Ciabatta is an Italian white bread made with wheat flour and yeast. The literal translation of the word is slipper because of its shape. The loaf is somewhat elongated, broad and flattish and, like a slipper, should be somewhat collapsed in the middle. Since the late 1990s it has been popular across Europe and in the United States, and is widely used as a sandwich bread.
It is not clear where in Italy this kind of bread was first produced, and at least one type of ciabatta can be found in nearly every region of Italy. Each regional version of the bread is a little different The ciabatta from the area encompassing Lake Como has a crisp crust, a somewhat soft, porous texture, and is light to the touch. The ciabatta found in Tuscany, Umbria, and Marche varies from bread that has a firm crust and dense crumb, to bread that has a crisper crust and more open texture. The more open-crumbed form, which is usual in the United States, is made from a very wet dough, often requiring machine-kneading, and a biga or sourdough starter.
The Italians are among the world's most experimental cooks. There are many variations of ciabatta. When made with whole wheat flour, it is known as ciabatta integrale. In Rome, it is often seasoned with olive oil, salt, and marjoram. When milk is added to the dough, it becomes ciabatta al latte. A toasted sandwich made from small loaves of ciabatta is known as a panino (plural panini).
The early 21st century saw a great increase in the use of ciabatta in the United States, most prominently in panini. This grilled and pressed sandwich shares it popularity with the Cuban style sandwiches made famous in the South Beach Miami region of Florida. Today, sandwiches using ciabatta are available at many different food chain establishments such as Jack in the Box and Einstein Bros Bagels.
Whatever its origins, ciabatta bread has become a popular
bread that can be found as the bases for sandwiches or a perfect
accompaniment to Italian dishes all around the world.