Serious Eats: Recipes
Seriously Italian: Walnut Bread from Umbria
Few things fill me with more satisfaction than baking a loaf or two of my own bread. Mind you, I'm not an expert, but I've got a stable of favorites I turn to again and again, the best of which are simple, yet full of interesting texture and flavor. Pan Nociato is a cheese-spiked walnut bread from Umbria that never fails to please.
The combination of savory and sweet is what makes this bread so special, which is typically found in the southern part of Umbria, from Perugia to Todi. Walnuts give the bread its name, but its true character comes from the combination of nuts with aged sheep's milk cheese, plumped raisins, and red wine. The wine stains the dough deceptively—it looks like a hearty wheat bread but the texture is soft and slightly chewy.
Umbria is the region that contains Norcia, a town high in the mountains famous for its butchers and cured meats. Pan Nociato is a natural partner for affettati misti, a platter of cold cuts that might include Norcia's sweet prosciutto, wild boar salame, and rustic capocollo, or hearty soup made from farro and lentils from Umbria's hills, flavored with the prized local black truffles.
The worst mistake you can make when making bread is rushing the proofing stage—keep in mind that a slower proof results in a more flavorful final product. I like to make this dough after dinner and leave it to do its business in the darkened peace of the fridge. Fridge proofing lets you watch bad reality TV (or Grey's Anatomy), log in a solid night of sleep, and still turn out fresh, flavorful bread at any point the following day. Just be sure to bring the dough to room temperature before you put it in the oven.
I like to shape this into three small rounds, so I can enjoy them slowly during the week and make petite slices that are perfect for snacking.