There are so many versions of Pasta e Fagioli in Italy and on the web, it almost seems superfluous to add my two bob’s worth on the topic. Anyone who has an Italian nonna makes a more traditional/better/regional/authentic version. During winter, Pasta e Fagioli, (pasta and beans) is one of the most useful dishes to know. Is it an entrée, a soup or a main dish? It can be all of these but given the heartiness and distinct lack of brothy elements, I tend to make this dish as a piatto unico, a stand alone dish, to be served with bread, a few drops of new oil, and perhaps some Parmigiano. Most versions are thick with beans and pasta and very little broth: some are made slowly with fresh borlotti beans, while less desirable versions are thrown together with canned beans, canned tomato and cheap industrial pasta. It is a timeless classic rustic dish, Cucina Povera Italiana, made in the past through necessity using simple ingredients stored for winter. Today, it satisfies that need in us all for comfort food on a cold winter’s day.
Like many other Italian dishes, this one also starts with a classic soffritto, that holy trio of flavour, emerging from the slow sauté of carrots, onion and celery. The soffrito vegetables must be chopped very finely so that they almost disappear once they are cooked. Another element often added at the soffrito stage is pancetta and lardo. I omit these ingredients given my dietary preferences but try to find other umani elements to flavour the dish, either through rich stock, herbs, garlic or even anchovy fillets, reduced to a salty mash. I also reserve a little deep vegetable stock to thin the mixture.
200 g borlotti beans, either fresh or dried
250 gr tomato passata or finely diced tomatoes
80 gr onion finely chopped
30 gr celery finely chopped
30 gr carrot finely chopped
1 garlic finely chopped
1 small branch fresh rosemary
3 Bay leaves
10 g EV olive oil
fine sea salt
100- 200g of pasta ditalini, depending on your preference for a thick or thinner version.
Cook the beans. If using dried borlotti, soak overnight then cook in water for around 80 minutes. Add the bay leaves to the water but no salt which may make the beans remain hard. If using fresh borlotti, there’s no need to soak them and they should cook in under 30 minutes, depending on their their freshness. Keep the cooking water.
When the beans are done, make a soffrito with the onion, celery and carrot. Add the oil to a large heavy based soup pot and gently saute these vegetables until soft and golden, adding the chopped garlic and finely chopped rosemary towards the end. (Traditionally, the garlic would be added to the cooking oil first, cooked until just golden then fished out before adding the soffrito ingredients. If you don’t love garlic as much as I do, consider that method. I like to keep the garlic for more flavour)
Add the beans and a little of the cooking water. Then add the tomato and heat through gently. Remove two ladles of the mixture and puree with a hand mixer. Return this back to the soup pot. If too thick, add a little bean cooking water or vegetable stock.
Add the pasta, and cook until al dente. Watch the pot at this stage as the pasta and beans have a tendency to stick when this thick. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve in lovely wide and shallow bowls with a drizzle of fine oil and some good bread.
There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember.
Ophelia, Act 4, Scene 5, Hamlet.
The most exquisite and evocative bread of my sourdough repertoire is Panmarino. Now that’s a big call I know but it might have something to do with the fragrant mixture of Rosemary and Salt, the soft comforting texture of the bread, or the dramatic diamond encrusted star on its baked dome. I have only recently converted this yeasted bread to sourdough, and must make sure that I don’t make it too often. I prefer to think of it as a festive bread, perhaps best associated with reminiscence and memory. It would be a lovely bread to make for the anniversary of a loved one. Pray you, love, remember me.
This bread was first popularised by Carol Field in her classic work, The ItalianBaker.¹ According to Field, it was invented by a baker named Luciano Pancalde, the baker with the perfect hot bread name, who created this bread as the encapsulation of one he had read about in a biography of the d’Este family of Ferrara. I really like this idea on many levels. That he read about a Renaissance bread, visualised it, then recreated it makes it rather special but that this bread was eaten at the courts of my favourite historic family makes it even better. I plan to come back in my next life as Beatrice d’Este. In the meantime, I’m enjoying a virtual memory. Rosemary does that. It’s the time traveling herb.
The recipe listed by Field is for a yeasted bread: it is easy to make, and it tastes good too. But to my mind, the bread made in the Renaissance courts of the d’Este family would have been made with something like a biga or lievito madre. Using my standard sourdough starter, a very fine traditional Panmarino can be made. Some of the recipes I have drawn on suggest a long gestation time of 4 days. I’m happy with a 24 hour time frame, given a ready starter, one that has been refreshed over a day or so. I also like to add a little wholemeal to mine, in keeping with a loaf of the past.
