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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.

Focacce and Calzoni: More Wonders from the Pizza Oven!

A Calzone

A Calzone

There’s more to Italian neighborhood pizzerie than just pizza: focacce and calzoni are important parts of the picture too. The focaccia is a pizza crust, rolled out and baked; toppings are added when it emerges and tend to be fairly simple. The calzone, or large sock, is a pizza crust rolled out and topped with all the ingredients of a normal pizza except tomato, then folded over to a half-moon shape; the tomato sauce is sprinkled over it and it then goes into the oven, to be lightly drizzled with olive oil when it emerges.

This, at least, is what happens in Italy. I’ve seen fried calzoni in New York, though I’ve never worked up the courage to try one. In the United States, and perhaps elsewhere, there are also things called stromboli, which are similar to a calzone, but with the cheese outside rather than the tomato (at least the one I tried).

To make a calzone or focaccia the first step is preparing the dough. You can use a prepared mix (some are quite good), but starting from scratch isn’t that difficult. For 2 12-inch crusts:

  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cups warm (105-115 F, or 42-45 C) water
  • 3 1/2 -3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • A healthy pinch of salt

Begin by dissolving the yeast in the water, in a large mixing bowl; let it stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with a mixer set to low speed, until the ingredients are blended. Now hand-knead the dough or mix it with a dough hook setting the speed to low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Coat the insides of another bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in it to coat it too, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in volume.

For the baking, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, fire it up. If you are instead using your kitchen oven, preheat it to 475 F (250 C); if you are using a baking stone it should heat for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise grease and dust two flat baking tins with corn meal. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then shape them into disks, stretching them out from the center on a floured surface. Do not roll them, because rolling toughens the dough.

If you’re using a baking stone and have a baker’s peel (a thin pizza-sized metal disk with a handle), lightly flour it, slide the focaccia or calzone onto it, and transfer it to the stone with a deft yank — the flour will keep the dough from sticking. If you don’t have a peel, use a flat cookie sheet instead, lightly flouring it, to transfer the food from the work surface to the stone.

If you’re using a metal baking pan you should bake your calzone or focaccia towards the bottom of the oven. In a recent post to Rec.Foods.Cooking Karen suggested baking on the bottom rack for about 4 minutes, or until the food is firm enough to slide off the pan, and then slide it from the pan straight onto the rack to finish cooking.

The focaccia will in any case be done when the crust is browned; this takes 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven and about 10 or more minutes in a conventional home oven. A calzone will take about 15 minutes to bake; don’t be surprised if it swells like a foodball; children in Italian pizzerie take perverse delight in puncturing each others’ calzoni to let the steam escape.

Focaccia toppings are generally quite simple. Perhaps the most common one is sliced fresh tomatoes, thinly sliced prosciutto (the raw variety, not cooked ham), and shredded arugola (rucola in Tuscany). The color combination is quite pretty, and the flavors meld very well. Other common toppings include straight prosciutto (not ham), just tomatoes, or tomatoes and thinly sliced mozzarella. Olive oil is served at the table so the diner can drizzle some to taste.

There’s a bit more variety to calzone fillings.

Basic Calzone:
2-3 ounces finely sliced cooked ham, shredded, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, and 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the shredded ham and cheese over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.
As a variation, you can add 1/2 cup thinly sliced mushrooms. Or, you can make a calzone Bismarck by cracking an egg into the calzone before you fold over the crust.

Calzone Farcito: Everything in the house.
Farcito means stuffed, which this calzone certainly is. It’s the equivalent of the Pizza Capricciosa, and every pizzaiolo has his version. This is based on the Pizzaria Giancarlo, outside Florence’s Porta San Frediano. 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1 finely sliced hot dog, 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 2 inches long), skinned and shredded, 8 thin slices salamino piccante (pepperoni in the anglo-saxon world) 2 ounces thinly sliced ham, shredded, 2 canned artichoke hearts, quartered, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.

Calzone ai Quattro Formaggi: A Cheesy Wonder!
1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1/3 cup (each) shredded pecorino, gorgonzola, groviera (Swiss Cheese), and fontina or asiago, one black olive, 1/4 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Sprinkle the ingredients except the tomato sauce over half the disk, fold it over to cover the topping, and crimp the edges. Spread the tomato sauce on top of it, and bake.

As is the case with pizza toppings, the sky is the limit when it comes to fillings. Feel free to experiment (for example, a few salted capers, rinsed, tossed into the basic calzone), though you should keep in mind that too many ingredients can interfere with each other.

