In the South of Italy during sultry summer days it is common to taste frisella, a simple and delicious baked product typical of the enogastronomical tradition of the southern regions, similar to bread but with a flat shape and a hard consistency which characterizes it. Originally, frisella accompanied sailors in their long journeys and then it became part of the tradition of Southern Italy. Today it differs among the different regions of the South, for its aspect, consistency and taste. The one we find in Naples is not a simple frisella but the fresella napoletana.
The ancient origins of Frisella
The origin of frisella is very old. Its first appearance dates back to the tenth century BC, at the time of the long voyages of Phoenician navigators. During their journeys, in fact, they used to consume this special type of bread which, being twice-baked, could be kept for a long time.
According to other scholars, instead, frisella was also known by Greek and Cretan people. Other historical evidences of frisella come from the writings of Pliny the Elder who mentions it in his Naturalis Historia, book XXII. It seems, in fact, that this food was also known by Romans and the term fresella derives from the Latin word “frendere” that is “to grind, pound, reduce in pieces”.
In more recent history, frisella then begins to differentiate itself. Before the postwar years, the dough was prepared by using different types of flour. With durum wheat flour was obtained a more expensive frisella, consumed during celebrations or however spread on the tables of wealthy people. Friselle obtained by mixing barley flour or a mixture of wheat and barley were cheaper and therefore generally consumed by lower classes.
In the tradition of Southern Italy, at the time when poverty was widespread, it was usual to bake all bakery products for the whole community by means of huge and capacious public ovens. Bread making was done two or three times a month with the use of large quantities of dough which had to guarantee the daily food needs of all the families.
The smallest part of the dough was destined to the production of loaves of soft bread, to be consumed in the short term, whereas the largest part was used for the production of toasted bread, the friselle, which were then stored in large stone jars.
Nowadays friselle are found in supermarkets’ food banks and in local delicatessens, where they are sold bagged, in various sizes and produced with flours and mixtures of many kinds.
The fresella of Naples and Campania
In Campania, precisely in the city of Naples, the friselle, locally called freselle, were once sold exclusively by the “tarallaro”, a street vendor who sold taralli and freselle. With this very particular “bread” here is prepared caponata, one of the typical local dishes: fresella is soaked and seasoned with fresh tomatoes in pieces, garlic, oil, oregano, basil, white or black olives and tuna or anchovies, also known as salted anchovies.
Traditionally fresella was also used as an accompaniment to the typical Neapolitan dish sausages and broccoli rabes (salsicce e friarielli). In Benevento, an inland area of Campania, fresella is prepared with a mixture of lard and pepper (“nzogna e pepe”) and it is eaten as it is as an accompaniment of cold cuts and appetizers especially during Easter.
In Costiera Amalfitana is instead found the “vascuotto”, a product which has the mark De. Co. mark, of communal denomination, typical of Agerola and Monti Lattari. According to Agerola’s tradition, the dough of this particular type of frisella is prepared with water, salt and a mixture of wheat and rye flour, a variant which has bigger and tastier grains.
For the preparation of the dough, which can also be made of corn flour and wheat flour, it is exclusively used sourdough or mother yeast. The term vascuotto, derives from the elongated shape of the dough.
The frisella of Apulia
In Apulia frisella is called the bread of Crusaders because thanks to its long preservation it represented one of the main foods of Christian troops during the long journeys of Crusades. Even its doughnut shape responds to precise needs: having the typical central hole, in fact, the friselle were threaded one after the other and joined together by a string. With a knot, the ends of the string were joined together in order to carry them comfortably or to keep them dry, thus reducing humidity to the minimum.
Today friselle salentine of durum wheat, commonly called frise or friseddhe, are a typical dish of Apulia and for their preparation has been invented a very particular tool: the “sponza-frise”. It is a very particular bowl, made of Grottaglie’s ceramics, covered at the top by a half plate with holes. A practical and elegant invention to rehydrate the frisella with the so called “sponzatura”.
By immersing the frisella in water, in fact, it is necessary to pay attention so that the product is uniformly rehydrated in order to avoid the presence of unpleasantly hard areas. A frisella that is not properly “sponzata” (soaked) will be difficult to bite with a ruinous collapse of the filling on the surface. The traditional frisella from Salento can be seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, fresh tomatoes and oregano and possibly an addition of fiordilatte cheese and cucumber.
In Bari, the frisella is a culinary specialty, also served in restaurants with the dialectal term of cialdèdd’, cialdella or waffle which is also very often prepared at home and then sold in stores. The preparation requires the use of oil, water, fresh tomato sauce and wine, whereas for the sinful condiment are used artichokes and lampascioni, a particular type of garlic.
The fresella of Calabria
Regarding the tip of the boot, in Calabria, frisella takes the name of fresa. In this Calabrian variant, the undisputed local queen could not be missing: the Tropea onion.
The fresa calabrese is prepared by rubbing a clove of fresh garlic directly on the surface of the toasted bread, before softening it by moistening it with water. In the meantime, cubes of fresh tomato, slices of Tropea onion and Calabrian hot pepper are prepared in a bowl and seasoned with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Everything will then be placed directly on the fresa, sprinkling it with oregano.
How to prepare the frisella, the twice-baked bread
As we have already said, there are many variants of frisella, which is however prepared by means of a dough made of barley and durum wheat flour or other types according to the taste required, salt, yeast and water.
The frisella is put in the oven twice: the first time to cook the shapes which, while still hot, will be divided in two halves on the horizontal plane, with the help of a string “a strozzo”. This operation will give each frisella the typical wrinkled surface that characterizes its appearance. The pieces obtained will then be put in the oven where they will be cooked, this is why frisella is called twice-baked bread, since it’s cooked twice. In the cold winter nights it can enrich soups made of vegetables, fish, meat or legumes or it can be used as a base for side dishes or, according to tradition, instead of bread.
The recipe of the freselle napoletane
Ingredients for six freselle:
- 400 gr flour
- 1/2 cube of yeast (if it is winter it is better to use a whole cube)
- 1 level teaspoon of salt
- Lukewarm water to taste
First dissolve the yeast in warm water. Put the flour in a bowl and gradually add the dissolved yeast, then knead all the ingredients adding the salt at the end. Knead the dough for about ten minutes until it is smooth and homogeneous and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Once rested, divide the dough into loaves of about 200 grams and create wide and flattened doughnuts that will rise for another 20 minutes. Once they have risen, bake them in the oven at about 160°. Then take them out and when they are cold (since it would certainly be difficult to do this when they are boiling hot as in the case of bakeries with the wire “a strozzo”) divide them in half obtaining the typical shape of fresella and put them back to cook for another 15-20 minutes until they are dry.
Once cooked, it is good to let them cool covered by a breathable cloth and then store them in bread bags. Now you just have to taste them!