Bread from a woodburning oven, in Grottaferrata, outside Rome.
It's my favorite bakery in Italy - and hard to find, about five miles into the hilly countryside southeast of Rome, then down a small back road (past the bowling alley!) outside of Grottaferrata. Look for a small black-and-white sign that immodestly states: Valentino: Il Mago del Pane ("Valentino: The Bread Magician").
Valentino Cerquozzi may be the magician, but his mother, Rossana, prepares the dough for this bakery's excellent casareccio. The name means family-style in Italian, and these rustic loaves look like the true staff of life, with a cornmeal-dusted, dull dark brown crust. The dough (the wettest I've ever seen) is mixed by machine, then delicately, but swiftly, folded by hand a few times on a heavily floured surface before being laid into a divided wooden trough lined with cloth. There it rises for an hour before being baked in a wood-fired oven. On my last visit, Valentino's 4-year-old daughter, powdered with flour, was standing on a stool at the marble workstation, forming small loaves with the same practiced gestures as her grandmother.
Buy a loaf of the casareccio or take away one of the breads flavored with olives, raisins, onions or walnuts. The oven burns seven days a week and turns out around 500 loaves every day. Jam tarts, simple cakes, ciambellini (little ring-shaped cookies) and (a Roman touch) hand-rolled fettuccine are also prepared at this world-class bakery.
Valentino, via del Pratone 88, Grottaferrata, tel. 39-06-941-0136.
Open seven days a week; closed from 2 to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
July 17, 1997