Grissini are long, thin pieces of crispy, dry bread. They are better known in many English speaking nations as breadsticks or bread sticks, and they are a popular accompaniment to many Italian meals. Cooks who specialize in other cuisines have also adapted grissini, since they pair well with a variety of foods and they also make an excellent standalone snack. Many markets stock grissini, and they can also be made at home, by cooks who want to tweak the recipe with custom additions.
The origins of grissini appear to lie in the 14th century, and the food seems to have emerged in Turin. Grissino Torinesi, or bread sticks in the style of Turin, are very popular, and Turin prides itself on its grissini production. A number of myths surround the origins of grissini. In all probability, the food was developed when a cook had leftover pizza dough and decided to experiment with it.
A basic breadstick is pencil thin and very plain, made with just flour, water, and salt. These breadsticks are often on offer at wine tastings as a palate cleanser, or they may accompany flavorful soups and stews as a neutral starch. Grissini may be straight or twisted, slightly flattened or even squared, and their texture ranges from an almost stale crispiness to a much more soft and breadlike mouthfeel. Commonly, grissini are rolled or dressed in things like seasame seeds, fresh herbs, or caramelized onions. The dough may also be livened up with an assortment of ingredients ranging from honey to red pepper flakes.
There are a wide range of ways to serve grissini. A platter of them on the table at an Italian meal is certainly appropriate, and they can also be used to create appetizers, such as prosciutto wrapped breadsticks. They may also be eaten out of hand like a snack, and the more bready versions can almost make a meal in and of themselves, especially when dressed with ingredients like Parmesan.
Cooks can fairly confidently use almost any type of yeast dough to make grissini, although pizza dough is the most suitable choice. After the dough is worked and allowed to rise once, it is rolled out flat and cut into strips, which are typically stretched out by hand, with the dough suspended in the air. The dough is allowed to rise again, and the grissini are baked in the oven until golden and crispy. Fresh grissini are excellent right out of the oven, or more dry versions can be allowed to cool and stored in an airtight container until the cook is ready to use them.