On her way out of New York, Mary made a stop at Addeo and Sons Bakery in the Bronx where she found a traditional bread she hadn’t seen since her childhood. Pane con ciccioli is bread baked with the crispy bits of pork meat that are the by-product of rendering pork fat into lard.
Perhaps you and your family know ciccioli by a different name? Dialect terms for ciccioli include lardinzi, siccioli, frittole, sprittoli, curcuci, and cigule. In the American south they are known as craklins.
Whatever you call them, there’s no denying that this is a rich, calorie-laden loaf. It was traditionally prepared in the late fall and early winter in the days following the butchering of a hog, done when the weather was cool enough to keep meat from spoiling quickly. Families worked to cure, salt and preserve any part of the animal they could keep through the winter making sausages, prosciutto, pancetta, lardo, and other salumi , and they feasted on everything that could not be preserved. Ciccioli are a perfect example of a treat from this process. A by-product of rendering the pork fat into lard, ciccioli are the tiny bits of meat attached to fatty tissue which become brown and crispy as the fat melts when being rendered. Our ancestors who worked in the garden not as a hobby, but as a means to put food on the table, and who lived in houses without heating would have needed this calorie-rich treat to fuel them through the winter. Ciccioli are delicious in bread, but also added to pasta, or vegetable dishes, like cabbage or rapini.
If you are interested in making this bread for yourself you can try out this recipe (adapted from the Italian version online here).
Ingredients for 2 ring-shaped loafs:
2.2 pounds of flour (approximately 8 cups)
5 ounces ciccioli
3.5 ounces lard
1 tablespoon salt
1 oz fresh yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast
Grated pecorino cheese
Dissolve the yeast in 2 tablespoons warm, water. Chop the ciccioli into a small dice, and place them in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, and yeast, and mix until the dough begins to come together. Add the lard and mix. Add water a little bit at a time, and mix until you form a soft and elastic dough. Knead the dough vigorously for 5 to 10 minutes. Place it back in the bowl and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
When the dough has doubled in size divide it into 2 even pieces and shape them into long logs. Connect the end of the logs to form a ring, and place the dough rings on two separate baking sheets lined with parchment. Sprinkle each with pecorino cheese and dot with lard. Let the dough rise again for about 50 minutes, then bake at 475˚F for 15 to 20 minutes. Enjoy.
If you can’t find ciccioli, or cracklins, substitute with diced pork belly sautéed until crispy, or with pancetta. Or, if you want to go whole hog (pun intended) you can buy a kilo or two of leaf-lard from your butcher and render it yourself. Simply dice the lard into small cubes, and heat it over a very low flame with a quarter-cup of water. You will need to stir frequently for about 3 hours, or until the mixture stops bubbling (indicating that there is no water left). When the fat is mostly melted and the ciccioli are golden brown, pour the fat through a fine sieve and into a jar. It will cool to a creamy white and is great for baking. Using the back of a spoon or a potato ricer, squeeze the liquid fat out of the ciccioli, and allow them to cool. Now you have your ciccioli for bread or pasta.
Let us know how your bread turns out, and share with us the dialect term you’ve heard for ciccioli!