Sunday, November 29, 2020

Best Cookbooks of 2020


What a year. Maybe we—and when I say “we”, I mean The Whole World—can dare to hope for a safe, sane and boring 2021. We shall see. In the meantime, I carry on with my routines, which include sharing my year-end picks for 2020’s five best cookbooks. In alphabetical order, here’s my list.

 

Baking at the 20th Century Cafe; Iconic European Desserts from Linzer Torte to Honey Cake by Michelle Polzine, Artisan Books.

 

Chaat; Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets and Railways of India by Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy, Clarkson Potter.

 

A Good Bake; The Art and Science of Making Perfect Pastries, Cakes, Cookies, Pies, and Breads at Home by Melissa Weller with Carolynn Carreño, Knopf.

 

The Good Book of Southern Baking; A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings, Lorena Jones Books / Ten Speed Press.

 

The Pasta Codex; 1001 Recipes by Vincenzo Buonassisi, translated by Natalie Danford, Rizzoli.

 

Why did I pick these cookbooks?

 

Michelle Polzine’s outstanding Baking at the 20th Century Café pays homage to Austro-Hungarian desserts. Located in San Francisco, Polzine’s 20th Century Cafe often showcases West Coast produce like Meyer lemons and other seasonal fruits. Polzine shares recipes for Streuselkuchen (Viennese Coffee Cake with Raspberries) and a Huckleberry-Pecan Upside-Down Cake, which strikes me as being uniquely American. Although Honey Cake is probably Polzine’s claim to fame, it’s her Kókusz Torta (Coconut-Marmalade Torte with Chocolate Glaze) that I really want to try. Baking at the 20th Century Cafe is a well-executed, smart cookbook destined to become a baking classic.

 

I bought my copy of Maneet Chauhan’s Chaat from Spicewalla, an awesome spice merchant located in Asheville, North Carolina. Chauhan defines chaat as “…the iconic snacks of Indian cuisine. A literal translation of the Hindi word chaat is ‘to lick,’ and chaat have therefore come to describe almost anything that is so good you find yourself licking the palm leaf or banana leaf that it was served on.” Chauhan organizes her cookbook by dividing India into compass points. Under the chapter entitled “The North”, she includes a recipe for Green Chutney made with pan roasted chana dal, that tastes bright, hot, minty, smoky and delicious. Chauhan often ties her recipes to stops along India’s railroad lines. For example, her introduction to a recipe for Ros Omelette (Omelet with Tomato Gravy) begins: “Upon disembarking from the train and entering the Vasco da Gama train station, the ros omelette prepared near the station entrance are too enticing to pass up. The aroma of the omelet begins to waft through the air from the vendor stalls throughout Goa when the sun begins to set and doesn’t stop until well after midnight, after the tourists and locals alike have satisfied their cravings.” Chauhan has penned a unique, entertaining guide to authentic Indian comfort food.

 

Melissa Weller’s A Good Bake gets my nod as the best cookbook of 2020. Weller, who served as head baker at Roberta’s in Brooklyn and at Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Bouchon Bakery in NYC, brings her professional expertise to this thick, well-organized cookbook. I particularly like her eclectic mix of recipes. The Savory Bread chapter includes two recipes for Khachapuri, a traditional yeasted flatbread from Eurasian Georgia, and recipes for Hot Dog Buns and Soft Pretzels. In the Laminated Pastries chapter, Weller shares recipes for Salted Caramel Sticky Buns, Kouign Amann and New York Cheese Danishes. The first recipe I tried, Spelt Bull’s-Eye Scones with Raspberry Jam, turned out tender and flavorful. My family baked Weller’s Sweet Potato Pie for Thanksgiving. The pie had a creamy and light—yet not too soft—texture.  Weller uses orange juice and zest to brighten a perfectly-spiced, rich Garnet yam filling. What a great tasting holiday (or breakfast) pie!

 

I prefer cookbooks that use metric weights rather than volume measurements, especially in baking recipes. So when I received Kelly Fields’s The Good Book of Southern Baking, I felt a little letdown because Fields only includes volume measurements. I know: Millions of glorious bakers got on and get on perfectly well with teaspoons, tablespoons and cups. I, however, generally value precision over tradition. But once I started flipping through Fields’s cookbook, her recipes won me over. She includes classics, like cornbread baked in a cast-iron skillet, and more modern bakes like a Glazed Lemon-Cornmeal Cake that is both simple to make and delicious.  Fields shares her secrets for making great biscuits in her Baker’s Biscuits recipe, then goes on to include six other biscuit variations: Rolled; Angel; Drop; Beaten; Sweet Potato; and, finally, Dog Biscuits. If you like hand pies, The Good Book of Southern Baking contains recipes for three different types of hand pies (blueberry, apple, and strawberry-rhubarb) and for peach turnovers (plus cheese turnovers!).