Sourdough Panmarino, un pane per la bella Beatrice d’Este.
I have simplified this bread for speed and ease of making. I’ve played with the proportions of starter and am happy with the results so far. If you would like to follow one source of this recipe, see here. Before making this recipe, refresh your starter three times over a day or so, then start the process in the morning.
150 g bubbly active sourdough starter
150 g water filtered or tank, at least not chlorinated
150 g whole milk
500g baker’s white flour or a mixture of baker’s white flour, ie 400g and wholemeal plain flour 100g
5 g diastatic malt 5g ( optional)
10 g sea salt
40 g olive oil
20 g or less chopped fresh rosemary
salt flakes such as Maldon for the shaped loaf
Weigh the the starter, water and milk then add to a large mixing bowl. Add the flour (s) and malt and mix roughly with your hands. It will look like a shaggy pile. Cover with a shower cap or plastic film and leave for 20 minutes or so.
Mix the chopped rosemary, olive oil and salt and work this through the dough with your hands. You will feel the gluten begin to develop. Cover with cap. Leave the covered dough at room temperature.
Do some stretch and folds every 20- 30 minutes, inside the bowl at least three times. You will feel the dough become smoother each time. Now leave the dough on the bench, covered, for 8 hours. It should be well risen by this time.
Place the covered bowl into the fridge for an overnight rest, coinciding with a rest of your own.
In the morning remove the dough from the fridge, have a peep at it, then let it come to room temperature, again still covered.
Using a bread scraper, place the dough onto a large silicon mat or good bench top, adding a small amount of fine semolina to the work surface. Stretch and fold the loaves a few times again, then shape the dough into a nice boule shape. Let this sit for 30 minutes or so, then place the boule into a round shaped and dusted banneton. Cover for 30 minutes to an hour. It will rise a little more.
Meanwhile preheat your oven to 225c FF. Turn the bread out onto a sheet of parchment paper, then lift the paper with the dough and place inside an enamel roaster/baking tin. Using a lame with a sharp blade, slash a star shape on top of the loaf and sprinkle generously with salt flakes. Cover with the lid of the roaster and place in the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove the lid and continue baking for a further 20 minutes.
Remove the bread to a wire rack and let it cool completely before slicing.
Thanks Maree for alerting me to the sourdough version of this bread.
‘Then, when a memory reappears in consciousness, it produces on us the effect of a ghost whose mysterious apparition must be explained by special causes.’ Henri Bergson. Of the Survival of Images. Memory and Mind.
Heaven and earth!/ Must I remember. Hamlet, Shakespeare
I’ve been procrastinating over this month’s In My Kitchen, concerned that my posts are becoming repetitive and barely newsworthy. I buy very few new products or gizmos: my tastes are simple. My pantry is full of staples that complement things from my garden. My freezer stores the fruit bounty from summer. I bake bread and a weekly cake or dessert. My home cooking is the antithesis of restaurant cooking: I no longer aspire to cook that way. It is informed by the simplicity of cucina povera, Italian country cooking of the past, along with that of Roman trattorie and is becoming more frugal as time passes. And as for things, lovely kitchen things, I’m in the process of de-cluttering and reducing, not gathering more.
But I’m not quite ready to throw in the IMK towel yet. In My Kitchen has been a part of my blog repertoire for more than four years, providing at least one platform of discipline in my untidy life. When I look back at my old posts, I see some recurring themes and plenty of growth. My first IMK, written in December 2013, concerned decor and green kitchen ware. Back then, I had a two-year old to cook with, (not for- Daisy has always participated in the kitchen) and during those earlier years, a tribe of young grandchildren spent hours in my kitchen, licking spoons and making concoctions, cranking fresh pasta, asking for their favourite barley soup or begging for flathead fish. They’ve featured in some of my old posts, especially Daisy, my little cheffa whose sense of taste and smell developed in my kitchen and herb garden. How I miss those years: required school attendance has a lot to answer for!
The fine art of sourdough bread making came along when Celia, of Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, sent me my first packet of dehydrated starter in June 2014. Most of you are familiar with Celia’s generous spirit: she is responsible for perhaps thousands of sourdough home bakers around the world today. Now she’s leading the way in campaigning against waste and plastic in a gentle, non proselytising way. Teaching not preaching.
