Bread in Italy, along with pasta, is the pillar of nutrition in every region of the country, north to south. Italian bread has many shapes and many names. Different kinds of Italian bread serve different purposes. At an Italian restaurant, you get bread as soon as you sit down. This is a way to “keep you busy while you wait” for the main courses and also to calm your hunger with the most simple dish that you can have. Bread is always available on the table when you eat veggies or meat. Some connoisseurs even have it with pasta, but that’s rare. Bread in Italy is usually sliced, topped or filled with delicious ingredients, so that you can eat it as a street food or pack it for a picnic. All the Italian bread types are so delicious that you want to eat it as it is, as a snack or whenever you feel hungry. Let’s have a look at the most popular Italian bread types. In Italy, you can find lots of Italian bread types in the bakeries, which are called “fornaio,” “forno,” or “panetteria.” Every grocery store has a bakery section as well.
Pane casareccio | Pane toscano
This is the most common bread in Italy and comes in a loaf. It takes different names in different parts of Italy. Where I come from, Rome, we call it pane casareccio, which means “homey bread.” In other areas it is known as pane toscano, “Tuscan bread.” Italians usually get a half loaf or a whole loaf from the bakery. You can choose from salted, unsalted, whole wheat, durum wheat, cereal bread, and many more. The traditional Italian bread types are the salted and the unsalted Tuscan bread. The pane casareccio is perfect to be dipped in vegetable soups or sliced and topped with cheese and cuts. The main feature of this Italian bread is that the crust is hard and crunchy and the inside soft and compact. This is why it is also the perfect bread to make the Italian bruschetta! When an Italian thinks about bread, the pane casareccio is the first image that comes to mind.
Rosetta or michetta bread
In Rome, we call this bread rosetta because its shape resembles a flower. Locals in northern Italy call it michetta. We say that this is the workers’ bread because it’s partly hollow, so ideal to carry other ingredients like ham and cheese or even an omelet. In Rome, we also like it filled with ragu sauce. Rosetta with cut bologna is a typical food of Rome. If you visit Monti, one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Rome, you can stop by the “Zia Rosetta,” a café where you can try dozens of recipes starring this addictive Italian bread.
Panino all’ olio
The so-called “oil bread” is originally from northern Italy, where the harsh weather has always compromised the leavening of the bread and finally pushed the locals to invent a type of bread that defies this setback. This Italian bread is extremely soft and yummy, with a very thin, imperceptible crust. It’s usually cut in half (so soft you can easily open it with your hands) and filled with delicacies like baked ham and stracchino cheese. This is Italian kids’ favorite bread. It comes in several shapes, rounded or elongated, and it’s less than 20 cm long. If you visit the beautiful Padua or other cities in Veneto or Lombardy, you can have one or more panino all’olio and a drink at the aperitivo hour. Soft bread in Italy is also the main food served at parties and buffets. This bread is hard to resist; if you eat one, you’ll immediately need another.
Ciabatta bread is flatter than the pane toscano and more crunchy, its inner part less compact, with many little holes. The recipe for the ciabatta is relatively recent, as it was born from the intuition of a baker from Adria, a town not far from Venice, in 1982. The shape of this bread resembles a winter slipper, and that is the meaning of its name in Italian. Ciabatta is one of the most loved breads in Italy. It can be sliced and topped with sauces or veggies, ham and cheeses. Or it can be cut in half and filled like a sandwich.
Piadina is the king of Italian flatbreads. The piadina comes from the Emilia Romagna region and it’s consumed all over the country. At any Italian grocery shop, you’ll find several varieties of the piadina flatbread: whole wheat, spelt, water-and-flour-only piadina, big and small sized piadina. This bread has become the symbol of the easy but healthy home-prepared meal. So many Italian singles, students, and busy people will keep a pack of piadina available on their sideboard for the times they are too tired to cook. Piadina is also a tremendous street food. Traditionally, it comes filled with the stracchino cheese, prosciutto ham, and arugula. It is very much like a Mexican tortilla, but made with wheat flour. Vegans and vegetarians, before ordering their piadina in Italy, should ask the chef it the dough contains lard, as some recipes use it to make it more elastic. You might want to check the ingredients also when you get the packaged piadina. If you’d like to try and make piadina at home, watch this video-recipe… it’s not an easy task, by any means!