 

I wrote about The Pasta Codex (here). In a nutshell: Published in Italy in 1973, the Codex contains 1,001 pasta recipes collected by the late Vincenzo Buonassisi, a lawyer, journalist and passionate food writer who authored over 40 cookbooks. Natalie Danford translated Buonassisi’s tome into English for Rizzoli, a publishing house that excels at bringing important Italian cookbooks to an English-speaking audience. If you love Italian cooking, especially pasta, I highly recommend Buonassisi’s The Pasta Codex.

 

I bought a lot of cookbooks this crummy year because I found them a source of solace and I wanted to support my favorite independent booksellers, like Seattle’s Book Larder and New York City’s Kitchen Arts & Letters. A number of welcome cookbook acquisitions in no particular order: Olia Hercules’s Summer Kitchens; Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken; Cortney Burns’s Nourish Me Home;Blaine Wetzel’s Lummi Island Cooking; Nancy Silverton’s Chi Spacca; Rich Shih and Jeremy Umansky’s Koji Alchemy; Evan Bloom and Rachel Levin’s Eat Something; and Jason Wang’s Xi’an Famous Foods.

 

What looks exciting in 2021, cookbook-wise? I already placed my pre-order for Brandon Jew’s Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown. Tom Kerridge’s The Hand and the Flowers arrives Stateside in the first part of the year. Eric Ripert’s Vegetable Simple comes out in April. And, hopefully, the pasta fairies will sprinkle some magic Tipo 00 flour on us and we will enjoy one or two good pasta-centric cookbooks. Rachel Roddy's An A-Z of Pasta looks promising. I hear from my grapevine that another good pasta cookbook might arrive in 2021.

 

And, of course, here’s really hoping that 2021 offers us a respite from the dangerous craziness of 2020. Stay safe and well, everyone!




Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Pasta Codex


Rizzoli just published The Pasta Codex, an English-language version of Vincenzo Buonassisi’s 1973 cookbook Il Codice della Pasta. Like the Italian original, this new translation contains 1,001 pasta recipes. Buonassisi writes: “The main purpose of this book…is a practical one: to collect recipes that can be used every day to enjoy variety on a single theme.”

 

In her Translator’s Note, Natalie Danford writes that The Pasta Codex “is a book representative not only of Italy, but an Italy of a particular time, namely the early 1970’s.”  Perhaps because the Codex primarily memorializes timeless Italian pasta dishes, the 47-year-old cookbook still feels fresh and relevant, save for a few curious standouts. A classic recipe for Cappelletti in Brodo follows an offbeat Tagliatelle with Chicken, Apple, and Banana. Buonassisi includes another recipe called Pasta with Bananas: fried bananas topped with grated sharp cheese and crushed red pepper flakes. 

 

The Pasta Codex contains eight chapters: Pasta with Vegetables; Pasta with Vegetables and Dairy Products; Pasta with Vegetables, Dairy Products, and Eggs; Pasta with Fish; Pasta with Poultry, Lamb, and Various Other Types of Meat; Pasta with Red Meat; Pasta with Pork; and, finally, Pasta with Game. 

 

Within each chapter “…there is a progression from simple dishes to the more complex.” The chapter on pasta with fish opens with Pasta with Anchovies. Buonassisi writes “[t]his humble dish is simply delicious.” It’s also extremely simple to make: dissolve salt-cured anchovy fillets in warm olive oil, add chopped parsley, and toss with cooked pasta. His Pasta with Fish chapter ends with “Zembi d’Arziglio” con Salsa di Arselle (Branzino-filled Half-Moons in Wedge Clam Sauce). Buonassisi introduces the recipe like this: “Teresa and Emanuele Viacava of Nervi won the Agnolotto d’Oro prize in Turin with this recipe. Zembi is a reference to the shape of the pasta, while arziglio is the foamy seawater that beats against the shoal.” 

 

Given my website’s torchio-centric focus, I want to end this post with a bigoli recipe from The Pasta Codex. Buonassisi includes nine different bigoli and sauce pairings. Entry No. 932, Bigoli with Pork and Veal Sauce, introduces the pasta’s shape and serves as a nice example of Buonassisi’s prose. Disclosure: I have not made this dish yet (because my vegetarian daughter came home for the holidays).

