Corn Bread, Pane Cunzato, And Sicily Nostalgia

Oh boy, it has been a very rough January. And an incredible February. And thanks the gods (all of them as I do not follow any specific one) I am still alive. Sweden has never been as dark, cold and grey as this year and our health has suffered from it. But, hey, I am getting well again and also my lust for life is getting back. Which means: let’s bake.

So I opened one of my bread baking books and my attention was captured by an Italy-inspired bread with a super interesting formula including leftover polenta and corn flour, so much that ca. 50% of the bread is actually made of corn and therefore it contains almost 50% less gluten than regular bread. The recipe for this yellow and moist bread brought my mind back to a dear memory, that of pane cunzato, seasoned bread I used to get in very sunny Sicily. In the little island of Levanzo, to be precise, the smallest of the Egadi Islands, just outside the Trapani coast. Every morning during my short but unforgettable stay, I walked up the sunny little streets to get the freshly baked bread, sliced and seasoned with fresh tomatoes, olive oil, salt and oregano. The Sicilian bread was made with a coarse semola di grano (the same used to make cous cous, which is so very present in the Egadi Islands) rather than corn, but the two breads are very similar in color, consistency and taste. SCROLL DOWN FOR THE RECIPE.

ITALIAN CORN BREAD WITH POLENTA (adapted from Dan Lepard’s Maize Bread)

150 g leftover polenta

260 g water

17 g fresh yeast

100 g buttermilk (I used 80 g cream+20 g milk)

150 g corn flour

350 g bread flour

1 and 1/2 teaspoon fine marine salt

Crumble the polenta and the yeast in the water and buttermilk (or cream). Whisk well to avoid lumps. In a separate bowl combine the flours and the salt. Add the flour to the polenta mixture and combine with a spoon. Let rest covered for 5 minutes then knead for 10 minutes at low speed. Cover and let rise for 2 hours, folding a couple of times. It will look very liquid in the beginning but that’s OK. Transfer to a floured surface and shape into a round. Place seam-side up in a heavily floured rising basked. Place the whole thing in a plastic bag, close and let rise a hour. Meanwhile heat the oven to the maximum. Invert the dough on a baker’s peel and score like a turtle.

Bake at high temperature with initial steam for 30 minutes then lower to 210 degrees (Celsius, 410 Fahrenheit) and bake for another 20 minutes ca. It is OK to eat it warm :)

CONSIDERATIONS: This has immediately become one of my favorite loaves ever. The moisture and flavor of this bread are impossible to guess if not but trying it, so I strongly recommend you to go get the ingredients and make it! It makes no sense freezing it as it hold fresh so well for days. And it is unbelievably good and comforting when eaten as pane cunzato the Levanzo way, which is, simply pressing a few open tomatoes on a slice of the bread, adding salt, olive oil and oregano… summer in my kitchen even on a snowy cold day. I will make the routine of always have some leftover polenta in the freezer so that I can do this bread whenever I feel like. Thank you Dan Lepard for your recipe which I twisted a bit changing all but the formula. I will remake it with sourdough one day but for now I am very happy with the yeast version (why ask for the moon when we have the stars?). Still longing for Sicily but I can close my eyes and feel like I am there just by eating my home-made pane cunzato. To the lust for life!

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Barbara Elisi

Hi there! I am the "soul" behind Bread & Companatico. My main interest is the preservation of bread tradition and craft, with an eye to health. I hope you are having a good time reading this blog, and please don't be shy to connect with me through comments or emails and do keep on bread-ing! :)
26 replies
  1. sandra
    sandra says:

    DOVE SEI STATA????? ma ti pare questo il modo di sparire? mi stavo cominciando a preoccupare!!! io sono una donna di mezza età, apprensiva, vicina alla menopausa e mi vengono in mente tutte le disgrazie del mondo se mi sparisci così!!!! non lo fare mai più, mi devi avvertire, un messaggino, una mail, una ricetta…. bello il pane cunzato, una fatica per tradurre ma bello!
    Mi sei mancata, davvero.
    un abbraccio grosso, enorme, disumano!

  2. Karen
    Karen says:

    We have so much snow on the ground and another snow storm heading our way tomorrow so I know how you feel. Your bread looks wonderful and so do your photos.

  3. Alida
    Alida says:

    Oh Sicily! What a beautiful stunning island! I bet you missed it! Just think we are heading towards spring now!
    I love this pane cunzato! You are an amazing photographer too and this could easily be featured on a magazine cover. Brava!

  4. Korena in the Kitchen
    Korena in the Kitchen says:

    My favorite part of this recipe is the instruction to “score like a turtle”. How wonderful! And it does look like an injection of summer in bread form (exactly what I need in February, too!). Beautiful as always Barbara!

  5. vickyart
    vickyart says:

    ehehe pane “cunciato” come diciamo noi.. buonissimo! non c’è niente di più saporito, vale la semplicità degli ingredienti.. ciaoooo p.s. il polpettone fatto tempo fa, qualche ogni modo l’ho mangiato tutto io! 😀 ciao cara!

  6. Rita cooks Italian (@ritacooksitalia)
    Rita cooks Italian (@ritacooksitalia) says:

    Ma questo deve essere buonissimo!! E fatto con lievito fresco per facilitarmi il lavoro…devo provarci e assaporare un po’ di Sicilia…, la foto fa sognare! Che tipo di polenta usi?una polenta pronta o la cucini tu?? Io devo essere sincera non sono brava a fare la polenta. Anche qui a Londra piove e fa freddo eun po’ di BUON pane con pomodorini, origano e olio ci starebbe proprio bene per dimenticare l’inverno e sognare la primavera.

  7. ninivepisces
    ninivepisces says:

    Oh Sicily, the home of all culinary dreams…. it would be worthwhile to make polenta (which we do not favour that much here) just to bake this sunny bread. Winter has been truly dark here too, today there’s also fog- so we cannot put too much colour on our plates.

  8. Simona
    Simona says:

    That is indeed, a great bread. Even just the color brings joy to the kitchen. I love his book and have made a number of recipes from it. I even wrote a little review:
    If you have the book, you may want to try making the white bean wafers with GF flour. I am thinking that it should be doable.
    By the way, I have been thinking about you and winter in Sweden. I just finished reading the first of the Wallander novels: the events in it occur shortly after the beginning of the year. I wish I could read them in Swedish.

    • Barbara
      Barbara says:

      wow you really published a lot! I am truly impressed, love your writing, it is so clear and captivating at the same time. bean wafers? heading to take the book, generally it’s on my nightstand :) Wallander, forse e’ ora che cominci a leggere in svedese anche io…


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