How to Make Panigacci and Focaccette

Focaccette: Enjoy!

Focaccette: Enjoy!

The Lunigiana, the area including the Val di Luni, which extends inland along the border between Tuscany and Liguria, and the mountains inland of Massa and Carrara, is known for hearth cooking: People cook testaroli, a local equivalent of (some say progenitor to) pasta in testi, which are large deep cast iron skillets set over the coals. They also cook their bread over the coals, though they don’t use testi, but rather testine, which are flat, unglazed terracotta saucers about 7 inches (18 cm) across; they heat them in the coals and stack them, with a disk of dough between each pair of testine. The bread that  emerges is flat and firm, and is called a panigaccio.

Good, but if you return a freshly cooked panigaccio to the coals it will puff up beautifully, becoming a focaccetta. The perfect bread for a cookout!

And what are the origins of panigacci and focaccette? Archaic, I expect; they are breads that either predate the development of ovens in the area or were developed by people who couldn’t stay in a given place long enough to make building an oven practical. And because they are good, they have survived to the present in the isolated wilds of the Lunigiana. Locals simply say they have always been.

I took these at Pierpaolo Lorieri’s Azienda Scurtarola, in the course of a lunch following a tasting of his wines.

Making Focaccette: Mix the Flours

Making Focaccette: Mix the Flours

Focaccetta dough is quite simple, and very quick to make. If you want to make, say, about 20 focaccette, begin with about 4 pounds (2 k) unbleached all purpose flour and mix into it 20% by weight finely ground cornmeal — 0.8 pounds, or 400 g. Also add a pinch of salt.

Making Focaccette: Knead the Dough

Making Focaccette: Knead the Dough

Add sufficient water to make a fairly soft dough, the consistency of soft pizza dough. Divide the dough into pieces about the size of a small apple — 2/3 cup — and put them on a well-floured cloth.

Making Focaccette: Heat the Testine

Making Focaccette: Heat the Testine

In the meantime, heat the testine. In Lunigiana one can buy testine in places that sell cooking supplies. Elsewhere, I would visit a garden supply shop and purchase 20-25 of the round terracotta saucers — what are called sottovasi in Italian — that one puts under flowerpots to catch drips. They should be 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) in diameter.

Set a bale of kindling over your barbecue fire, and lay the testine on the kindling; as the kindling burns they will heat right up. The kindling here is a bale of vineyard prunings, but any kindling will work.

Making Focaccette: The Testine are Hot

Making Focaccette: The Testine are Hot

It will take the kindling about 10 minutes to burn down, and at this point the testine will be hot.

The large skillets with lids in the foreground are testi, used in this case to keep a roast warm, rather than cook testaroli.

Making Focaccette: Lay Out the Testine

Making Focaccette: Lay Out the Testine

Remove the testine from the coals to a rack — since both their tops and their bottoms will come in contact with the food, you don’t want to put them in the dirt, and because of their heat you will want long tongs, and heat-resistant gloves.

Fresh from the fire the testine will be quite hot, likely too hot. To test for temperature, sprinkle a little flour over them. When the flour browns, but doesn’t blacken, they are at the right temperature.

Making Focaccette: Stack the Testine, with Dough Between Each Pair

Making Focaccette: Stack the Testine, with Dough Between Each Pair

Flatten out the first ball of dough and lay it on a Testina, covering it immediately with another testina, whose heat will help cook the top of the focaccetta below, while cooking the bottom of the next disk of dough. Continue alternating disks of dough and testine until you have used all of both.

One thing: A stack of testine is both hot and unstable. If you’re making focaccette once you may be able to jury rig a support by driving a couple of rods into the ground, but if you find yourself making focaccette often (and you well may) you may want to make a stand of the sort Pierpaolo has here.

Making Focaccette: A Stack, with a Cooked Panigaccio

Making Focaccette: A Stack, with a Cooked Panigaccio

It will take the focaccette about 5 minutes to cook. To test for doneness, simply remove the top testina and look at the — well, at this point it’s flat, and is what is called a panigaccio. A tasty archaic bread, but they’re much better when they’re puffed up.

Making Focaccette: Put the Panigacci to Puff in the Coals

Making Focaccette: Put the Panigacci to Puff in the Coals

Panigacci are made without yeast, so whatever rising there is comes from steam, and to obtain it you return your freshly cooked panigaccio to the coals. Simply lay it flat in the embers, and in a minute or so the moisture still in the dough will vaporize, puffing the panigaccio up and transforming it into a focaccetta. Depending upon how fast it puffs, you may or may not want to flip it.

When it has puffed up, put it in the basket; unless there are several of you working with tongs, you will likely want to puff three or four focaccette at a time.

Making Focaccette: A Puffed Up Focaccetta!

Making Focaccette: A Puffed Up Focaccetta!

Done! And ready for the basket. What to do with them? They split easily, and in this respect resemble pita bread. If you’re serving something that can be slipped or spooned into a bread pocket, for example cold cuts, cheese, grilled vegetables, pulled pork, roasted lamb, or even Greek Gyro, by all means do so. If not, enjoy your focaccette as you would any other bread.

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Categories: Illustrated Recipes And More, Pizza, Calzoni, and Similar, Tuscan Cakes, Biscotti and Sweets

Author:Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Italy boasts an astonishing number of varietals, denominations, and wines, and tremendous changes are sweeping the land. New wines are being created, new DOCs are being introduced, and the existing denominations are overhauling their regulations both to reflect the practices adopted by their member wineries and to favor improvements in quality. Even the most staid and stolid region can flower seemingly overnight, emerging with exciting new wines and wineries that require rewriting the enological maps and rethinking one's positions. And, of course, recipes too, because cuisine and wine are closely intertwined and it's difficult to imagine one without the other.

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