 

4 cups buckwheat flour or whole wheat flour

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

About 1 cup whole milk

4 ounces ground pork

4 ounces ground veal

7 ounces tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into strips or minced

Beef broth

Salt and pepper

Grated nutmeg

¼ cup olive oil

½ yellow onion, minced

1 small carrot, minced

1 rib celery, minced

Minced fresh basil

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Bigoli are a renowned homemade pasta from the Veneto, similar to spaghetti, but made with a special press and traditionally made with buckwheat flour, though recently whole wheat bigoli have become very popular. If you have a bigoli press, make a dough with the buckwheat or whole wheat flour, the eggs, the melted butter, and as much milk as needed to make a firm dough. Process with the press to extrude bigoli. You can also purchase bigoli, either fresh or dried. If you are making your own, let them dry at room temperature for several hours before proceeding. For the sauce, in an earthenware pot off the heat, combine the pork and veal, the tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons of broth and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 hour, adding more broth if the sauce gets too thick. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the onion, carrot, celery, and basil. Season with salt and when the mixture is golden, add to the tomato mixture and cook, stirring frequently, to combine. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water, drain, and top with the sauce. Serve with grated Parmigiano on the side.

 

Variation If you cannot find bigoli, use spaghetti or another type of dried pasta.

 

Given Buonassisi unprejudiced palate, it’s no surprise that his Codex advocates a decidedly open-minded approach to substituting one type of pasta for another. In his Introduction to The Pasta Codex, Buonassisi writes that the “golden rule is that pasta is largely interchangeable.” Compare Buonassisi’s flexibility with the (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek dogma of Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way by Oretta Zanini De Vita and Maureen B. Fant: “‘Live and let Live’” does not apply to the service and consumption of Italian pasta….”

 

Buonassisi’s bigoli pasta dough recipe reminds me of what I uncovered in my bigoli research more than 10 years ago when I purchased my new torchio pasta press. Most of the recipes I found include eggs, milk and butter. Often flour selection differentiated the recipes with some calling for all-purpose, others for whole wheat, and a few for buckwheat flour.

 

I really like The Pasta Codex and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Italian cooking. Rizzoli deserves warm praise for bringing English translations of essential Italian-language cookbooks, such as Vincenzo Buonassisi’s The Pasta Codex, to a wider audience.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Japanese Pantry

Here’s another short post on a source for excellent ingredients.

The Japanese Pantry imports and sells outstanding artisan-quality Japanese ingredients to restaurants, merchants and home cooks. It offers miso, soy, tamari, vinegar, kombu, sesame-based products and seasonings that far surpass the quality of ingredients that one finds in even well-regarded specialty food stores.

 

The Japanese Pantry recently added Donko dried shiitake mushrooms to its offerings. With these world-class dried mushrooms from the island of Kyushu and other Japanese Pantry staples, you are set to make dashi using the following David Kinch recipe that appears in Umami: The Fifth Taste (Japan Publications Trading Company, 2014). This dashi is a component in his recipe for Summer Clams, Peas and Beans in a Pine Mushroom Broth.

 

1.8 liters filtered water

12 grams dried shiitake mushrooms

15 grams dried kombu

25 grams dried tuna flakes (magurobushi)

4 to 5 tablespoons white soy sauce (shiro shoyu)

Sea salt

 

1. Combine water, mushrooms and kombu in a large pan and heat to 140F/60C. Turn off heat, cover, and steep for 1 hour.

 

2. Remove and discard kombu. Heat mushrooms and broth to 175F/80C. Add tuna flakes, stir for 15 seconds and immediately strain through a linen cloth. Discard the solids and season the dashi to taste with white soy and salt. If making ahead, reserve in the refrigerator

 


I don’t follow Kinch’s recipe to a T; I use my fine PNW water for filtered. I also don’t discard the mushrooms. Rather, I save and cook with them. For the sea salt, I use 1.25 grams Amabito No Moshio.

 

The Japanese Pantry currently sells three different types of kombu: Ma, Rausu and Rishiri. I use what I have in my pantry. I mostly swap out the recipe’s white soy for 75 grams of white tamari that The Japanese Panty sells. Made with 100% wheat, the Japanese government prohibits its manufacturer, Notto Jozo, from calling this sauce soy. However labeled, this light sauce tastes fantastic.

 

Regrettably, one cannot buy dried fish and shellfish from The Japanese Pantry—at least not yet. I’m told it wants to offer these products, but it’s difficult for the small artisan companies that it promotes to navigate certain import regulations. But, hopefully, one day soon we can also find dried seafood and fish at The Japanese Pantry.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Japanese Rice


I often enjoy sourcing ingredients as much as cooking, especially if the ingredients come from people committed to quality. During these tough times, these merchants and suppliers can use our support. To this end, I’ve penned a series of posts that feature my favorite sources for excellent cooking ingredients. First up, a near everyday staple food in my household: Japanese rice from The Rice Factory.

