Christmas season was always special for me as a child. Growing up in an Italian family always meant having many traditions during the holiday season. I can always remember my mother making fresh-baked cookies for friends and family and I will never forget the first time I tasted Panettone Bread.
By JASPER J. MIRABILE. JR.
It was late fall and my father and I were visiting with our friends from Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani in Milan, Italy. We were shopping at the famous Pecks Market and my father made it a special point that we had to bring home a Panettone for Christmas.
I had never seen so many different types of Panettone or such huge displays in any grocery store in Italy. There must have been 25 different types on display but my father was insistent on finding one that was baked by a local baker in Milan.
After consulting with his friend and restaurateur Tony May from New York, my father chose a Panettone that was supposedly baked by one of the original members of the family that invented the famous bread. Wow, you wonder where I get my persistence for authenticity?
This was also the first time I learned of the history of the famous Panettone bread.
Many Milanese believe the legend that a noble Milanese, Ughetto Atellani, invented the bread after disguising himself as a peasant and offering to work at local Milanese bakery. It was at the bakery that he fell in love with the owner’s daughter.
One night, while he was in the bakery after hours, he added dried grapes and candied fruit to one of the breads that was made during the holiday season. The next day, the owner tasted the bread and decided it was worth selling at the bakery.
The bread became one of the most famous breads of Milan and the young noble asked for the young girl’s hand in marriage. The bread was featured at the wedding and became known as Pan de Ton, which meant the bread of luxury.
Actually, the word Panettone comes from the word Paneto, which means a small loaf cake. The actual origins date back to the Roman Empire when Romans sweetened their breads with fruit honey. There are many more legends about the famous bread, but those are two of the most popular.
The famous bread now takes almost three days to prepare and contains very expensive ingredients. The bread has a cupola shape and is usually about 12 inches high. It is made during a long process that involves the mixing and cutting of the dough along with a proofing process. Many people compare it to a sourdough bread process. Most Panettone contains candied orange and lemon zest as well as raisins. Some versions even contain chocolate.
Efforts are under way to obtain a special Protected Designation of Origin and D.O.C. in Italy. The Italians feel that there are many imitations throughout Italy and around the world and they want to protect not only the history but also the famous recipe.
After many years of receiving Panettone from friends and relatives in Italy, a few years back I discovered one local Panettone made right here in Kansas City.
Mark Friend from Farm to Market Bread Co. prepares and bakes his signature Panettone with lightly sweetened dough made from flour, egg and butter, studded with dried cranberries, candied oranges and toasted almonds.
Farm to Market begins baking Panettone in late October. The process takes over two days with 18 hours of fermentation and is based on a traditional recipe that Friend researched many years ago. This year, the bakery will produce thousands and thousands of Panettone sold throughout Kansas City, across Missouri, Kansas and now in Colorado.
Personally, I love everything made local right here in Kansas City and I wait every year for Farm to Market’s Panettone. I have never had such fresh bread in my whole life. Unfortunately, most of the Panettone from Italy are produced a year in advance and contain many preservatives.
Farm to Market Bread does not use any preservatives, just rich butter, Kansas flour and local eggs combined with cranberries and orange. Talk about delicious.
Traditionally, Italians eat Panettone for breakfast. Some Italians like to serve it with a sweet Asti Spumante and some even serve it with a creamy Mascarpone cheese. I have even enjoyed Panettone served with Zabaglione.
I once prepared a Panettone, removed the cavity, filled the inside with gelato, put the cap back on it, froze it and then sliced and served it. The recipe became a favorite and was featured in Cucina Magazine.
I have used Panettone for Thanksgiving stuffing, for bread in a Panini, tossed in a Panzanella, as French Toast for breakfast and, of course, just sliced and toasted with a dollop of fresh local butter.
One of the most popular holiday desserts at Jasper’s Restaurant is, of course, Panettone Bread Pudding. It is absolutely delicious and very simple to prepare. I love the idea of adding local Shatto Eggnog to give the dessert a rich flavor.
It really doesn’t matter how you enjoy your Panettone as long as you share it with friends and family on your holiday table.
Many thanks to our friends at Farm to Market Bread for preparing such a great Panettone, one that can stand up to any imported Italian Panettone that I have ever enjoyed. Salute Farm to Market Bread!
1/2 pound Pancetta or bacon
1 Farm To Market Panettone, cut into cubes and dried to make croutons
1 Granny Smith Apple sliced
4 cups wild greens
8 ounces Jasper’s Tuscan Salad Dressing
1 cup pomegranate seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut Panettone into cubes. Drizzle with butter and toast in oven until crispy. Set aside. Sauté pancetta in large skillet over medium heat until crisp; transfer to paper towels to drain.
Combine Panettone croutons, Pancetta, apple with greens in large bowl. Add greens. Add enough vinaigrette to coat, tossing to blend well. Transfer salad to large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds. Serve with cracked pepper and salt.
Jasper Mirabile’s Panettone Bread Pudding
1 Farm To Market Panettone
3 cups eggnog
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup almonds, sliced
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut Panettone into cubes. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Add more eggnog if needed. Butter or spray a loaf pan. Add mixture to pan. Bake for 45 minutes until golden.
Chef Jasper J. Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s commands the helm of his family’s 59-year-old restaurant, consistently rated one of Kansas City’s best Italian restaurants. In addition to running the restaurant with his brother, Mirabile is a culinary instructor, founding member of Slow Food Kansas City and a national board member of the American Institute of Wine and Food. He hosts many famous chefs on his weekly radio show Live! From Jasper’s Kitchen on KCMO 710 AM and 103.7 FM and sells a line of dressings and sauces.