Everything that goes into your mouth in Italy seems to have a colorful, commemorative story behind it. Pasta strangles the greedy priest, prostitutes feast on a pasta sauce without garlic, fish are cooking in "crazy water."
Breadsticks, grissini, were an invention of a Doctor to the Savoy family of Turin, who in 1675 asked the baker Antonio Bruer to produce them, thus saving Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy from his inability to digest regular bread so that he could go on to become King not only of Piemonte, but of Sicily and Sardinia as well.
Some say Turin, shortly after, acquired the nickname of Grissinopoli. You can believe the story or not. There is evidence that "stick bread" exists prior to our fine story.
And lest you think that the soft, fat monstrosities churned out by American chain restaurants are anything like Italian grissini, you're sadly misinformed.
Grissini are thin, crunchy and taste of crusty bread, a perfect foil to salume and especially lardo.
Sit down at any decent restaurant in Piemonte around the Langhe (or in Grissinopoli) and it's likely that a bundle of handmade breadsticks will be brought to your table before you even tell the waiter what you'd like to drink. Traditionally they're wrapped in a napkin, as you see in the picture to the right, as served at the bed and breakfast tra Arte e Querce.
If you go to the Langhe, you'll probably end up one day in the town of Barolo. The famous wine of Piemonte, my favorite, takes the town's name. The castle pops up in the midst of some of the Langhe's best vineyards. Inside is the Enoteca Regionale del Barolo, where you can taste the local grape squeezings, and a museum of wine.
When you are exploring the little town of Barolo you will no doubt come across the friendly folks at Panetteria Cravero on Via Roma. You might hear the women chattering away as they gently stretch the dough into sticks as long as your arm. You might also hear the big machine clattering away as it chops strips of dough from the big loaf that feeds it.
Press your face to the door long enough and they will likely invite you in, give you a tour, tell you the recipe, and send you a way with a couple of grissini to keep your digestion going so you can become king some day.
It was very nice to step into the shop on a drizzly day in November. The oven was hot, breadsticks were rotating in the heat, and the place smelled like bread times two.
I didn't do any translation on the video. It should be self explanatory. What's interesting to watch is how easily the dough is stretched. "Lot's of people think you have to roll the dough out with the palm of your hand, but then the dough is too stiff." Double zero flour is used, and the dough is very soft but held together by the gluten strings so that it can be stretched out easily as in the video. This gives it its characteristic knobiness with the pinched end that tells you it's not made completely by machine.
Enjoy the grissini video. Notice the camaraderie and friendliness of the workers. Happy happy. That's the ticket.
If you travel to eat, Italy is a find senstination. Here's what to do to get great food. Sometimes we mispromounce basic ingredients. Help is here: Frequently Mispronounced Italian Food Words and How to Say Them.
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