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X Italian Breads and Pizzas
Scanata with a Hole in the Center (Bread and/or Pizza Dough, Southern Italian Style, with potatoes, Version I)
Originated from: Casacalenda, Molise, Italy
Occasion: Any time
Contributed by: Mary Melfi (her mother's recipe)

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Scanata (Sometimes spelled Scanat', Chenate, Schenate and Schanato)

A kilo of flour (about 8 to 9 cups)
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons salt
7 to 9 cups tepid water
1 cup of boiled potatoes (sieved)
1 packet of traditional yeast


Follow packet directions for yeast, or alternatively, place the yeast in a cup of warmish water, add half a teaspoon of sugar, stir, and then let it rest for 10 minutes. In either case, if the mixture bubbles up, then the yeast is ready to be used to make the dough.

In a large bowl slowly add the six to eight cups of tepid water to the flour, incorporating the boiled sieved potatoes and yeast as well to the mixture.

Work into a dough, kneading for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Place the dough in a large container and cover (Do not flour the container, grease it if you like, but avoid flouring it as it will destroy the smooth consistency of the dough). Let it rest for three to four hours or until it doubles in size.

After the dough has rested, knead it again for ten minutes or so.

Divide the dough into three portions (A kilo or so of flour should make enough dough for three pizzas or country breads (if not more, depending on the size of your pans).

Cover each portion separately and let the dough rest again for about an hour and a half (The dough should increase substantially in volume again).

After the dough has had its second rise, knead the dough again and then stretch it out so that it looks like a round pizza with a hole in the center.

Bake the pizza on a greased (or sprayed with Pam) pizza pan for about about 40 to 50 minutes or until the "schanta" is golden.

Serve warm or at room temperature.