 

The Rice Factory, located in Scarsdale, New York, imports Japanese rice varieties that it sells in its shop and on-line. Its website lists its seasonally available varieties—some offerings sell out very quickly—and classifies the rice on a chart with 4 quadrants divided by two axes: (1) sticky to smooth, and (2) tough (i.e., firm) to soft. After choosing a rice variety, you select your desired quantity (5, 10 or 15 pounds) and a mill rate (e.g., brown, 50% milled, 70% milled, or white). The rice is then milled-to-order and, to those of us scattered across the country, shipped.

 

I’ve tried almost ten different rice varieties from The Rice Factory. I’m about halfway through a 10-pound bag of Tsuyahime rice from the Yamagata Prefecture. Per The Rice Factory, Tsuyahime has excellent sweetness and umami and “has a good reputation for its good looks, such as whiteness and gloss after cooking….”

 

My favorite rice—so far—is Nanatsuboshi, which is slightly more firm than soft and more smooth than sticky. I’ve ordered this rice milled 70% and white. However milled, this rice tastes absolutely delicious.

 

I count The Rice Factory as a culinary treasure here in the United States. I enjoy supporting the company and the Japanese rice they sell is fantastic.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Spelt & Kamut Pasta



I take and keep notes when making pasta with a new flour blend. I often shoot a reference picture of the recipe with the finished pasta. If the dish turns out, I store the photo on my computer and the recipe in my pasta journal. (Sometimes it takes me a while to move my notes into my journal.)

 



About week ago, I came across a photograph of an emmer and Kamut pasta that I made back in 2016. I wanted to try out the recipe again, but couldn’t find any emmer grains in my pantry. I did, however, find a bag of spelt. I decided to improvise.

 


If you root around on The Internet, you will find a lot of conflicting information on…well, a lot of things, but, for purposes of this post, on emmer, spelt and einkorn grains. Each is different, but these grains often get lumped together as farro. Although mixing-up emmer, spelt and einkorn is easy, it’s hard to confuse these grains with Kamut, which is a trade name for Khorasan wheat. I love cooking and baking with Kamut. I often blend this ancient durum wheat with other flours to make pretty much everything taste better. When I received my first bag of Kamut from Montana Flour & Grain, I understood why some call it “Camel’s Tooth”. If you have not worked this grain, I suggest you give it a try. Finding Khorasan wheat gets easier with each passing year.

 


Per my 2016 notes, I used 75% emmer and 25% Kamut flour. I wanted to keep close to these percentages with my spelt and Kamut pasta. With a goal of making 2 serving portions, I started with 250 grams of spelt that I milled and sifted through a No. 40 and No. 50 sieve. (More on bolting flour here.) This produced 75 grams of spelt flour. I then milled 150 grams of Kamut grain and similarly sifted the flour achieving 32 grams of Kamut flour. I wanted 115 grams of total flour, so I added 8 grams of Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal to my flour mixture.

 


I usually add an egg and a yolk to 115 grams of flour when making pasta. In this case the egg/yolk mixture weighed 78 grams. After mixing the flour and egg together by hand in a shallow bowl, I kneaded the dough for 8 minutes, wrapped it in plastic, and set the dough to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.

 



After resting, the dough felt soft so I decided to make a laminated noodle using my Imperia R220 manual pasta machine. After multiple passes through the rollers, I stopped at the machine’s number 3 setting. The pasta still felt a tad soft. I cut the pasta into 4 sheets, dusted it with semolina and let the sheets air dry on my kitchen counter for about 15 minutes per side. Because I planned a sauce of fresh borlotti beans and razor clams, I cut the pasta into tagliatelle. I wrapped the cut noodles in a kitchen towel and let them sit for about 45 minutes as I made my sauce.

 



I taste my fresh pasta while it cooks. Although the pasta felt soft after rolling, the cooked spelt and Kamut pasta had a firm bite to it. After about 2 minutes in salty, boiling water, the pasta achieved the right texture to finish cooking for another minute or so in my sauce.

 

Spelt pasta has a lovely mild wheat flavor. Bolted Kamut flour helps the noodle’s strength. Conclusion: Switching out the emmer for spelt worked out great. For the last couple of years I have experimented with making an extruded Kamut pasta using my torchio pasta press. After a lot of fine tuning, I’m getting closer to a recipe that I can share with you.



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Focaccia

 

The 2010 English-language edition of The Slow Food Dictionary to Italian Regional Cooking lists fifteen different types of focaccia. It defines focaccetta di Aulla as a flatbread; focaccia al miele as a sweet pastry; focaccia di Lerici as a cake; and focaccia di Pasqua salata di Pitigliano as a loaf. Focaccia farcita contains boiled vegetables—field greens, asparagus, artichokes, potatoes—sandwiched between two disks of dough and then baked. To make focaccia di Voltri, a specialty of Genoa, mix a “relatively liquid dough,” coat it with corn flour, and bake it on a hot plate.

