Monday, October 09, 2006

Tartaruga – Italian Turtle Bread – A panino lover’s dream

Italian breads are marvelous. Not just for the extreme flavor and combination of ingredients but also because of their wide range of uses. Panini filled with dried meats and fresh cut cheeses are an important part of the daily routine. Whether it be a solution for lunch or a quick dinner or snack fresh bread is part of every meal. Bread’s flavor is in the crust, the greater the surface area and the darkness of the crust the more intense the flavor. Crusts are great for flavor but make panini sometimes difficult to eat. To eat my Michetta, Prosciutto and Taleggio panino I would place it flat on the table and squash it with my hand, breaking the crust into more manageable bites.

During my period in Rome, I would often go out on Saturday afternoon to shop in the local stores and markets. I noticed that my favorite cheese shop had a relatively large number of buns a bit different in shape. The buns were flatter, a bit wider and looked like a turtle shell. It was the Tartaruga, a favorite bread for making panini among the Romani.

I have researched the origins of the Tartaruga and have found little about its origins even though the ingredients, a mix of wheat and cornmeal flour, suggest that this is an antique recipe. Perhaps is was created to satisfy those, like me, who wanted a flavorful bread, to stuff with various ingredients, that would not cut your gums to pieces. The Tartaruga is a wonderful soft bread with a crunchy, but not striated, crust. The incisions performed just before baking created the beautiful pattern of a turtle shell and increase the surface area thus flavor. The inside is soft and airy, perfect for stuffing with Speck, Prosciutto, and cheeses. The bread has sufficient consistency to hold everything together even when pressed and grilled and best of all, your gums are safe.

Ingredients for 12 panini:

2/3 cup (150 gr.) Biga
1 ¼ cups warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 package (7 gr.) active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1 ¾ cups cornmeal flour (fine ground)
2 tsp salt
Olive Oil


Sift together the flours. Add the salt and set aside.

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Stir in the yeast and let stand for 10 minutes.

Place the Biga in a mixing bowl. Add the water-yeast mixture and stir together. Stir in the flour mixture and knead for 5 minutes (10 minutes if done by hand).

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise for 2 hours.


Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the dough on a lightly floured, hard surface. Gently flatten the dough to about 1 inch thickness. Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball with a quick press of the hand.

Place the flattened dough onto the prepared baking sheet. Press the dough from the center toward the edge to arrive at the desired size. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise for 1 hour.


Preheat the oven to 410 degrees. Do not steam the oven.

Remove the plastic wrap. With a knife cut intersecting, diagonal incisions in the top of the dough. Use a razor blade or very sharp knife. The incisions should be about ¼ inch deep.

Brush quickly with Olive Oil. Let sit for five minutes and place in the oven.

Bake for 28 minutes.

Remove from the pan and cool the individual Tartaruga on a rack.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bread! Mmmmmmm .... Yeah!
If only .....


12:02 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Dianne I promise I will do some research and find some gluten free antique recipes over the next weeks!

7:13 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

That'd be lovely David, I look forward to it!


11:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

These look great. Good for my kids lunch box.

12:03 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Dianne Until I started reading your site I was not aware of the difficulties. I believe that there are solutions, I just have to search a little.

Suanne These are a simple solution, just the perfect size.

1:34 PM

Blogger a.c.t. said...

La Michetta has always been my favourite bread - the bread of choice of my family in Milan.

7:43 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

ACT I love the Michetta with Salame and Taleggio. The Tartaruga is perfect for grilled panini. I guess I differentiate between eating bread and sandwich bread. Weird, huh...

12:38 PM

Blogger John said...

I am making a sourdough version of this recipe right now with only 1 hrs until baking time. The recipe I have does require steam in the oven. What is the difference with steam or no steam please?

7:15 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

John - sorry I did not see your question. The steam seems to transfer heat faster and help the skin from drying out resulting is a crispy cookie like texture.

9:19 AM


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