Italy’s answer to potato chips
One of the joys of Italian food is that the menu is massive. A stroll through an urban food market can be as full of eye-candy as a walk through the Vatican Museums. You can have a different dish at every meal and never eat the same food in the rest of your life. To make things even more interesting, and confusing, the names for what you eat can change from place to place. Part of the reason for this is that, although a dish may have the same name in different regions, recipes vary from region to region; from family to family. Take Lasagna, for instance. In Emilia Romagna, where it is most renown, Lasagna is usually made with a béchamel sauce. Here in the Abruzzo region, farther south, cheese–– fresh mozzarella to be exact–– takes the place of the béchamel. It’s still called “lasagna”, but with very different ingredients. And, those are only two variations for lasagna
Then, there’s the issue of using the same ingredients, but calling the result by a different name. That’s what I found when I went to write about the addictive schiacciata our nearest bakery makes. The name is a minefield.
The word Schiacciata means crushed, pressed, squished, flattened. Wile Coyote is regularly schiacciato by Anvils, for example. In some areas, rectangular slightly risen crackers may be called schiacciata, but in much of Toscana (the region of Florence, Siena, Pisa, etc.) it means low focaccia bread. And then focaccia itself, in some places, is a synonym for pizza, but in other places, is similar to pizza but is either higher and fluffier or lower and denser. Focaccia is almost always without tomato sauce. Almost always.
Il Gemello, the bakery nearest our house, does not make the large hearty loaves of bread we adored in L’Aquila, but we console ourselves with its thin, salty variety. Unleavened, spread paper thin, it is so crispy it can only be sold in sheets the size of a small television screen. Il Gemello sells several varieties: “semplice”, its simple, basic form with olive oil and large grained salt; rosemary with toasted rosemary needles sprinkled over it; and, my favorite, onion schiacciata –– sweet onions cut thin as hairs and baked in fare. The anchovy schiacciata must also be great, because it’s always sold out when I get
Buying schiacciata is easy. The hard part is getting it home. The temptation to break off a corner is easy to cave into. However, it’s so fragile that it often breaks on its own, so why not help it along. Alas, one little bite leads to another…and I have to go back to the bakery.
We always seem to be out of sciacciata.
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by Joshua Lawrence