Here in the United States, only one type of focaccia—focaccia genovese—has achieved anything close to a stronghold, and then only, in the eyes of many, as pizza’s poor relation. As Colman Andrews writes in The Country Cooking of Italy (2011) “…it would not be entirely incorrect to describe the most common varieties of focaccia as pizza crust without the toppings (or with the simplest of them, like just salt, olive oil, and/or rosemary or other herbs).”

 

Focaccia deserves more respect. This ancient bread boasts a primal lineage and the best examples rank among the world’s most delicious breads. In The Food of Italy (1971), the great Waverly Root—second from the left on this site’s banner—writes that focaccia’s “…origin reaches so far back that no one knows when it was first invented….” We do know that the word focaccia derives from focus, the Latin word for “hearth.” When describing a particular region’s version, Root often calls focaccia a hearth cake “as its name indicates” because these early flat breads cooked on a hearth’s hot stones or among ashes.

 

Fortunately, home bakers can make excellent focaccia without stones, ash or even a fancy bread oven. In my opinion, the best focaccia comes via a Nancy Silverton recipe that appeared in a 2011 Los Angeles Times article entitled Master Class: Chef Nancy Silverton. In this article, Silverton describes her quest to find the secrets to baking great focaccia and shares her “basic” focaccia dough recipe.

 

If you know anything about Silverton, you know that there is nothing “basic” about her bread. After sharing Silverton’s base dough recipe, the LA Times article presents different ways to embellish the dough: Roasted Pepper and Chile, and Onion and Sage. Each taste fine, but, for my money, the paragon of Silverton’s focaccia is a version made with green olives and fennel pollen. The published recipe in the LA Times makes 2 rounds. I modified the recipe to make a single round and to add metric measurements.

 

 

Total time: 3½ hours, plus 12 to 24 hours resting time for the sponge

 

Servings: Makes 1 (10-inch) focaccia dough round

 

Note: This recipe requires the use of a stand mixer, 1 10- by 2-inch round cake pan and a digital kitchen scale. 

 

Focaccia sponge

 

.25 grams active dry yeast

105 grams water

86 grams bread flour

 

1. In a small mixing bowl (preferably plastic or ceramic), sprinkle the yeast over the water. Set the bowl aside for a few minutes to give the water time to absorb the yeast. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the bread flour until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

 

2. Cover the bowl tightly with a sheet of plastic wrap, then tightly wrap another piece of plastic wrap or twine around the perimeter of the bowl to further seal the bowl.

 

3.  Set the bowl aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until the sponge becomes bubbly and thick, like the consistency of wallpaper paste (thicker than a pancake batter but thinner than dough), 12 to 24 hours.

 

Focaccia dough

 

156.5 grams water

5.5 grams olive oil

93.5 grams focaccia sponge

2.25 grams active dry yeast

220 grams bread flour

5.5 grams kosher salt

110 grams olive oil for baking pan

 

1. About 3½ hours before you are ready to bake the focaccia, place the water, 5.5 grams olive oil and 93.5 grams of the focaccia sponge in the bowl of a stand mixer. (Toss out the unused focaccia sponge or use it to make another round.) Fit the mixer with a dough hook and, over low speed, add the yeast and 220 grams bread flour. Mix the ingredients over low speed for 2 minutes to thoroughly combine and form the dough.

 

2. With the mixer running, slowly add the salt, then increase the speed to medium. Continue mixing the dough until it is smooth and well-formed, and starts to pull away from the bowl, 6 to 8 minutes. Note that the dough will not pull so much that it “cleans” the bowl, but if the dough is too sticky and is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl at all, add a little more bread flour (a spoonful as needed at a time) to achieve the right consistency.

 

3. While the dough is mixing, lightly grease a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with olive oil. When the dough is ready, turn it out of the mixer into the oiled bowl. Wrap the bowl tightly in plastic wrap and tightly wrap the perimeter of the bowl with kitchen twine or another piece of plastic wrap to further seal the bowl. Set the dough aside at room temperature (ideally 68 to 70 degrees) until doubled, about 1½ hours.

 

4. Dust the work surface lightly with flour and turn the dough out onto the floured surface. Acting as if the round has four side. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Turn the dough over and return it, folded side down, to the bowl. Cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and set it aside at room temperature until it has doubled in volume, 50 minutes to 1 hour. (The dough will be puffy and feel alive, springy and resistant. It will not collapse under the touch of your fingertips.) 

