For my grandmother, born in the Romagna countryside, bread was precious: not even its crumbs were wasted.
Born in not prosperous economic conditions, she remembered the difficulties caused by the Second World War.
Two conditions made her an exceptional woman and a great housewife.
Even when she only had leftovers or a handful of ingredients at her disposition.
Bread and table.
For grandma, there had to be bread on the table; and she used the old bread to make sweet and savory cakes, pancotto, or breadcrumbs.
I think back to the anecdote of Carlo, owner of the Delfina restaurant in Artimino and guardian of an authentic Tuscan way of life.
I remember the tale about the gesture of his grandmother Delfina.
It allows us to grasp the centrality of bread in the rural tradition of our country, from north to south. At the son’s wedding banquet, she picks up the crumbs from the table to give them to the newlyweds to make ribollita.
Zuppa di pane, or pancotto or acquacotta (cooked-water soup).
They are all synonyms.
Stale bread soaked in warm milk or wine, the regional variations of bread soup recipes, tell the same story. Where there was little to eat, old bread was precious.
Bread soup is a simple dish from the peasant tradition, widespread throughout Italy, prepared using local ingredients.
In Bologna and Romagna, bread soup is called pancotto.
Once pancotto was a dish for children, the elderly, the sick, and those who had lost their teeth early (which was once very common).
But it was also a typical winter dish, the worst season for poor peasants. And a recipe for the days of eves and Lent, when Catholic precepts dictated not to eat meat.
People ate and ate bread soups. Some old chronicles said that at the end of the 40 days of Lent, people celebrated the end of pancotto’s days by smashing the earthenware pot.
The housewife and the pancotto.
A dish that satiated but sometimes did not nourish.
Above all, when the bread was made with low-nutrient flour. The only flour that the poorest peasants could afford.
The chronicles of travelers of the time describe how people forced to eat pancotto, made with water and cheap bread, had “sad and expressionless” faces.
But if the housewife (azdora in dialect) had creativity and a little more money, the pancotto changed.
Someone started with a soffritto, or a garlic base; aromatic herbs; boiled beans and a little of rancid lard, if there was any.
In some areas of Romagna, others added a little tomato, but pancotto alla romagnola is traditionally white.
The culture of wild and common herbs, once part of a housewife’s knowledge, allowed interesting integrations with all the typical spontaneous herbs of Romagna: nettles, stridoli, dandelion, borage, chicory (doesn’t this immediately make you think of ribollita? Which is the most famous Italian recipe of bread soup).
A recipe for an almost-gourmet pancotto.
Incredibly, such a poor dish even if in this almost gourmet version, found a place in Artusi’s collection (Panata Recipe).
There was a richer version of pancotto, made with eggs, Parmesan cheese, and the addition of bones to give flavor to the water (actually a meat broth).
Although it is a poor dish, the version with eggs has found its place in the Artusi collection. But, mind you, it is not recipe n. 41 (Bread Soup) but n. 11, called Panata, which Artusi describes as a Romagna dish of the Easter season. And that grandma often used to make.
It is a recipe for stale bread cooked in meat broth with the addition of eggs and grated Parmigiano (for four people: 250g of bread, two eggs, 1 liter of broth, five tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, one white onion, salt, olive oil and butter to taste; at the end of cooking, make the soup like a cream with an immersion blender).
After much testing, I found the pancotto I like.
It’s not a cream, but it has the consistency of soup and is eggless.
I chop the onion and carrot coarsely as for (onion) soup.
I gently cook the onion with the parsley and an aromatic bouquet of sage, rosemary, and, if I like, juniper berries, which I remove at the end of cooking. Often I combine the pancotto with a few other vegetables, such as peas, to add color.
Sometimes, I add a little guanciale (or sweet bacon) to the initial mixture.
Then I add the bread soaked in the broth, pour more broth, and finish cooking by adding the Parmigiano.
Some people turn their noses up at pancotto before even tasting it.
After pondering the matter and the success of Alto Adige bread soup, pappa al Pomodoro, and ribollita, I have concluded that the rejection is related to the uninviting color.
When cooked, add a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, stir and serve.
Buona cucina, Monica
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If you have meat stock, I recommend using it. Alternatively, make a seasonal vegetable stock, a quick preparation that will certainly add flavor.
If you use fresh bread, you don’t need to soak it, just cut it into pieces and throw it straight into the soup. The drier the bread, the more it needs to soak.
Pancotto Bread Soup Recipe
large white onion, 1
vegetable or meat stock, 1 liter
parsley, 3 g
30 g grated parmigiano
bouquet garnì: 1/2 sprig of rosemary, 2 sage leaves, 2 juniper berries
salt, oil, butter to taste
optional: sweet bacon or guanciale, 60g
Cut the bread into pieces, place in a deep dish, pour in a cup of broth, then set aside.
Clean and slice the onion. Coarsely chop the carrot and finely chop the parsley.
If you use bacon, slice or dice it and set it aside.
Gently sauté onion and parsley in a pot with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a little butter, and salt.
Add in the pot the aromatic bouquet (and the bacon). Cook over low heat until the onion is soft. Add a couple of tablespoons of broth if needed.
Then add the bread, and cover with the remaining broth.
Bring to a boil before lower the heat and cooking over medium heat for 20 minutes, if the bread is fresh, 30 if the bread is stale.
Turn off, add the Parmigiano, and stir.
Add the bread, and cover with the remaining broth.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, if the bread is fresh, 30 if the bread is stale.
Turn off the heat, add the Parmesan cheese, and stir.
Serve the pancotto with a drizzle of raw oil or a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese.
Or put the pancotto in individual bowls, cover with a slice of cheese and place under the oven grill for one minute.