You may have heard of Sicilian semolina bread, or perhaps even challenged yourself to make this specialty artisan bread, but there are a few things you should know about it's background and the flour that makes it so characteristic.
Durum wheat is a popular farm product of some northern states such as Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota and especially North Dakota. However, industry analysts say that the prairie region of Canada (being semi arid), particularly in Saskatchewan produces some of the best durum semolina in the world.
Durum wheat is a hearty grain that is normally milled into semolina – granules that more resemble uncooked polenta. It is very high in protein and gluten which makes it ideal for pasta production and the farmers of these states are often suppliers to some of the largest dry pasta producers around the world.
There are other popular uses as well for semolina such as couscous and some countries such as Germany, Poland, Sweden and Latvia have versions of a semolina pudding which is basically cooked with milk or cream and assorted fruit flavors until it is thick, then refrigerated and set almost like a panna cotta would be. It is served cool, with many varieties of fruit and sauces.
Semolina flour which comes from grinding the heart of the durum wheat berry is a refined product that still has the high gluten and protein of the durum wheat. Using this flour to bake Sicilian semolina bread produces a vibrant golden crusty outer shell, with a spongy soft buttery body. Most Italian exports with a crunchy shell will usually have at least some semolina or durum flour in them. In Canadian and North American bakeries, the semolina flour is generally combined with at least some durum flour as well so as to add some shaping structure to help form the bread into its many popular twist loaf shapes.
Sicilian semolina bread (Pane Siciliano Semolina) is most often topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds – as is the Sicilian tradition, but this is entirely optional. When we do a batch of this bread, we normally offer both versions. The sesame seeds add a light, but distinct nutty and toasty flavor which makes a great compliment for soups, sliced meats and cheeses. Also, the soft and spongy texture make Sicilian semolina bread just awesome for home, grilled panini sandwiches with your favorite fillings.
If you find it difficult to find semolina flour at your grocery store, then the next best option would be a fine durum wheat flour.