 

5. Pour 110 grams olive oil into the 10-inch cake pan and tilt the pan so the oil coats the bottom evenly. Place the dough in the prepared cake pan and very gently pull the edges just to obtain a roughly round shape. Cover the pan with a clean dishcloth and set aside at room temperature until the dough relaxes and spreads to cover about half the surface of the pan, about 30 minutes.

 

Castelvetrano Olives and Fennel Pollen topping

 

olive oil for brushing

approximately 18 Castelvetrano olives, pitted

2 grams Maldon sea salt, or another large flake sea salt

.20 grams [1/8 teaspoon] fennel pollen

 

6. Heat the oven to 450F. Remove the dishcloth from the top of the cake pan and, using your fingers, gently tap down on the focaccia with about 5 light strokes to nudge it toward the edge of the pan; it might not reach the edges, but don’t worry.

 

7. One at a time, starting from the center and working out, push the olives into the focaccia dough while simultaneously pushing outward to encourage the dough toward the edge of the pan, arranging the olives evenly over the surface of the dough and pressing them so deep that they are almost flush with its surface. At this point the dough should be touching the edge of the pan.

 



8. Brush the surface of the dough generously with olive oil, then sprinkle over the sea salt and fennel pollen. Set the focaccia aside until it has risen and puffed around the olives, about 30 to 45 minutes.

 

9. Place the focaccia on the center rack of the 450F oven and bake until crisp and golden-brown, approximately 24 minutes.

 

10. Remove the pan from the oven and remove the focaccia from the pan to a wire rack (use a fork to gently lift and slide the focaccia out of the pan). Brush the surface of the focaccia once more with olive oil. Set aside to cool slightly—or as long as you can resist it.

 

After making this bread a few times, I started to play around a bit with the ingredients. I tried a mild Ligurian extra virgin olive oil from Azienda Agricola Vittorio Cassini. This EVOO makes the bread even more delicious.

 



Next, I experimented with a different flour blend. Instead of using 220 grams of bread flour in the dough, I blended 170 grams Central Milling Organic Artisan Bakers Craft Plus bread flour with 42 grams whole grain Kamut flour and 8 grams Central Milling Organic Medium White Rye flour. I mill the Kamut the morning of the bake. I don’t know what it is about this particular flour blend, but the results taste amazing.

 

In terms of process, I deviate from the first instruction in Step 4, above. Instead of turning the dough out onto a floured surface, I do what I call a “Tartine turn” which is a technique that I learned from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book.  Here’s how I do it: Imagine the bowl’s rim as the round face of a clock. I wet my hand and grab the “edge” of the dough at 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck the dough in. I then turn give the bowl a ¼ counter-clockwise turn and grab the “edge” at the new 12:00, lift it up and pull it across the bowl to 6:00, the opposite side, and tuck it in. I do these turns one more time. Finally, with wet hands, I lift the dough up and turn it over and return it to the bowl, seam side down. I like this bowl-turning approach because it’s tidy and I don’t have to flour and then clean up my work surface counter.

 

Finally, I want to share a recommendation for a nice, dedicated focaccia pan. I bought a 26cm Ottinetti blue steel deep round baking pan that measures across just a tad over 10 inches. It’s the perfect pan for Silverton’s focaccia recipe. If you buy this pan, you may wish to line the pan’s bottom with a round of parchment paper to insure against sticking the first couple times you bake. After a couple of rounds, my pan was seasoned and I now forgo the baking paper.

 


Silverton’s focaccia lends itself to different toppings. In place of olives I once tried cubes of grilled artichoke heart. I’ve inserted different roasted peppers that turned out a round resembling a delicious stained-glass window. I topped my latest version with Japanese eggplant, anchovies and garlic that I added after an initial 8-minute prebake. Pulled from the oven 16 minutes later, I sprinkled over a heavy handful of Pecorino Romano cheese.



Monday, August 24, 2020

Red Russian Wheat Pasta

 

In Mastering Pasta (Ten Speed Press, 2015), Marc Vetri writes about making pasta with freshly milled wheat flour at Washington State University’s Bread Lab. The results, he reports, were “staggering.” Pasta made with commodity flour “made the familiar mild-tasting earthy pasta that most people are used to.” But pasta made with freshly milled wheat varieties, such as Soissons, Tevelde, McGuire and Dayn, produced outstanding flavors and fragrances. However, Vetri continues, one grain stood out:

 

“One variety in particular, Red Russian, smelled complex in the bag but failed in the bakery. It was high in protein, 14.1 percent, but the protein wasn’t strong enough to make bread. So I asked [the WSU Bread Lab] to grind the Red Russian wheat berries very finely, like tipo 00 flour, the grind I normally use for fresh pasta….With this freshly ground whole wheat flour we made a basic egg dough, rolled by hand, and cut it into pappardelle. Just boiled and put on a plate, it was like no pasta I had ever tasted. The texture was soft but chewy and the flavor was pronounced: earthy, nutty, and fruity all at once. It was light years ahead of any other whole wheat flour I’ve ever used to make pasta. And none of these flavors was detectable in the pastas made with commodity flours. The textures were similar, but texture is something you can manipulate by mixing flours together to change the protein content. Flavor, on the other hand, cannot be replicated.”