When I look back on posts featuring my early sourdough loaves, I have to laugh-they looked so odd and yet they tasted OK. These days, with better technique and the understanding of how dough behaves in my kitchen and overnight in my fridge, my loaves look much better and taste really good: it is a passionate pastime that takes commitment. Somewhere along the way, I met Maree, first through this forum on her occasional blog and more recently through her facebook site, Simply Sourdough Trafalgar which includes regular updates of her latest loaves. Maree’s sourdough bread is wonderfully enticing, she is a sourdough artist. Talk about bread porn! Her experimentation with hand- milled grains is inspiring, as is her energy, running a small bakery and teaching sourdough bread classes. My entry into the sourdough baking community began right here in this very forum, for which I am eternally grateful. These days, I also enjoy passing on this skill to others. I recently spent a week at Peter’s place in Far North Queensland. We spent a few days playing with sourdough, adapting it to his humid climate, and making home-made yoghurt and cheese together. Now he is totally obsessed, baking bread like a banshee and churning out fabulous labneh. His first herby labneh came about from one of his stuffed up yoghurt attempts. It’s the best labneh I’ve ever tasted. Peter, like me, wastes nothing. We are kindred souls in the kitchen. Now he makes all these goodies for his B&B. How good is that? Thanks Peter and Steve for your amazing hospitality and enthusiasm for life.
And so back to my kitchen this month. What’s happening? Red and pink things are pouring into the kitchen from my garden, begging to be cooked into simple dishes and not wasted. Crunchy and bitter radicchio leaves, my favourite salad ingredient of all time, are picked daily, washed and popped into ziplock bags. ( yes, heavy-duty plastic bags that get washed over and over and seem perfect for maintaining crunchy salad leaves ). Pink scribbled borlotti beans ripened all at once this week, some to cook now, some to store, and some to pop aside for next year’s planting, dark red frilly mizuna leaves, tasting a lot like wasabi, tomatoes galore still in early May, chillis to dry for the year, to crush and make into hot chilli oil, the first new red radishes, and plenty of green things too.
For those of you who love Radicchio and have a vegetable garden, may I just mention that once radicchio acclimatises to your environment, you will have it for life. Let the bee attracting blue flowers go to seed after summer. The hard bullet like seeds will fly about and become little radicchio at just the right time. Mine pop up everywhere and some of the best ones grow between cracks in the paths. Look underneath the large green leaves for pups. Elongated Treviso leaves like to hide in the dark, producing delicate white and pink crunchy leaves. Pull out a small cluster and another one will appear in its place. So colourful, bitter and bounteous, they make me want to sing like Michael Hutchence. They only need a grind of salt, a drizzle of new oil and a drop or two of balsamic.
Routines and rituals are precious in my morning kitchen. While the bread bakes, I roughly chop up a pile of vegetables and herbs to add to the bottom rack of the oven. It’s a shame to waste all that stored heat. My stock mix includes carrots, onions, garlic, small tomatoes, dark fleshed mushrooms that need using up, mushroom stems, torn bay leaves, a sage leaf and a branch of thyme. These are all glossed with a little EV olive oil and baked for 20 minutes or so. Once caramelised, they come out of the oven and into a stove top pot, along with a little chopped celery, parsley stalks, and two litres of water. After cooking steadily for 25 minutes or so, the stock is strained off and popped into a jar for later use. This is a super rich stock with a deep colour, the smell permeating the kitchen.
If we don’t have soup for lunch, we’re bound to have pasta. This one, Maccheroni Rigati, is coated with a rich tasting creamy red capsicum pesto. Recipe here. The sauce is also wonderful spooned under a nice wedge of grilled fish.
Thanks Sherry, at Sherry’s Pickings, for inviting participation in this series. If you wish to join in, follow the link and add your own kitchen story.
Today, dear reader, we will be travelling by car to the remote north-west of the Isle of Skye, to my favourite restaurant of all time. Come along and tell me what you enjoy the most.
The Three Chimneys Restaurant has always been famous and deservedly so. It is situated nearby a Loch in Corbost near Dunvegan, in an area that is surrounded by cliffs, green wet hills, sheep and distant white stone houses. Despite its rural location, it is well-known and popular so a booking was made many months in advance.
