Crunchy, salty and well-baked Schiacciata.
This legendary Tuscan dough is famous all over the world. Its fortune is well paired with a thin slice of pecorino cheese and a couple of slices of prosciutto di Parma.
“Could I please add some sun-dried tomatoes too?”
“Or would you prefer some mortadella with pistachios or Tuscan salami? “Buon appetito!”
This is the sort of conversation you could pick up in any good forno in Tuscany, the way any Saturday al fresco lunch begins.
The renowned schiacciata was a traditional snack in Tuscany, especially amongst kids during the afternoon study break, la merenda, a perfect energy boost. The preparation of Tuscan schiacciata comes from a custom that would have it function as a natural thermostat: it was baked before the bread allowing time for the oven to arrive at the right temperature. Some of the best things happen by chance.
In the past few years has made its successful way to represent the perfectly satisfying countryside lunch and aperitivo.
I was probably too young when I first encountered the real flavour of the crunchy schiacciata, but I still feel it on my taste buds if I close my eyes. I won’t ever forget that taste, the magic formula every time I feel homesick. This is why I know the recipe by heart. All-purpose flour (500 gr), baking yeast (20gr), cool water (300 ml), abundant olive oil, salt, and a good amount of love. Nonna would tell me not to forget a teaspoon of honey at the end of the mixing process. That was her secret ingredient to have it soft on the inside but crunchy on the outside. Being able to wait the necessary raising time (6 hours) was difficult when I was young. Now, I embrace this process as a perfect ritual to reconnect to those sensations. It is hard to admit that we may have a tiny pinch of nostalgia while rediscovering these old memories.
I close my eyes to embrace the travel again.
Walking down the river banks of Arno, I am wearing big sunglasses. It’s a perfect sunny day. It’s the beginning of September. Something like 27 degrees celsius, and the air feels so cool somehow. Florence is perfect with this weather. Still wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Flows of people walk down the street with a positive attitude, the end of summer is a yet enjoyable sensation. From one side to the other, I happily and easily get lost in Santo Spirito market, stumbling through artisans and organic farmers from all over the countryside. I can smell the stands, fully packed with fresh produce, hand-painted crockery, spices wisely picked from the Chianti hills, and much more.
Florence seduces me in every season, but now more than ever, I have to admit it. It seems to revive once again, blooming in early autumn as a wonderful flower does with a fresh wave of mildly silky air in the morning.
Light brown, red and yellow fascinate my eyes. Am I dreaming? Maybe not.
Restaurants play with colours and flavours. Solid green and a pale red paint is a perfect picture on the greengrocer’s wooden windows; the smell of fresh basil kicks into my nostrils and delicately releases its intensity in the air. “I’ll grab some basil too, for the one with fresh tomatoes and stracciatella cheese,” I think.
Lots of shiny tiny purple grapes and bright juicy red figs to pair it with. Fruits and vegetables have the bright colors of autumn. I can’t help but buy some figs. September bursts with a purple, mustard, and red rainbow in the alleys of the Renaissance.
Picnic baskets are filled with meats, cheeses, olives, and every kind of bread. I pick up some prosciutto crudo and pecorino. But I still need something else.
I continue to walk. Small and unmistakable, the alimentari, a grocery store. As soon as you step in, you’re inundated by a strongly recognizable Italian touch. Everything speaks to you in Italian here.
“I’m looking for some pistachios, where should I find some? Better if it’s granella, chopped pistachios, that’s my final ingredient, these are schiacciata lover thoughts. I stare at the counter, the choice of cured meats, not to mention cheese and seasonal produce is comforting. I think I might have spent something like 2 Italian coffee breaks (a unit of measurement here) to choose. Okay, I know what I’ll get. Stracciatella. Time to head home, the dough needs to rest for at least 6 hours and I have a tight schedule before guests will show up.
This is clearly a kind of meal that connects me with the memories of my grandma and her strict authentic hypnotizing gestures in shaping the dough on the floury wooden board, where we used to create our own magic from scratch: schiacciata fatta in casa. Nonna would master the skills every Sunday as I have hardly seen elsewhere, donne di altri tempi, I would say.
This is where I learned, and now it’s child’s play when it comes to satisfying some demanding, hungry mouths. Schiacciata Toscana is my piece de resistance.
The salty flavor of stracciatella will kick in, evenly balanced with a fresh touch of mint and the sweetness of figs, while a seasoned twist of prosciutto crudo will explode in our mouth. My guests are easily satisfied this way.
Schiacciata, friends, figs and a cool white wine. September couldn’t sound nicer on a terrace overlooking Chianti.