The Best Bread For Mopping Up Italian Sauces (Aka Scarpetta)

Some say it's the best part of an Italian meal. The moment comes at the end when your plate is otherwise clear of food and the only thing that remains is a puddle of residual sauce. Though your stomach is telling you you're already full, that sauce is just too delicious to go to waste. The answer is clear, it cannot be left behind. You reach for a chunk of bread and sop up every drop of that wonderful, flavorful sauce, and eat with gusto.

It's a common ritual, but did you know the practice actually has a name? The Italian word for such an act is 'scarpetta' which translates to "little shoe," suggesting the motion the bread takes when mopping up the sauce. Like a shoe dragging on the ground, the bread drags around the plate, picking up everything left behind.

It's not far-fetched to assume the act of scarpetta is a testament to the Italian belief that wasting any amount of food is unacceptable, particularly in times of poverty. This supports the theory that the word scarpetta is derived from 'scarsetta,' which translates to "scarcity." "Fare la scarpetta" or "making the little shoe" can be accomplished with whatever kind of bread you have on hand, from breadsticks to sliced ciabatta to chunks of focaccia. But the best, most efficient vehicle for wiping your plate clean is a different type of Italian bread.

For the best results, look to Puglia

To be sure, any bread will do the job but Puglian bread, a specialty of — you guessed it — the Italian region of Puglia, works particularly well. It has a sturdy crust, perfect for grasping with your fingers, and a soft interior, full of holes which are both important for absorbing the sauce and seizing any food chunks on your plate. A sweep of Puglian bread across your plate will clean it beautifully, much to the delight of your tastebuds and whoever is washing the dishes. 

To compare, ciabatta is so full of large holes that it may not soak up an adequate amount of sauce in one swipe, and focaccia (though delicious) often contains many herbs and flavorings, changing the flavor of the sauce you're so eager to finish. Is it necessary to go out of your way to make or buy a loaf of Puglian bread every time you eat Italian food? Of course not, but when you do get your hands on one, maybe plan an Italian dinner while you've got it. 

Many agree that the act of scarpetta is completely expected at home or when dining out at casual, informal eateries, but when it comes to white tablecloth establishments, using your hands to wipe up the sauce is considered rude. But don't think that's an excuse to leave your sauce behind — simply stab your bread with a fork and swipe away.