Inside the metre thick stone walls, even at lunchtime, the lighting is moody and dark, and a small candle glows in the nearby fireplace. A beautiful smiling woman who looks uncannily like Geillis Duncan brings bread. Her eyes sparkle, and her sweet sounding Scottish accent is beguiling, while the breads take me back in time. Freshly made each day, there are three different types- seeded, dark and oat coloured. They are soft and evocatively celtic, and come with different butters, one containing salty sea flecks of dulce seaweed. More arrives without question.
More courses arrive, mysterious little bowls of land and sea, brought by the amber haired Geillis. For me, a Peat Smoked Haddock Ravioli, leeks, a quail egg with Smoked Sea Dashi, the latter poured at the table by a chef’s assistant, transports me to another heaven.
For main course, we choose beautiful seafood caught from that Loch just outside the window. For me, a roasted Salmon with fennel, Sconser scallop and lemongrass, and for him, the Three Chimneys Seafood Platter, consisting of West Coast Chowder, Dunvegan Dressed Crab & Langoustines, Sconser Scallop, Loch Harport Oyster, Lemon Mayonnaise and Bridget Glendale Salad.
Some things never change. Shirley’s signature dish, the Three Chimney’s Marmalade Pudding with Drambuie custard, is still available. We first tried this in 2000 and even though I vowed to make it at home, I never did. It was time to try it again. The weather in the Isle of Skye goes very well with an old-fashioned pudding, a traditional ending to a modern Scottish meal.
As I wandered out to the bathroom, I noticed three long hooded capes hanging on pegs. Simple in style and made from Harris Tweed in muted tones, I’ve been dreaming about those Hebridean capes ever since. I wonder if I’ll return to the beautiful stone buildings of Corbost, the Lochs and the green hills, the sheep on roads, the superb but invisible attention, and the glorious food of Three Chimneys, and to Skye, my beloved Skye.
The Three Chimneys has been named UK Restaurant of the Year for 2018. It won a similar award when we visited in the year 2000. Booking well in advance is essential. https://www.threechimneys.co.uk/
One of the nice parts about travelling is catching up with old friends along the way. Even though many years separate visits, our countries being a day away by air, conversation resumes from where we left off, as if the intervening years are a mere second in time. This was certainly the case when we stayed with our old friend Paul Merry and his partner, who live in a small village near Shaftesbury, Dorset. It was a pleasure to find them unchanged and well, but also especially wonderful that he had done a large bread bake the day before and had a few spare loaves. At last, some good bread, though good is hardly an apt word for his long fermented sourdough made from stoneground organic flour. Paul Merry is the doyen of artisan bread making in these parts.
I don’t need to preach to you, dear reader, about the sad and sorry state of modern commercial bread, that awful product so nutritionally empty and bland, that chemicals need to be added to make it edible. You can either eat it or you can’t. I can’t. It makes me ill. So during my travels, I mostly go without bread, with only an occasional and regrettable lapse. Munching into Paul’s sourdough cob was a moment of ecstasy. That first bite reminded me how nourishing and deeply satisfying good bread can be.
Paul is a master baker who runs bread making classes from his bakery, Panary, located inside an old working water-mill near Shaftesbury, Dorset. His classes have been operating from this site for more than 30 years. He also bakes a commercial batch weekly. Before moving to Britain, Paul built and then ran the famous St Andrews bakery on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia. That lovely mud brick building with its antique wood fired oven was where Paul mastered his baking skills. His bread nourished our souls throughout the 1980s. His bread is even better today.
Our first sourdough loaf lasted well and was still fresh and delicious after five days. Good wholesome bread, slow bread, made with nothing else but the best organic flour, water, salt, and plenty of time, Paul’s loaves are made with exceptional skill as well as passion for the craft.
The photos below show scenes taken around Cann Mills. Panary is located within the mill. The water-mill is still functioning and runs some days, along with other milling methods. Paul’s classes deal with a variety of techniques and many professional bakers hire Paul as a consultant. If you live nearby or are travelling in that beautiful country, not far from the Cotswolds, inquire about Paul’s one day classes. You can choose from topics including the basic beginners, British, flatbreads, French, Italian, Nordic Germanic, Patisserie/Viennoiserie, sourdough, and festive breads.( see full details here. ) Or if you love breadmaking and can’t make it across the globe to attend his classes, take a look at his blog. There’s plenty to learn. https://www.panary.co.uk/panary-blog/
Panary at Cann Mills
In my kitchen, there are signs of packing frenzy. The kitchen table has become a convenient sorting ground for the paraphernalia one now requires for a long overseas trip: regional power plugs, battery chargers for cameras, phones, computers, Kindle and tablet, mini speaker, extra SD cards for cameras, car chargers for phones, different lenses for cameras, plastic sleeved folders for itineraries and bookings, medical supplies. Have I forgotten something? On and on it goes with this weird tangle of stuff, the clothes and shoes almost an afterthought. As you may gather, I’m getting organised for 4½ months of global roaming: the kitchen is the best place to sort, iron, and edit, repack, write more lists and dream.
