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5 Italian Breads You Should Know

Bread is a staple on every Italian table and is served with all meals except breakfast—although even for the day's first meal, a cornetto (Italian for croissant) filled with chocolate, cream or jam is a popular pairing with Italians' treasured morning cappuccino.

What may surprise Americans is that despite the complex sourdoughs and hearty whole-wheat breads baked across Europe, Italian pane is often simple white, airy loaves that crumble profusely when sliced, and exist mostly to sop up flavorful soups and sauces. But if you know what to look for and where, you'll be rewarded with wholesome bread that is far from bland.

  • Focaccia: Hailing from Liguria, focaccia is typically flat but can be two or more inches thick, which is perfect for brushing with olive oil and any number of tasty toppings. Delicious on its own, it is sometimes the basis for pizza.
  • Grissini: Italian restaurants in the United States and restaurants in Italy itself often offer slender packages of baton-like breadsticks that are about the size of chopsticks. The homemade variation of these brittle bites originate from the Piemonte region and can be up to three feet long.
  • Pane carasau: Sometimes called carta da musica (sheet music) for its large, thin size, this round, paper-like flatbread from Sardinia is made crisp by the same method that makes biscotti so crunchy: The bread is baked once, cut and baked a second time. If you find this in an Italian market, serve it on a plate beside your favorite dip or spread. People will love picking up a circle and breaking off a piece at a time, and will marvel that some sheets are up to two feet wide.
  • Pane siciliano: Sicily's bread would stand out in a lineup, thanks to its sesame-seed-dotted crust. The recipe may be for the same basic white Italian bread eaten elsewhere, but it is elevated by adding roasty, toasty nuts. An excellent Sicilian bread will be baked with semolina, the course flour used to make pasta, which adds extra taste and texture.
  • Pannetone: This rich, eggy bread is sweet, sometimes fruit studded and most often served around Christmas and the New Year. Originally from Milan, pannetone is wonderful for bread puddings or French toast, or to eat as Italians do: with a glass of wine, or cup of coffee or tea.