Winding down, a variation on the theme that’s popular in the Sabina area during Carnival, Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta: A sheet of dough, covered with sausage and pancetta, rolled up, coiled, and baked: Who could ask for more?

To drink? A light zesty red wine, for example a Chianti d’annata, or a Valpolicella Classico, or something even zestier, for example Lambrusco, or beer.

Pizza, Anyone? Pizza history, dough, toppings and more.
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A Maxi Calzone

A calzone is a pizza folded over to close the topping on the inside, and since it resembles a large sock in shape that’s what it’s called — the word calzone means sock in Italian. Sometimes they contain tomato, though it’s not a requirement, and the combination of bitter greens and pancetta here is quite nice.

You’ll need:

  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) of pizza dough
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) of radicchio trevisano, shredded (one could also use spinach, beet greens, or even broccoli rabe here)
  • A shallot, shredded
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) scamorza affumicata, a firm smoked cow cheese that will melt some — a mildly smoked cheddar might work as a substitute, as might smoked jack cheese
  • 6 ounces (150 g) sliced pancetta — low sugar bacon will work as a substitute
  • Olive oil
  • Fine and coarse-grained salt

Heat the radicchio in a skillet with a little olive oil and the scallion until it softens and gives up much of its water; drain it, chop it, and salt it lightly. Shred the cheese, and sauté the pancetta, draining the slices on absorbent paper. Crumble most of it but set four pretty pieces aside.

Spread the dough out into a large elongate disk, 10 inches (22 cm) wide and half again as long. Spread the radicchio over half the disk, and sprinkle the cheese and crumbled pancetta over it. Fold the other half of the dough, crimping it down around the edges to make a half moon, and let the dough rise 20 minutes. Sprinkle it with kosher salt, and bake it, for 30 minutes at 450 F (225 C) or for about 5 in a pizza oven. Garnish it with the reserved slieces of pancetta and serve it at once.

Pizza Anyone? Pizza history, dough, toppings, and more
How to bake pizza in a wood-fired oven

Pesto Pizza, Pizza al Pesto

Once again, there is nothing that says one must put tomato sauce on a pizza. This is quite good, and will make 2 pizzas.

You’ll need:

  • About a pound (500 g) pizza dough
  • 1/2 pound (250 g) Provolone cheese, diced
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) commercially prepared pesto sauce
  • 2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped, seeded, and drained
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

Divide the dough in half. For each pizza:

Pull the disk and put it in a lightly oiled 11-inch (25 cm) pizza pan unless you are using a pizza stone or a wood fired oven. Let it rest for a half hour, and then bake it for 20 minutes in a 400 F (200 C) oven, or for about 3-5 in a pizza oven. Remove it, sprinkle the cheese over it, and bake it for another 5 minutes in a conventional oven, or another 2 in a pizza oven. Spread the pesto sauce over it, dot it with the fresh tomato, and serve at once.

Note: Feel free to use home made pesto sauce if you’d rather.

Pizza Anyone? Pizza history, dough, toppings, and more
How to bake pizza in a wood-fired oven

Pizza with Brie and Artichokes, Pizza Con Brie e Carciofi

Pizza really can be topped with just about anything, and though the vast majority of toppings do contain tomato, there’s nothing that requires it. Here the flavors meld very well, and this will be quite nice in the winter months. To make 2 pizzas you’ll need:

  • About a pound (500 g) of pizza dough, divided into 2 balls
  • 1/3 pound (150 g) brie, thinly sliced
  • 5 artichokes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • The juice of a lemon

Begin by filling a bowl with water and adding the lemon juice to it. Next, prepare the artichokes (see instructions if need be) and stems, dicing the inner part of the stems and cutting the artichokes into eighths, and putting everything into the acidulated water to keep it from darkening.

When you have finished trimming the artichokes, drain them and sauté them for 10 minutes in a skillet, with 1/4 cup of olive oil, a little water, and a pinch of salt.

For each pizza: if you’re using a pizza pan (11-inch, or 24 cm) oil it, and spread the dough in it. If you’re using a pizza stone or a wood fired oven simply pull the disk on your work surface. Let it rest for a half hour, and bake it in a 400 F (200 C) oven for 20 minutes, or in a pizza oven for 3-5. Remove the pizza from the oven, spread the artichokes over it, arrange the sliced cheese in a spoke pattern, and bake it for 5 minutes more in a conventional oven, or about 2 in a pizza oven.

Pizza Anyone? Pizza history, dough, toppings, and more
How to bake pizza in a wood-fired oven