At first glance it’s just a piece of bread…a staple in our kitchen, part of our diet, especially in Italy. In the morning with jam or nutella. At lunch or dinner to perform the famous ‘scarpetta’, where you use your bread to soak up any traces of leftover sauce on your plate, the serving dish, or even the pot.
Taking a closer look, however, at this particular bread called pane di Montecalvo, one might be led to change their mind. Montecalvo is a town located in the Avellino province and this bread is famous all throughout Irpinia. I spoke with Antonio Russolillo of Soc. Coop. La Pacchiana to satisfy my curiosity.
The first thing I noticed was the color of the bread once it has been sliced …a light yellow color due to the durum wheat that is used to make the dough. A dough that uses natural yeasts and lievito madre. Lievito madre is a term used when bakers conserve a certain percentage of the dough from the night before and mix it in with the fresh dough for the next day. Antonio sets aside 20%. This cycle repeats day after day, year after year, generation after generation.
The dough rises overnight for about eight hours before it makes its way to the oven…a terracotta oven.
The end product is one that has a crust that is crisp, croccante…The inside has an aroma that only the lievito madre can give…light, airy, soft, morbido…
In Italy, bread is something we buy if not every day, every couple of days. Preservatives are not used here so the bread may ‘go stale’, become hard.
Pane di Montecalvo actually becomes softer with time…up to 8 days when cuddled in a cotton dishtowel.
When it does eventually get hard, not to worry. Antonio shared with me a couple of ways to make the most of this pane …
In the summer, a classic dish is called Acqua Sala…This is made by softening the bread in water. (The bread does not crumble.)Then place it in a bowl with sliced tomatoes, onions, asparagus ‘sott’olio’, and some wild herbs. Mix it up and you have a hearty salad. A piatto povero that is rich in flavor.
In the winter, you can use it in a bean soup…one that has been simmering on the stove in a terracotta pan for hours…a soup that has a nice, thick broth. Place the bread in a pot, spoon the beans and broth on top. Add some sliced onions, a little extra virgin olive oil then cover for 5 minutes (away from heat). Drizzle some more olive oil on top and then serve.
Soc. Coop. La Pacchiana
Montecalvo Irpinia (Av)