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Sardinia, The Land Of Beautiful Bread

Mar 18, 2008
Sardinia is a very insular island, traditions and recipes have been handed down through generations. When in Sardinia I look forward to nothing more than waking in the morning and taking a stroll down to the local bakery to collect my traditional Sardinian bread for my breakfast and lunch.

Freshly baked traditional Sardinian bread is delicious with the minimal amount of fuss, very similar to Italian cuisine. A breakfast of freshly baked Sardinian bread, butter and Italian jam is unbeatable. Because of the way Sardinians have lived over the generation's bread making is a tradition that is still going strong today.

Traditional Sardinian dishes were, and in some remote areas still are - based on practical considerations. In the same way that meat was mainly roasted on the spit because the herdsmen were unable to carry heavy cooking equipment around with them, many types of bread were like-wise made with the needs of men in mind who often spent weeks on end in lonely mountain regions far away from the possibility of fresh supplies.

The bread had to be light in weight with low moisture content so that it would be less likely to go mouldy and, at the same time, be versatile enough to form the basis for a variety of quick, complete meals. Carta da musica or pane carasau, as it is called in Sardinia, fitted the bill perfectly: The once-baked flat bread could be rolled up and carried in a shepherd's bag and the twice-baked version was practically immune to mould.

Panefratau is the filled version of the carta da musica, whereby the crisp rounds of bread are turned into a nourishing meal with diced tomatoes, eggs, pecorino or other cheese, and herbs. Bread was also an important part of the menu of farmers and townsfolk except that they preferred heavier and doughier bread: moddizzosu- or mazzosu loaves could weigh up to 22 pounds (10 kilograms).

Whether it is bread for wandering herdsmen or for townspeople, nothing much has changed with regard to the Sardinians' preference for country-style breads made from bread flour, wheat, or barley flour. One look inside local bakeries will dispel any idea that southern Europeans only eat white bread, as is commonly supposed.

Another very popular bread is ciabatta, which is now also fairly common north of the Alps. Although ciabatta is not really a typical Sardinian bread, there is hardly a bakery - either in Sardinia or the rest of Italy which does not sell this aromatic wheat bread with its lightly floured, somewhat leathery crust. Ciabatta is made from Grade 0 flour; in other words, not as fine or white as the bread made from Grade 00 flour, but it does have more bite and flavor.

This soft and fairly moist bread has large holes in it which are formed during the six hours in which the dough is left to rise. They give the bread its characteristic appearance.

This distinctive Sicilian bread is actually called pane carasau. Its old Sardinian name is becoming increasingly uncommon as visitors from the mainland call it carta da musica. These thin almost transparent rounds of bread resemble sheets of parchment like music manuscript paper and the distinctive sound of these crisp sheets when they are broken also provides the musica.

Making pane carasau the traditional way is fairly expensive. First of all a dough is made from durum wheat semolina, wheat flour, yeast, water, and a little salt. This is left to rise for half a day. Then it is kneaded again and left to rise a second time. The dough is then divided into balls and rolled out into wafer-thin rounds. After being left to stand for several more hours, the bread finally goes into the oven. As soon as the rounds of bread balloon up, they are removed from the oven and cut horizontally through the middle.

The halved bread circles are then baked a second time until they are a delicious golden brown colour. Because the preparation is so time-consuming, most Sardinians leave it to the baker to make this musical bread. He sells it in stacks of ten or twenty, wrapping his delicate product in paper to protect it. Carta da musica is a tasty snack just as it is, but it can also be brushed with oil and briefly reheated to make it even crispier. It can also be soaked in water to restore its original elasticity and then made into a type of lasagne by layering it with different fillings in an ovenproof dish.

The most popular dish of all must be pane fratau. For this, the bread rounds are spread with tomato paste, layered with poached or fried eggs and then sprinkled liberally with grated cheese. Pane carasau has even made a name for itself in the expensive restaurants of the famous tourist resorts. The bread is broken into pieces, brushed lightly with oil and sprinkled with coarse sea salt, this is as addictive as crackers or crisps. Once you start nibbling, as with pane carasau you can't stop, it's irresistible.

Coccoi pintatus or pintau is a beautiful bread made by mixing bread flour, lukewarm water, and yeast together. It is often decorated with a cross to ensure that it turns out well! It is then shaped by nimble fingers, using scissors, knives, and pastry cutters, into a vast number of figures ranging from plants to animals. You can see fish, birds, little pigs, turtles, roses, and many other things if you keep a look out.

These small works of art are usually mainly made for festival days. Civraxiu is a speciality bread from Cagliari is baked with bread flour. In order to get a smooth, homogenous dough, it must be well kneaded. As soon as it has risen, it is shaped into loaves, each weighing about two pounds (1 kilogram) and baked in a wood oven. Since the method of making it varies from place to place, civraxiu comes in strong and soft, thin, and thick versions.
About the Author
Sardinia Holiday

You may not always agree with my writings but I hope to inform.

Harwood E Woodpecker
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