubbles into beer and the holes into bread. These
days bread makers use a pure, fast working, refined
version. In the old days they just kept some of the
dough from the last batch with the yeasts still breeding
in it. Living alongside them in older the sour
dough version were acid producing bacteria,
giving the bread a tangy taste.
Tuscan Bread : Salt
Salt is an important ingredient for most breads but
was not used in Tuscany being too expensive. Made
so by a lack of any occurring naturally in the region
and the state monopoly which sold it with a heavy
tax on top.
(Historical note: Salt is sale
in Italian. Roman soldiers were paid in salt, this
is where the English language gets the word salary
and the phrase worth your salt)
Tuscan Bread : Baking
Baking could only be done once a week, there wasnt
enough wood to fire up the ovens more often, or the
spare time to do it. To make sure the bread didnt
go mouldy, Tuscans had to cook most of the moisture
out of it, they still do. So after a day it becomes
hard as a rock.
Tuscan Bread and Benito Mussolini
Benito Mussolini too left his culinary mark. Ever
the populist and rarely farsighted, he set a limit
on the price bread could be sold for. This was revised
by various governments but left in place up until
the 1990s. Bakers had little incentive to use
better ingredients if they couldnt sell their
products for more. Politicians, with an eye to votes,
kept the price low ensuring a very basic product.
All relatively interesting, you might say but why carry
on making it! Why not make something better? Tuscans
actually like it just the way it is, no doubt this is
partly due to familiarity, but its relatively bland
taste does go well with their highly salted and seasoned,
soups and sauces. Some of the tastiest Tuscan dishes,
such as Bruschetta, Panzanella and Ribolita, probably
inventions of necessity, only work well with Tuscan
TUSCAN BREAD RECIPE
ingredients have been put in weights for three reasons.
digital scales it is much easier, using less measuring
amounts can vary a great deal when using volumetric
measurements, depending on how much it has been allowed
will be seen, all the weights mentioned are the same
so you can use pounds, ounces or whatever with a similar
for Tuscan Bread
Fresh or dried yeast
1/2 liter (1/2 kg) of water
1 kg all purpose or strong flour
to make Tuscan Bread
half a small cube of fresh, or a packet of dried,
yeast into a bowl with the sugar and ½ kg of
till all is dissolved then add ½ kg of flour,
whisk again until it becomes a smooth paste.
to ferment and rise, this will take two or three hours
in a warm environment or overnight in the fridge.
add the remaining ½ kg of flour and kneed for
into a log shape about four times as long as it is
wide and place on a baking tray. (A little oil will
help it not to stick).
it to rise until it has doubled in volume, the time
will be the same as before.
at about 200°C/400°F for half an hour, then
take it off the tray and bake for a further 15 minutes
on the wired oven shelf.
out of the oven it must cool on a wire tray or across
a couple of chopsticks, anything to let it breathe.
100g boiled barlotti beans
2 eggs (optional)
Grated parmesan cheese
2 sticks of celery
Stale Tuscan bread
to make Rebolita
- Finely chop and sauté the
onion, carrots and celery.
- Add half of the beans and about half
a litre of broth then blend until creamy.
- Then add the rest of the beans, spinach
and more broth to make a soup like consistency, season
and boil for a few minutes.
- Line an oven dish with slices of
the stale bread and cover with the soup mix so the
level of the liquid is well above the level of the
- Whisk the eggs and add two tablespoons
of the grated parmesan then spread the mixture evenly
over the surface of the liquid.
- Finally re-heat in a medium oven
for 20 minutes.
- Serve with a little olive oil poured
over the hot dish at the last moment.
Tuscan bread article was provided by Jonathan Arthur who
with Relish cooking and villa holidays in the Tuscany
region of Italy. For
details of the cooking holidays <click
here> or visit www.italywithrelish.it
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org