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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 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!