One kitchen-esque packing item that I am enjoying putting together is the picnic set, although picnic friendly verges and green public spaces are not so easy to come by in France and Italy. I found a Laguiole set of 8 at my favourite second-hand shop. They are new, probably a discarded gift. Those little bees are now heading back to France. I’ve cut down a flexible poly chopping mat into 3 pieces to fit the picnic box. Of course there’s a Swiss army knife and a bottle opener, two wine glasses, two large table napkins which double as tea towels, a little cheese box, a few lengths of wax paper for wrapping cheese, some rubber bands and a few zip lock plastic bags. The box now weighs 1.167 kilo. Anal packarama. I am being restrained: what I really want is a picnic set like Marlena de Blasi’s. ( See extract at the end of this post).
I have cut three ½ metre sheets from this roll of waxed paper, ready to wrap some lovely cheeses that we will find en route. I purchased this paper online a year ago and it goes a long way. It keeps cheese very well.
I am now counting the sleeps and imagining the farmers’ markets in small villages and the new kitchens that will inspire, or perhaps frustrate, my kitchen creativity along the way. Initially, the escape from daily cooking will be very welcome, but after a while I know that restaurant food will begin to jade the palate. And so we are renting small apartments and houses over the next four months, little places with kitchens, a small garden or a terrace, a place to call home for a few weeks at a time and to enjoy some home cooking. I’m also looking forward to the French and Italian bakeries for our daily bread. I recently purchased this strong fabric bag at the National Gallery of Victoria’s Van Gogh exhibition. Note the long length. Perfect for a baguette or two in France.
My future posts for the rest of 2017 will be written en route, assuming that WiFi is free and fast, something that I take for granted anywhere in Asia but not necessarily in Europe. I hope to attend a cooking school in Chiang Mai, visit some Hong Kong kitchens, write from an old stone bothy house in Skye, and cook in the houses we have rented in France and Italy. My posts will include a walk around some French and Italian markets. I couldn’t imagine travelling to these countries without purchasing some lovely local produce to take ‘home’ and cook. I’m dreaming of some freshly shucked belon oysters in Brittany, miniature fresh and aged goat’s cheeses hand shaped by a grand-mèrein the Dordogne, perhaps washed down with a Bergerac red. And some autumnal produce from the stalls of a medieval bastide market town in Languedoc. The anticipation is enormous. I hope you will join me, at least vicariously, in my travels.
In the meantime, I have made our final loaves to see us through the last week, as well as dehydrating some sourdough starter to tuck away for our return.
I am also enjoying this little corner of the kitchen since the new plaster board was installed last week, covering the dated 80s pine boards. I attached the monkey face calligraphy to the end of the dresser, a gift from Brian.
Thanks to Sherry for hosting of this ongoing series. You can check out other kitchen posts on Sherry’s Pickings.
Marlene de Blasi’s picnic basket.
‘Always ready in the boot is a basket fitted with wine glasses, two of our most beautiful ones, plus two tiny bohemian cut-crystal glasses, napkins made from the unstained parts of a favourite tablecloth, a box full of odd silver, a wine screw, a good bottle of red wine- always replaced immediately after consumption- a flask of grappa, a Spanish bone handled folding knife, a pouch of sea salt, a small blue and white ceramic pepper grinder, plates of various size… ‘ Tuscan Secrets, A bittersweet adventure.
In my kitchen, I am surrounded by summer’s bounty, despite the seasonal peculiarities. The tomato crop has been ordinary: most people who live in, or near, Melbourne are complaining. There will be no passata making day for us in 2017. The zucchini and cucumbers have also been slow, but are now getting a new life with a dry, warm autumn. I am quite happy with the trade-off, with abundant plum, blackberry and fig crops this year, the seasonal surprises in my kitchen.
