AN ITALIAN EXPERIENCE - FOOD
Dispensa (pantry) & Bread
1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Spray or lightly grease a 9 inch round cake pan or Bundt pan.
2. In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder. Stir in egg, milk and vegetable oil until well combined. Pour batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.
PRESERVING FRESH BASIL
Wash a large quantity of basil leaves. Spread them on a towel in the sun to dry for ten minutes or so, until all the moisture from the washing has evaporated. Mince them very finely, almost to a pulp, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add freshly grated Parmesan cheese and mix thoroughly. Continue to add cheese until all the moisture has been absorbed. The texture should resemble sawdust. It is very important to use excellent quality Parmesan cheese, and only freshly grated cheese. You will know the difference.
Prepare half-pint jars, as many as necessary, by sterilizing them. Add a thin layer of salt and pepper to the bottom of each jar. Add a layer of the basil/cheese mixture and pack it down with a wooden spoon or something similar until it is about 1/3" deep. Continue with another layer of salt and pepper and then of the basil/cheese mixture until you have reached 1/3" below the top of each jar. Add 1/4"olive oil, screw on the top and put the jars in the refrigerator. The salt in the cheese and the salt and pepper are the preserving agents, and this mixture can last a year or more. This mixture makes a terrific and simple coating for pasta.
In selecting fruit for making jam, be sure that it is ripe, flavorful, and blemish free. If you're not sure about the quality of the fruit, close your eyes and take a deep sniff. If you're not greeted by the heady aroma of ripe fruit the jam won't taste of much either.
How much to make? Jams and preserves come out best made in small batches -- 1 to 1.5 quarts (liters) at a time. If you have more fruit make a second batch. Lightly crush the fruit with your hands and put it in the pot, adding a little water if it's a relatively dry fruit, for example apricots. Heat over a low flame, stirring often to prevent sticking or burning, until the fruit has become soft, then add the sugar.
Continue stirring while the sugar dissolves, and then reduce the heat and continue to cook until the jam thickens to the point that a drop on a tilted plate runs slowly (keep in mind that it will thicken further as it cools, so don't let it get too thick); this could take up to a half hour. Taste as you go; should the jam be too tart add more sugar, and if it is overly sweet add some lemon juice.
Once the jam is done, transfer it to sterile jars with metal lids. (Wash the lids with boiling water before use. Drop them in the same pot with the jars when the jars are sterilizing). Pour the hot jam into them, leaving a little bit of air space, and screw the lids on tightly. Let the jars cool on a metal rack. When they have cooled, tap the lids lightly with a spoon or knife; if they ring the seal is true. Should the lid of a jar fail to ring, either reseal it or use it immediately. Store the jam in a cool dry place; it will keep for a year or more.
APRICOT DIPPING SAUCE
This sauce may be made up to 2 days ahead, cooled, then chilled, covered. Reheat sauce over low heat, stirring. Makes about 2 cups
JAM, APRICOT WITH GINGER
For an extra zing, add fresh or powdered ginger as they cook. Remarkable result!
Return the apricot puree and sugar to the pot, cook over low heat at a simmer for one hour.Place prepared jam into hot, sterilized jars, and store in a cool dark place.
Yield: 9 1/2 pints
JAM, GINGERED PEACH
Continue to cook for an hour or more until the peaches are glossy and the juice is thick enough to your taste. Pour the mixture into sterilized jars and let them sit for at least a week.
JAM, GINGERED FIG WITH LEMON
Simmer the figs in water and spices for five minutes, add the sugar gradually and simmer over a low heat until the figs have become glossy and the syrup is thick. This will take approximately one hour.
Bottle into sterilized jars immediately.
Note:The figs can be eaten as a very rich sweet with ice cream, or served with cheese. They are very rich but delicious.
JAM, LINDSEY'S TOMATO
Add a pinch each of salt and cayenne and cook over medium-high heat, stirring very often, until the tomatoes cook down to the consistency of jam and the sugars are bubbly and carmelized, about 30 minutes.
Set aside to cool. If it is too sweet, adjust the seasoning with up to 1/2 Tbsp. of the vinegar.
(New York Times)
Preheat oven to 450°F.
2. Divide biscuit dough into six equal balls. Use your palm to flatten each ball into a 1/2 -inch-thick disk. Arrange on top of ratatouille mixture. Brush biscuits lightly with milk.
3. Transfer skillet or pan to oven and cook until biscuits are golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: 6 servings.
CURING OLIVES, two ways
At the end of six weeks, rinse the olives off.
In these jars, pour some of your best olive oil and put the jar away in a cool, dark place for at least a couple of months.