After reading this paragraph in Mastering Pasta, I—probably like many other curious pasta makers with grain mills—searched for Red Russian wheat berries. I couldn’t find any. I kept looking, on-again/off-again, over the years, but with no success.

 


About a month ago, I had a lucky break: I came across a scan of a 1922 U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmer’s Bulletin (No. 1305) on the Bread Lab’s website. This bulletin examines soft red winter wheat varieties found in the US and contains a section on Red Russian. Upon learning that Red Russian was a soft winter wheat, I augmented my search parameters and found Palouse Heritage, a grain supplier in Eastern Washington State. Palouse Heritage sells Red Russian under the tradename English Redhead. According to Palouse Heritage, high protein soft red wheats, like Red Russian, “…have been used for centuries for scones, biscuits, flatbreads, and pastas. It is also prized by craft brewers for imparting a rich, tangy flavor to craft English wheat beers.”

 

I placed my Red Russian order with Palouse Heritage and, upon receiving my wheat, made my first batch of Red Russian pasta. I finely milled 57 grams of Red Russian and blended it with 57 grams of Central Milling’s Organic Artisan Bakers Craft bread flour. I brought the dough together with 1 medium egg and 1 small egg yolk and kneaded the stiff dough for 5 minutes. After a 30-minute rest at room temperature, I rolled the dough out with my mattarello and cut the pasta into fettuccini. The pasta’s texture, soft but chewy, mirrored Vetri’s description, but I didn’t taste a pronounced nutty or fruity flavor. Maybe blending the Red Russian with refined flour mitigated the whole wheat flavors?

 






I made a second batch of pasta, this time using 100% freshly milled Red Russian. I followed Vetri’s Whole Egg and Whole Wheat Dough recipe on page 29 of Mastering Pasta. This pasta also had a mild wheat flavor—one might say earthy—but, at least to my taste, not a pronounced nutty or fruit quality.

 

A myriad of factors (e.g., soil, geography, weather, farming practice and seed variety) can impact the flavors of fruits, vegetables and, yes, grains. My experience with Red Russian wheat reminds me of a similar episode I had making pasta with Warthog, a hard red winter wheat. I bought a bag of Warthog from a Texas mill and these remarkable berries smelled and tasted of baking spice. The Texas mill sold out before I could place another order, but I found an East Coast mill that sold Warthog grain grown in New York State. Although harvested in the same year, the Texas and New York grain smelled and tasted materially different. The New York Warthog did not express any spice notes while the Texas grain smelled redolent of baking spice.

 

Next year’s Red Russian crop might better express the flavors that impressed Vetri. Although not quite as expected, the grain made great tasting pasta. I like that the soft Red Russian did not produce a gritty-textured noodle that often occurs in a home-milled, 100% hard wheat pasta. I look forward to making further experiments with this Washington State heritage wheat.



Monday, July 6, 2020

Cayenned Corn


Here’s a recipe to take advantage of the bounty of summer corn. I clipped Ishmail Merchant’s recipe for Cayenned Corn from some newspaper or magazine back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. In researching this post, I learned that the recipe comes from Ishmail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine (St. Martin, 1986). The cookbook version calls for ½ teaspoon of cayenne and isn’t quite as chatty (i.e., fun).

 


Cut as much uncooked fresh corn as you have mouths to feed. (For 4 people you will need about 4 to 5 ears of corn.)

 

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and add the corn, a couple of chopped-up garlic cloves, ¼ teaspoon cayenne (or more if you like heat), and salt to taste. Cook this mixture a few minutes over medium heat.

 

Add ½ cup cream (half-and-half or even milk will do), cook the mixture for another 8 minutes or so, and serve it hot with a side dish of basmati rice.

 

Ismail Merchant (25 December 1936 - 25 May 2005) was an award-winning film producer who, with his life-partner James Ivory, created nearly 40 films including The Remains of the DayHowards End, and A Room with a View.

 

Merchant loved film and food. A self-taught cook, he boasted that he “disobeys all the conventions and laws of cooking, preferring to improvise and make new discoveries all the time.” According to Madhur Jaffrey, who wrote the forward to Ishmail Merchant’s Passionate Meals (Hyperion, 1994), “Ismail cooks easily and he cooks well.”

