Pantondo – The Amazing Recreation of a 12th Century Tuscan Spiced Bread

Ahh there’s nothing we like better than fine gourmet food with a great story behind it!

Pantondo is the result of a collaboration between a group of medieval historians from Florence University and the Belli family, expert artisan confectioners from Prato, Tuscany. The idea was to create a product which faithfully reproduced a recipe from the 12th century.

The historians had come across various manuscripts dating back to that period which described a Special Bread “peppered” or “spiced”. Similar bread was also cited in the private diaries of illustrious Tuscans such as Lorenzo De’ Medici, Michelangelo Buonarotti (Michelangelo) and Giorgio Vasari.

How did it Originate?

Spice trading was big business in 12th century Italy as merchants brought back many unusual and wonderful ingredients from the Orient. Most of these found their way into the great Benedictine Abbeys of Central Italy, where Italy’s finest chefs plied their trade surrounded by an abundance of some of the world’s best raw materials. It is in these abbeys where Pantondo most probably originated.

As was the norm at that time, Italian gastronomy was imbued with symbolic references and the individual ingredients of the Special Bread were no exception; e.g. honey, the food of the Gods par excellence is combined with the white almond, a symbol of purity.

Its popularity grew with pilgrims and travellers crossing the Appenines from Florence to Bologna and the North. It was long-lasting, tasty and nutritious and could also be made pocket-size!

Testing Times

Initially, the experiment to recreate the bread encountered a number of difficulties. As you might imagine, the recipe wasn’t written as today, with a nice list of ingredients, correct proportions and step by step instructions! The historians found references to a “sweetmeat” which seemed to form the core ingredients of the bread and had to examine numerous documents to trace them.

A long series of trials were then held at the Belli family bakery to estimate the proportions and to determine the best leaven (crucial to the success of this type of product). The Belli family’s experience of using a “live” mother leaven was a critical factor in this experiment.

After testing different quantities and combinations they finally came up with what everyone believes to be the most faithful recreation, a stunning bread-cake featuring a mix of spices, honey and white almonds. Its delightful wrapping is also based on the traditions of the time.

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Bottarga. The Caviar of the Med!

What is Bottarga?

Bottarga is a prized delicacy made by drying and curing fish roe from grey mullet or tuna. It can be found in various forms all around the Mediterranean, but the ones from Sicily and Sardinia are widely held to be the finest.

The name is thought to derive from the Arabic Bot-ah-rik or fish eggs and its use and traditional preparation can be traced back to the Phoenicians.

Ground Bottarga

The roe is cured using sea salt and left to dry naturally in the sun for several weeks. It is then pressed into a hard, dense block which is cut into strips or “tongues” and either dipped in beeswax to form a protective coating or ground into a ready to use powder.

..and how is it used?

Bottarga is often served as an antipasto by cutting it into very small wedges or thin slices with a drizzle of lemon juice. However, it is more commonly grated or sprinkled over other dishes, like a luxury seasoning.

Sounds nice, what does it taste like?

Its flavour is bold and intense and just a little sprinkle will instantly deliver a magnificent surge of seafoodiness, carrying with it hints of smoked fish and conjuring images of the Mediterranean seaside.

Bottarga has a refined charm too and marries elegantly with countless dishes, enhancing without clashing. Check out our suggestions below for a few ideas on pairings.

Some ideas how to use Bottarga

Bottarga brings character and personality to all kinds of dishes, including most fish-based courses and many vegetable dishes too. In fact it’s one of those brilliant ingredients where you can let your imagination wander. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve concocted something delicious with Bottarga.

For inspiration here are a few simple ideas which work really well:

  • Perhaps the most classic Italian dish is Spaghetti alla Bottarga – incredibly easy and fiendishly tasty. Prepare some spaghetti, drizzle on EV olive oil and add chopped parsley, (garlic if you like), a little chilli, lemon juice and sprinkle or grate some bottarga over before serving.
  • Delicious with a simple tomato sauce – try it with some lightly fried cherry tomatoes. Can be served over pasta or rice.
  • How about a new twist for scrambled eggs on toast? Try it!
  • Wake up your baked potatoes by simply sprinkling on some bottarga. Delicious and different.
  • Cut the Bottarga tongue into wedges and serve as a simple antipasto with olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Whisk up some ricotta, sprinkle over the bottarga and dollop onto crostini or toasted bread.
  • Artichoke hearts with bottarga, fennel and EV olive oil. Stylish!
  • Greek yoghurt and (or) whipped cream, smoked salmon, fresh parsley with bottarga sprinkled over.
  • A refined pizza with asparagus, onion, anchovies or tuna and bottarga.
  • Bruschetta with celery, tomato salad and bottarga
  • Potato, celery and tomato salad with bottarga
  • Seafood risottos spring to life with a little bottarga added
  • Tuna carpaccio with mixed bean salad, anchovies and bottarga.
  • Try it with some Asian dishes too.

Bottarga is now found in many top restaurants as chefs are discovering its unique ability to transform a simple fish dish into a work of art. It’s also a blessing for the time-challenged chefs amongst us!

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