ITALIAN BREAD MAKING
We've just acquired Carol Field's 1985 book, The Italian Baker, and recommend it for anyone wanting to seriously make Italian breads. She translates the recipes into American versions with easy to find ingredients.
I can categorically state that I don't like Italian flour. I'm not alone. Friend Wendy Briggs brings hers from Australia with her when she comes. Until we drive to Rome to a biologic store called Naturasi!, we're slogging by with local flour. The local bakery will sell us their flour by the kilo, and that's a bit better than the packages offered in the markets, but only by a bit.
I've wanted to understand the difference between "O" and "OO" flour. Thanks to Carol Field, here is the difference: "OO" flour is one part pastry flour and three parts all-purpose flour. "O" flour is one part cake flour and four parts all-purpose flour.
Why am I so obsessed with baking bread? I love the metal hook attachments that come with our electric mixer, or rather, the magic they create. Once plunged into a mass of flour and water and leavening, they transform the mess into a silky consistency that rises into glorious shapes that, once baked, compare with the best panificios around.
Here's an herb bread, that is great when hot, then makes wonderful breadcrumbs. I know, it's a lot of work for bread crumbs, but when you've breaded something with these breadcrumbs, which come out of a food processor after pieces of the loaf have been cut and whirled around, you'll be a believer. I'll never use those tiny-grained store bought bread crumbs again! But try the bread first, hot out of the oven and cooled on a rack until you're able to slice it.
This recipe will make 2 loaves of focaccia, or one enormous one.
Stir the yeast into 1/3 cup of the water in a small bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Mix the flour, potatoes, honey, olive oil and salt in a large bowl; mound the mixture in the bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the dissolved yeast into the well and gradually add 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons water, stirring the dry ingredients from the side of the well into the liquid. Stir until the dough comes together. Knead on a floured surface until soft and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir the yeast into all the warm water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, potatoes, honey, olive oil and salt, and mix with the paddle until the mixture comes together. Change to the dough hook and knead at medium speed until soft and elastic, about 3 minutes or so. If you don't have a paddle, just knead with the hooks.
Shaping and Second Rise:
Cover with a damp towel and let rise until the dough has doubled and completely filled the pans, about 45 minutes.
Dimple the tops of the dough, letting your fingertips walk lightly across the surface and leave little indentations in the dough. Using a pastry brush, lightly wash the tops of the bread with the oil and sprinkle with the oregano.
Makes 2-4 loaves, depending on how big you want the loaves to come out
Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about ten minutes. Stir in the chopped herb mixture and the oil. Mix the flour and salt and stir 1 cup of it at a time into the yeast mixture in the bowl.
Using mixing beaters, continue to mix until the dough pulls away form the sides of the bowl. If the mass is not this consistency yet, add a little water. Then change to the dough hooks and knead until silky, elastic and resilient. This should take 2 to 3 minutes.
Heat the oven to 400°F. If using a baking stone, turn the oven on 30 minutes before baking and sprinkle the stone with cornmeal just before sliding the loaves onto it. Bake until the loaves sound hollow when you tap the bottoms, 40 to 45 minutes.
Cool completely on racks before serving.
(makes one 11x17 baking sheet)
In a small saucepan, warm 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the rosemary and lemon zest. Add the grapes and raisins, mix well then add half to the yeast mixture.
Mix another 1 cup flour into the yeast mixture with the dough hook attachment. Knead until smooth. With the machine running, add the salt and remaining 3 cups flour, one cup at a time, kneading until smooth after each addition. Knead another six minutes after the addition of the last cup of flour.
The dough should remain rather wet to ensure a soft and light bread. Shape the dough into a ball on a floured board and put it in an oiled bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow it to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk about 45 minutes.
Punch dough down and lightly sprinkle work surface with flour. Turn out dough and knead lightly. At this point, the dough may be wrapped and frozen.
To bake, preheat oven to 400°F. Oil an 11x17 baking sheet and sprinkle corn meal over the top. Press dough down into a flat disc with the heel of your hand. Using your fingertips, nudge the dough into a rectangle. The dough can be rolled but the pressure will produce heavier bread.
Transfer the dough to the baking sheet and brush with the remaining olive oil. Let rise again until doubled, 30-40 minutes.
Make indentations all over the dough by pressing with your fingertips, being careful not to puncture all the way through. Bake 15 minutes, then remove from the oven and brush with the egg.
Sprinkle with the remaining grape mixture, then the remaining sugar. Finish with some coarse salt.
Return to the oven and continue to bake until golden brown on top and crisp on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Let cool in the pan before cutting.