When my mother was growing up in the 1930s in Casacalenda, Molise, the same dough was used to make: country bread, tomato pizza, pizza di ciccicoli, scanata and scrapelle. Well, at least, that's how my mother remembers it. Back then individual households in most larger towns and cities in the South did not own ovens, so they had to make use of "communal wood-burning ovens." The local baker would go to her customers' homes and pick up their unbaked loaves. However, the customers would later go to the communal oven and there help the baker place the unbaked loaves on the special planks. Those customers who wanted to make "scanata with a hollow center" would stretch the dough and make a hole in it right there at the baker's (If they had done it earlier, the dough would not have retained its shape). After the dough had been shaped, they would stay around until the scanata was placed in the oven. Apparently, because the ovens accommodated a large clientele, some individuals worried their loaves would get mixed up, so some cooks made distinguishing marks on their unbaked loaves. Not everyone made distinguishing marks, but nonetheless it was the responsibility of the individual who made the bread to make sure that what came out of the oven was what she had put in. The quality of the bread depended on a large measure on the skill of the one who had made it, so everyone was vigilant. In some towns the size and position of the cross that was cut into the unbaked loaf prior to going into the oven indicated to whom the bread belonged to; in other towns women used a variety of means of distinguishing their breads, including attaching small pieces of bread to the unbaked loaves. Those that did not make distinguishing marks (My own mother did not), trusted that they would remember where in the oven the baker had placed their bread. There was room for about 100 loaves of bread in the average communal oven -- the baker could accomodate 5 to 6 clients at a time. As the space was limited and the demand great, individuals had to pre-book the use of the oven. They generally went the day before to the baker's, picked up their live yeast (The live yeast was contained in a tiny loaf of bread that had a horrible smell.) and made arrangements to rent the oven space. Apparently, most people preferred to rent the early hours of the day, as then the oven was working at its best -- was the hottest. However, the time one chose to rent the oven space also depended on what it was one was cooking -- bread needed one type of heat, and biscotti another. So, lots of planning was required on both the part of the client and service provider. As previously noted, the baker went to pick up the loaves of bread, and for good reason. The loaves were very heavy, and couldn't easily be brought from one area of the town to another (No cars then). In the 1930s home-made country bread did not at all look like North American style bread, or Italian bread for that matter. Back then each loaf of bread averaged 11 pounds. And as most people generally did a dozen loaves at a time, one can only imagine how difficult it was to carry this foodstuff around (And, of course, how difficult it was to make!). So, those home cooks who had spent hours and hours making the bread, were quite ready to spend a few extra minutes getting to the communal oven and there helping the baker place the unbaked loaves on the special planks. My father told me that the baker placed dividers between different sets of customers' unbaked loaves (like they do at supermarket cashier counters) but this I have yet to verify.... In any case, it was the job of the one who had made the bread to be present when it was taken out of the oven so that the individual ended up with what she had made. Obviously, some home cooks delegated this responsibility to other members of the family. Apparently, children were often asked to pick up their mother's baking at the communal oven. Of all the things brought to the oven, children were most known for picking up "scanata" (the one that came with a hole in the center). Folk fondly recall that children would carry the "scanata" not just on their arms -- but around their arms, so that the pizzas would end up looking like big bracelets.... While everyone was anxious to get the pizzas or breads they themselves had made and not get someone elses' which might not have been as tasty, still, customers didn't hang around at the baker's while the unbaked loaves were in the oven. They left the place, did other chores, and then returned at an appointed hour (Took about an hour and half to two hours for the loaves to cook). While my mother told me that everyone but everyone picked up their bread at the baker's, my aunt, Mrs. Rosina Melfi, said this was not necessarily the case. Those individuals in the town who had the means paid an extra fee to the baker and had their baked bread loaves brought back to them at their home. In any case -- rich or poor -- everyone (unless they had a maid) had to go to the baker's to stretch out their scanata (sometimes also known as "white pizza"). Red pizza could be stretched out at home for it would retain its shape, but whether they did or not, depended on personal choice. Some cooks (Those who had their own pizza baking pans) stretched out their pizza and added tomato sauce to the pizza while they were still at home; after they had prepared the "red pizza" they themselves brought the "red pizzas" to the baker. Those cooks who did not have their own pizza baking pans, gave the unbaked pizza dough to the baker when she came round to pick up their bread dough. They then went to the baker's and brought along their tomato sauce. At the baker's they stretched out their pizza dough and then placed the tomato sauce on it. As for cakes and cookies, the baker did not pick up the cake and cookie batter up (When I asked my mother about this, she looked at me as if I were an idiot -- Why would the baker pick that stuff up? The only reason the baker picked up her customers' unbaked loaves of bread was because that stuff was too heavy for most women to carry around on their heads!). In any case, even in a small town like Casacalenda (Population 9,000 -- prior to World War II!) many households adapted recipes to suit their own tastes. My aunt, Zia Rosina, for example, did not like using potatoes in her pizza and/or bread dough, so she didn't use them. However, the use of potatoes in pizza or bread dough, well, that's a story in itself (Though neither my mother nor my aunt might agree). I suspect (even though I have no proof) that prior to World War II the use of potatoes in bread and/or pizza dough was associated with poor people's food (Stretched out the amount of loaves one got if one added potatoes), and so those who had money avoided using them. Even though my mother swears that this was not the case (According to her using potatoes added flavor and helped the bread from going stale and that was it!) Mrs. Adelaide Palazzo, my friend's aunt, who also grew up in Molise in the 1930s, indicated that many households in her village of Guardialfiera looked down on those who used potatoes in their bread dough as this suggested that the quality of the wheat they grew was not good enough (Most people who lived in the countryside at that time grew their own wheat). Apparently, according to Mrs. Adelaide Palazzo, few, if any cooks, in Guardialfiera used potatoes in their dough because the quality of the wheat grown in and around Guardialfiera was superior to that grown in Casacalenda or elsewhere (A fact my mother hotly disputes). While no first generation Italian I spoke to has ever suggested that the use of potatoes was correlated to one's economic class I suspect there might have been a correlation (O.k. this is not all that important unless one is interested in food trivia like I am....). In any case, when Italians from Molise immigrated to North America, very few of them continued to make bread. Pizza yes, but bread, no! Making bread involved too much work, besides in the 1950s, the local Italian bakeries did a fine job of making country-style breads. Nowadays many Italian bakeries still sell "scanata" style bread and it is generally very good.... The dough for the "scanata" seen in the photo in this entry was made by my mother (And yes she used potatoes to make her dough and not because potatoes are cheaper than flour, but simply because that's how she likes her pizza dough!) but I'll take the credit for stretching it and baking it. I used a tube pan, which gave it a nice enough appearance, but impaired its taste. An aluminum cookie sheet greased with Tenderflake (lard) would have been the right thing to use. Photo: by the contributor.

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