Pizza, Pane & Pignata

October 18, 2011 / Food & Wine
Sant'Agata de' Goti, Campania
The pignata, seemingly straight out of Geppetto’s workshop in Pinocchio, is a ceramic pot that comes in various sizes. It has an adorable tubby body with two stout handles attached lopsidedly to the jug. Facing away from the fire, they never get hot even after hours in the red-hot embers… very clever. Many people have fireplaces around here and the pignata continues to be used in the Sannio to this day.

While bread-making with friends who live on an isolated farm, I chanced upon a pignata in action. So what do bread and pizza have to do with the pignata?

Everything, in a way. Making and baking bread in a wood-burning oven takes half the night and half a day and the concerted effort of the whole household, leaving no time for cooking.

After preparing the mother of yeast the night before, early the next morning the women mix and knead the dough. (oh, and by the way; they make enough so that parents, grandparents and in-laws will have bread for the entire week. And while they’re at it, they’ll make pizza, pizza-pane and a few crostate too… a mountain of dough to be kneaded!) This is heavy-duty work that takes almost two hours and strains nearly every muscle in the back, neck and arms.

After pummeling the daylights out of the dough, it is put to rest, covered in clean sheets and old blankets and left to rise (is this an oxymoron?). Now the men can start the fire in the oven, a procedure that verges on the realm of alchemy… but that is another story.

Then comes the spezzatura, or division of the dough; then a second rising, calibration of the furnace temperature, elimination of the embers and finally, the frenzied ritual of filling the oven. By the time everyone catches their breath it’s way past lunchtime.

Herein lies the beauty of the pignata. Throughout the whole morning, with little more than a stirring and a topping up of liquid, the little pot has sat staunchly in the fire all on its own, bubbling quietly, delicately cooking its contents of beans, celery, garlic and guanciale (pork jowl… like bacon, only better) with absolutely no fuss.

Ladled onto hot bruschetta, with a drizzle of olio piccante, this is a meal fit for food afficionados!

Barbara Goldfield

by Barbara Goldfield

Owner of “Savour The Sannio”, www.savourthesannio.com, a travel consultancy for central and southern Italy.

11 Responses to “Pizza, Pane & Pignata”

  1. vanna moore

    very nice story, made me hungry for some good home made bread and a bowl of b ean soup straight from the Pignata! Thanks, Vanna Moore

    Reply
  2. Flora Raehl

    This brought back quite a memory for me. I actually have my nonna’s pignata that was used for years cooking meals in the fireplace in Calabria.

    Reply
  3. Angela Sopranzi

    I can almost smell the whole experience. Thank you for sharing this story, it made me smile to think that there still are people out there who stay close to the earth and put so much love into sharing! Grazie!!

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  4. Barbara, What an excellent article and it reminds me of a good breadmaking experiance that I had in Sant’Agata de’ Goti! Now the next step; finding a pignata… and a warm fireplace.

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  5. Brava Barb! Do you have some sort of Jedi sense when it comes to gastronomic experiences??? Love the piece, but now I’ve got Ted bugging me to go to Sant’Agata in search of a warm fireplace and a pignata!

    Reply
  6. Mandy Hauschild

    It reminds me of our Italian neighbors in San Vito dei Normanni (BR) making fave in their pignata on their fireplace in their kitchen…we would sit around the fire. I did not like fave :)…but I enjoyed talking to our neighbors while they cooked…visiting with them and having these priceless moments!

    Reply
  7. My family are from Calabria and I can remember her making bread once a
    week exactly the same way – in Australia (all 4’9″ of her). My brother in law built her an oven in the garden and it as amazing what she could produce, she even cooked potatoes in it. However, we didn’t have a pignata only heavy baking dishes.

    Reply
  8. Paul Goldfield

    I remember bread being made in Tuscany this way. Another section of the oven was used to bake chickens and lamb at the same time. We had a few Thanksgiving turkeys cooked this way. Good one sees!

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  9. Wonderful,mouthwatering Note. Thanks,Barbara. Question: Is the shape of this pignata typical to the area, because in 30 years of residence and traveling around Italy, I never saw it? A charming little fellow, for sure!

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  10. Anne Robichaud

    ENjoyed reading, Barbara! We have a pigna (as it is called here in Umbria), too..same form, but black here / used by our farm women neighbors over 50 years ago to simmer lentils, beans, other legumes in the fireplace coals while they were out working the land – a most treasured gift from a neighbor

    Reply

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