Today’s ‘Five Treasure Pizza’ includes yellow pear tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, grilled baby zucchini, finely sliced red onion, and a handful of shrimp, scattered with tiny Greek basil leaves. This week’s dough was based on a mix of doppio zero white flour ( tipo ’00’) and a small proportion ( 50 g) of wholemeal spelt to give the dough a little more body. I like yeasted pizza more than sourdough, with long rises in the fridge, ( up to three days) making it even better.
I am trying to vary my bread flavours and methods, and have been inspired by Maree’s new facebook group, dedicated to Sourdough making. The sourdough loaves above were loosely based on a recipe from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, and includes 60% wholemeal spelt. I like these nutty loaves, especially with soft blue cheese or zucchini pickle. The loaves below are my “Stand By Your Fam” high hydration loaves courtesy of Celia. I can now make these everyday loaves on autopilot, made in the evening, put to sleep for 8 hours or more, then shaped into loaves in the morning. These are favoured by the man and the extended family, with 75% baker’s white and 25% wholemeal.
A quick summer dish, spaghetti al nero di seppia, (squid ink spaghetti), is topped with a good commercial mix of seafood marinara, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and torn basil. The black pasta by Molisana is surprisingly good. Thanks Signorina at Napoli Restaurant Alert for reminding me about this pasta last month.
I made these preserved lemons back in December. They have provided a lemon boost to many a dish this summer, especially given that lemons have been scarce, in contrast to limes which are now common place.
Oh no, there’s a chook in my kitchen, again! Mischa has been carting a red chook into my kitchen since she was 5 years old. At the old house, she used to sit on a garden swing with Hermione and put the chook to sleep. The red chook is always called Hermione, even though we don’t usually name our hens, and there have been at least six generations of ‘Hermiones’ since that first one. The conversation usually goes like this.
“Please take that chook out of the kitchen, Mischa.”
“But it’s Hermione”, said in a child- like voice, even though Mischa is now almost 20!
That’s what I like about my kitchen, the mad stuff. The other rooms of the house are dull and lifeless, sedentary rooms dedicated to kitchen recovery.
Thanks Liz at Good Things, for hosting this monthly roundup. If you have ever thought about blogging, the monthly IMK is a good place to start. Most of my bread inspiration and support has come from friends found in this forum.
Bruschetta is a celebration of seasonal ingredients. It could be a simple version with newly pressed olive oil or a summer version with vine – ripened tomatoes. On the surface, it is an uncomplicated Italian antipasto dish and yet it is so often misunderstood and easily stuffed up. The key to good bruschette is the quality of the ingredients.
Let’s start with the pronunciation. I am sure I have posted on this topic before, but as Bruschetta is the most mispronounced culinary term in Australia, with wait staff leading the way, it is worth another go. Phonetically, the word can be divided into three parts: Broo- Skeh- Ta. There is no SHHH sound in the middle, as sche in Italian makes the SKE sound. ( sce or sci makes the shh sound). The next thing to note is that there is a subtlety to the sound of the broo part of the word. American speakers of Italian invariably turn this sound into Brew, whereas the sound is much closer to Brook or lies somewhere between the two. Here’s a little sound bite that might assist:
Next the bread. The best bread to use for this dish is a rustic and fairly dense white bread such as Pane di Casa or Sourdough ( not ciabatta- too holey- and not fluffy French breadsticks). As the word Bruschetta is derived from Bruciare, to burn, and Bruscare ( Roman dialect) to roast over coals, an open charcoal grill or BBQ achieves both these outcomes best, especially if serving simply with garlic, new oil and salt. Many family run trattorie throughout country Sicily and Campania have a small open fire in the wall near the kitchen for cooking alla brace. For the home cook, the nearest version is to use a heavy cast iron ridged grill over a gas flame. Also keep in mind that the size of each bruschetta should not be too large. The diminutive ending –‘etta’- suggests something small and dainty, not a boat-sized toasted thing. Bruschette are not the same as Crostini. Crostini are small rounds of bread baked in olive oil in the oven and are much harder and crunchier.
