by David Downie
Everyone knows about the focaccia of Genoa and the Italian Riviera. But who remembers the region’s hardtack?
Sea biscuits: those hard, dry crackers that sailors would take with them on long journeys, because normal bread got moldy within days?
In Italian, sea biscuits are called “gallette.” The same word is used for the surf-worn, flattened stones you find on beaches. That’s because sea biscuits look very much like those stones, with pock marks.
There used to be hundreds of bakeries up and down the coast of Italy, and in America too, that baked sea biscuits. Now only a handful continue the tradition, most of them in Liguria, and only one makes gallette in the old-fashioned way, meaning the way they were made in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
That bakery is Panificio Maccarini, run by second-generation baker Italo Maccarini, who is now 70 years old. Panificio Maccarini had been around since 1885, and it’s in San Rocco di Camogli, about 23 kilometers by chase-your-tail road southeast of Genoa, on the way to La Spezia.
Italo Maccarini’s sea biscuits are about half an inch to 1 inch thick, porous, and as hard as a rock. If you’ve ever wondered what the meaning of “bone dry” was, you’ve found it. Gallette appear to have a kind of shell, like a sea creature. It’s this rock-hard exterior that preserves them: they last for months.
I’ve spent many a day learning about gallette from Italo. Click here to watch a video showing how Italo and his crew—Remo, Gian, Anna and Valeria — make gallette at Panificio Maccarini.
Gallette go into soups, notably ciuppin’, the ancestor of San Francisco’s cioppino seafood stew. My wife Alison, who has good strong teeth, likes to snack on them as is. I use gallette to make the Ligurian seafood salad capponadda (it’s not the same as the caponata of southern Italy).
Look for a future article here on Wandering Liguria with the classic Ligurian recipe for capponadda: sea biscuits, tuna, salted anchovies preserved in olive oil, and lots of ripe tomatoes, plus a few secret ingredients.
For an in-depth discussion of gallette and all the classic Ligurian recipes, the history of the town of Camogli, the culture, food, wine, hikes, treks, restaurants, food shops, best coffee, best focaccia, best Italian Riviera discoveries and more, pick up our books, Food Wine Italian Riviera & Genoa and Enchanted Liguria: A Celebration of the Culture, Lifestyle and Food of the Italian Riviera.
Gallette, Italian Riviera sea biscuits originally appeared on WanderingLiguria.com Sep 26, 2011, © David Downie