Regional bread in Italy
There are lots of regional breads in Italy. Most of them are so delicious that they have spread all over the country. If you ever visit Italy, you need to enter the bakeries of each town you pass by and ask them what the local bread is. There’s a good chance you will also find a couple of types of bread from other regions.
Pizza Bianca is a delicious food halfway between bread and pizza. It’s one of the most popular street foods in Rome. In Rome and Lazio, the pizza bianca is the food of those hungry moments that happen halfway through the morning or afternoon. This special bread gives you many sensations in only one bite: salty and a little bit oily on top, crunchy on the edges, soft and elastic in the middle. It is so delicious you would never stop eating it. And let’s not forget, it can easily be cut in two layers and filled like a sandwich, but it’s way more scrumptious. The pizza bianca is sold by weight, but you can have even a small portion of it. When you visit Rome, you will see people eating this food at any hour of the day, while they walk and when they have a break in front of one of the incredible monuments of Rome. You will find this type of bread both in bakeries and at the Pizza al Taglio shops. Italian foodies love to fill it with chocolate cream or cut Bologna. This is the Italian bread type that usually doesn’t make it home from the bakery.
Grissini torinesi | breadstick
The bread called grissini was invented in the city of Turin in northern Italy in the 17th century. The story of the grissini tells that the young prince of the Savoy realm had some issues digesting the soft inside of common bread, so the court’s chef thought of a solution, and the grissini was born. These long sticks of toasted, crunchy bread are now totally integrated into the Italian cuisine. I bet only a relatively small number of Italians know that this type of bread is from Turin. This bread of Italy is excellent for creating finger food and snacks. Think of it rolled up with a slice of ham and dunked in soft cheese! Many Italian restaurants serve grissini along with some slices of Tuscan bread at the beginning of the meal. If you want to gift it, get the thick, long type that are just like the original “grissini torinesi.”
If you’ve had an authentic Italian pizza before, imagine that same pizza without all the toppings like mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, with only salt, pepper, and some good EVO oil, and you have a focaccia. Focaccia is the most basic pizza possible and can act as bread in Italy. The finest restaurants will serve it as soon as you sit down and when your second and side courses arrive. Focaccia is softer than common Italian bread; it’s a perfect match for every ingredient, even fish. The only limit to the focaccia is that it’s yummy as long as it’s warm and freshly baked, unlike bread.
The bread known as freselle or friselle, or frisa pugliese, is an original bread from the Puglia region in southern Italy. This is a bread so crunchy and hard that you need to leave it for a few seconds in water to use it in your recipe. This doesn’t mean the fresella is a stale kind of bread, quite the contrary. This is a bread that is baked twice and can be kept for a long period of time. In the past, it was packed for long trips, a sort of elfin lembas bread. It’s shaped like a donut because it used to be hung on a cable in houses, waiting to be eaten with a salad of cherry tomatoes and anchovies on top, as the traditional recipe suggests. This Italian bread type can be found in every Italian grocery shop and it’s the perfect culinary souvenir to bring back home from Italy.
The Puccia is a typical bread from the Puglia region. This is a rounded filled sandwich that is not soft nor hard, just the right consistency to give your palate satisfaction. At the “puccia shop,” you can fill the bread with as many and as different ingredients as you like, just as you would do at a doner’s. Puccia bread is baked in a wood oven. Puccia is a little bit more than a street food; it’s a complete meal. It’s a big panini, you need to hold it with both hands, and it will make you full.
The pane carasau is more popular on the island of Sardinia than in other regions of Italy. This is probably the most versatile bread in Italy. Carasau bread is a flatbread that comes as a round, less than one millimeter thick sheet that looks like paper. The bread layer has a diameter of about 40 cm and gets cut into four big triangle-like pieces. It is also called carta musica “musical paper” for the sound it makes when you chew it. The flavor of the carasau bread is neutral. It matches well with everything. You can also use it in place of dough layers when you prepare an alternative lasagna. Another way to eat pane carasau is to spill water on it so that it becomes elastic and rollable, or it can be used as a bed for a salad. Look for this Sardinian delicacy in the Italian supermarkets. It is usually sold in cute packages too. The spectacular region of Sardinia has its own language, its own cuisine, and has also this fantastic flatbread, which is the more interesting type of bread in Italy.