About the toppings. Bruschetta is a classic example of a dish where less is more. Originally, the dish consisted of bread, oil, and garlic. If you have some new season freshly pressed olive oil on hand, I recommend you go no further, other than rubbing the grilled bread with garlic. In tomato season, a topping of garlic, tomato and maybe a little basil, is just right. This is not a dish for imported winter tomatoes that have sat in storage for eons. I also find hydroponic tomatoes extremely disappointing in flavour. If you are shopping at a farmer’s market, ask how they are grown before buying seasonal tomatoes. If they look completely regular in size with neatly cut stems, chances are they are hydroponically grown. Choose those that have grown organically and in the open air. The best tomatoes to use for this dish are Roma or Egg tomatoes. The flesh on these is much firmer and they are not so wet and seedy. My photos show Rouge de Marmande tomatoes, which are very tasty but a little too mushy for this dish.
Adding other non-Italian things, such as fetta cheese, is a real distraction from the simplicity of this dish. Australian cafes have a ‘dog’s dinner’ approach to Bruschetta presentation, shoving too much stuff on top. Some celebrity chefs, like Ottolenghi, also have a tendency to muck around with classic dishes. Keep it simple and authentic, especially if you happen to have top ingredients.
This tomato Bruschetta recipe is based on an old classic by Anna Del Conte.¹ The recipe serves 8 people. Halve or quarter according to your numbers.
6 sun ripened firm tomatoes, preferably Roma or Plum tomatoes
a handful of torn fresh basil leaves or a few pinches of freshly dried oregano
8 slices of good crusty bread, cut 1cm thick
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.
Blanch and skin the tomatoes, cut them in half and remove most of the seeds. Dice the flesh into 1.5 cm cubes. Tear the basil into small pieces, or if using dried oregano, strip from the stem and crush it finely in your hands.
Grill the bread on both sides then rub with the garlic. Cut each slice in half to make them easier to eat. ( or thirds, depending on the size of your slices).
Spoon on some tomato cubes and some torn basil over each slice and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle on the oil and serve at once.
Another approach is to mix the chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic, oil and dried oregano together and to let the mix steep for 10 minutes. Try it both ways and see which way you like it. The salt at the end brings out the flavour.
‘Con il passare del tempo ed il continuo mutare della cucina napoletana, da molti anni si possono assaggiare in tante versioni condite con creme e paté di peperoni, funghi, zucchine,piccoli tocchetti di melanzane, mozzarelle, scamorze e salumi vari.’
With the passing of time and the continuing changing of Neapolitan cuisine over the years, you can taste many versions dressed with pate or pesto of pepper ( Red capsicum), mushrooms, zucchini, small chunks of eggplant, mozzarella, scamorza and various salami. Again, use one seasonal ingredient or meat and keep the topping simple.
¹ Anna del Conte Entertaining All’ Italiana, Bantom Press 1991. This beautiful book presents seasonal menus. This recipe appeared as an antipasto in a summer luncheon for 8 people, and was followed by freshly made Tagliatelle with Mozzarella, Anchovy fillets and Parsley, a side dish of Pepperoni in Vinegar, and finished with Walnuts, Grapes and Parmesan. Traditional, classic food that is not over fiddly.
Warning. This post is not about religion but bread, although it’s hard to resist segueing into the religious connotations associated with bread, not to mention bread’s best mate, wine. As these two life-giving basics feature often in my daily life, I give thanks but I’m not sure who to. I remember the ending of the Lord’s prayer quite well: it always signified the end of Mass which meant freedom was just around the corner. I also recall the hilariousMondegreen* of my younger sister’s friend, Cecilia, whose child’s voice could be heard clearly from a nearby pew, as she chanted
“Give us this day our daily bread…. and deliver us from eagles, Amen”
I rather like this alternate ending and I think my chickens feel the same way too.
The joys of bread are almost too numerous to list. Unassuming and humble, bread is central to most western meals. The breaking of bread at the table amongst friends, the dipping of bread into new season’s olive oil, the grilling of bread for bruschetta or the morning toasting of yesterday’s loaf, smothering it with quince jam, or Vegemite, or just butter. The dunking of bread into soup, or the submerging of bread under Italian Ribollita or French onion soup. The left over stale loaf crumbed and stored to top a future gratin, or cubed then baked in garlicky oil for croutons. Given the effort gone into baking a good loaf of bread, (even if you haven’t made it yourself), it seems a sin to waste it.
Bread making has a certain rhythm: once the pattern is broken, it takes a bit of discipline to get it all happening again. My sourdough bread takes 24 hours to come to fruition: one day of feeding my starter, beginning at 7 am, with 4-5 hours between each feed. One evening of mixing and stretching, which takes very little time, but requires my presence at home. An overnight rise of around 8 hours followed by an early start at around 6 am to shape, rise and re- shape at 7 am. Into the oven, a 40 minute bake, and there you have it. Fresh bread by 8 am, 24 hours later. Cost, around 50 cents a loaf. Very little work, but bucket loads of discipline, and a ritualistic start to each day, not unlike meditating or praying.
The aroma of freshly baked bread is a morning sensory pleasure, only to be rivalled by the smell of a good curry in the evening or the aroma of slow baked quinces on a chilly Autumn day.
Don’t waste good bread. Sermon over.
“A mondegreen is a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near homophony that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar, and make some kind of sense. American writer Sylvia Wright coined the term in 1954, writing about how as a girl she had misheard the lyric “…and laid him on the green” in a Scottish ballad as “…and Lady Mondegreen”
“Pinker gives the example of a student stubbornly mishearing the chorus to ” I’m Your Venus” as I’m your penis, and being surprised that the song was allowed on the radio.
I used to look forward to All Saints Day when I was a child. In Catholic schools, All Saints Day was a religious holy day of note, which meant that we had another day off school. November the first blurred into November the second, Melbourne Cup Day, which is a State holiday in Victoria, and if the days lined up nicely with the weekend, even better. The beginning of November meant horses, saints, holidays and good weather, with only one down side, the traipse up the road to Church, a small price to pay for another day off. I don’t remember much about those saints or what the day was about. To me, it all seemed a bit morbid and sinister so I conveniently blocked it out.
It was in the tenth century that Odile, the abbot of Cluny in medieval France, transmuted the Day of the Dead, Samhain, the ancient Celtic feast of ancestors, into a Christian holy day, All Souls Day. Curses and blasphemy, I missed out on all the Celtic fun and got Odile’s version, made extra ominous by the Irish nuns who taught me. At least in modern Italy, the day still goes by the name I Morti, the dead, and the practices are more in tune with traditional pagan legends than the version I grew up with, though I’m sure there’s a bit of Church attendance involved. Going to mass in Italy often means chatting through the service and ducking out for a smoke. Other than the widows up the front, Italians often don’t seem to take church too seriously. Church is a local catch up and a ritualised prologue to a good lunch.
In Sicily, legend has it that on the evening of November 1, departed relatives rise up from their tombs and rollick through the town, raiding the best pastry shops and toy stores for gifts to give to children who have been good during the year. Children write letters to their dead relatives, just like the Christmas letters written to Santa. On this day, ancestors and relatives “feel an attraction to the living and hope to return for a visit and families set the table for ancestors returning from their graves.”
What a wonderful legend. Just to think that you might have a visit from your dearly departed loved ones for a fleeting moment in time. When it comes to a good Celtic legend, adapted along the way by some wily Siciliani, I’m in. Time to write a letter to the dead and make some sweet things for I Morti
Pan co’ Santi – A sweet bread from Siena to share with I Morti.
Makes two small loaves
300 gr raisins
1 ½ cups tepid water
2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
25 gr sugar
3 Tbls lard or olive oil
500 gr unbleached plain flour plus 2 -3 Tbls for the raisins.
8 gr sea salt
1.25 gr freshly ground pepper
100 gr walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
1 egg yolk for glaze
Soak the raisins in the tepid water for at least ½ hour. Drain the raisins, but reserve 1 1/3 cups of the soaking water. Warm the soaking water to 105-115 degrees.
By mixer: Stir the yeast and sugar into the raisin water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the lard or olive oil in with the paddle. Add the flour, salt and pepper and mix until the dough comes together. Change to a dough hook and knead until firm and silky, for around 3 minutes.
First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 1¼ to 1½ hours.
Filling. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Without punching it down or kneading it, pat gently with your palms into a 35 cm/14 inch circle. Pat the raisins dry and toss with 2-3 Tbls flour. Work them and the walnuts into the dough in 2 additions.
Shaping and second rise. Cut the dough into two pieces. Shape each piece into a round, tucking the ends of the loaf in and trying to keep the raisins and walnuts under the taut surface of the skin. Set each loaf on a lightly floured peel or on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover with towels and let rise again until doubled, around 1 hour and 10 mins.
Baking. Heat the oven to 220° C fan forced. With a razor or sharp serrated knife, slash the dough with 2 horizontal and 2 vertical cuts. Brush the loaves with the egg yolk, then bake for 5 mins, then reduce the heat to 200 F and bake for 30-40 minutes more.