 


I certainly get the sense of this fearless cook when reading the above recipe for Cayenned Corn, which feels more like a gesture than a mandate. I prefer recipes that give a cook license to play around with a dish. Once I added spot prawns to briefly cook with the cream and corn. Occasionally I add diced onions and green chilies to the dish. Often I top the dish with slices of roast chicken. My latest tweak: swapping out the cayenne pepper with Cobanero chili flakes from Burlap & Barrel, a spice importer located in Queens, New York. This fruity, smoky pepper grows in Guatemala and adds heat and complexity to this easy summertime dish.



Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Willie's Crisp


The calendar says July, but the weather today feels more like winter in my corner of the Pacific Northwest. Locals like to say that summer on the island begins in earnest on the 4th of July. We’ll see. So far 2020 hasn’t been a normal year, to say the least.

 

In anticipation of the season, I’ve started to pull out some of my favorite summertime recipes. Here’s one called Willie’s Crisp. The recipe comes from the great food writer Marion Cunningham. I clipped the recipe out of the San Francisco Chronicle’s Food Section back in the early 1990s. I loved the dessert so much that I printed it on my Vandercook Model No. 4 press.

 


Marion Cunningham, who rewrote The Fannie Farmer Cookbook and penned a number of her own cookbooks, earned a James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003. She died in 2012. Cunningham frequented the Saturday morning farmer’s market in Walnut Creek, California, where I often shopped with my young daughters. It was always a treat to see her shopping there. Cunningham’s recipe for Plain Pancakes from The Breakfast Book (Knopf, 1987) remains a family favorite memorialized here on this website. But on to Willie’s Crisp, which serves 9.

 

1 cup flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 egg, beaten

5 to 6 cups peeled, seeded and sliced fruit, or stemmed berries

½ to ¾ cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

¼ pound butter, melted

 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready an 8x8-inch baking dish (no need to butter it).

 

Put 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Stir to mix well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork. It should be crumbly; if it seems too dry, add a little more egg.

 

Put the fruit or berries into another mixing bowl. Stir together the 2 tablespoons flour and sugar to taste. Add to the fruit and toss to lightly coat. Spoon fruit into the baking dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle the crisp mixture evenly over the top. Drizzle the melted butter evenly over the crisp mixture.

 

Bake about 40 minutes or until the topping is golden. Serve warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

 

I will dig through my recipes to see if I kept my original clipping of Willie’s Crisp. I don’t recall if Cunningham shared her connection with Willie, but I doubt he was actually a cowboy. If you have excellent peaches, consider using them to make this delicious, comforting dessert.

 

I hope you enjoy Willie’s Crisp as much as I do. Next up: a recipe for Cayenned Corn from Ishmail Merchant. Stay safe, everyone.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Tonnarelli



I posted my first article on this website ten years ago. I wrote about bigoli, a Venetian spaghettoni that I made on a hand-turned pasta press called a torchio.

 


Since writing that first post, I’ve made a lot of pasta with my torchio using different bronze dies that craft a diverse range of pasta shapes. I learned that certain dies produce better results when extruding a particular kind of pasta dough. I now use one type of dough when making a fine, long pasta (here) and another when I want a short pasta (here).

 


Yet even with my pasta journal full of tested recipes, I still experiment: sometimes to affect a change in my pasta’s texture and/or flavor; sometimes based upon the ingredients that I have—or don’t have—on hand; and, occasionally, just for fun.

 

I want to share another torchio pasta dough recipe that I recently developed. I aimed to make a chewy-textured long string pasta that extruded without excessive sticking. To realize these qualities, I use my standing mixer fitted first with a paddle and then with a dough hook to knead the dough.

 

115 grams Central Milling Organic Semolina

115 grams Central Milling Organic Type 00 Normal

4 grams Diamond Crystal kosher salt

2 medium eggs

water

 

1) Put the 230 grams of flour and salt into the bowl of a standing mixer equipped with a mixing paddle. Mix to combine the flour and salt.

 

2) Place a glass beaker on a scale, tare the scale and add the eggs to the beaker. A medium-grade egg weighs approximately 50 grams, so the eggs in the beaker should weigh about 100 grams. Add water to the beaker so that the egg mixture weighs a total of 112 grams. If the 2 eggs weigh more than 112 grams, remove enough egg white to reduce the weight of the eggs to 112 grams. Whisk the beaker’s contents together.

 

3) Turn on the mixer and set it at its lowest speed. Slowly add small amounts of the beaten egg mixture into the flour. Patiently wait between each small pour to allow the mixer to incorporate the egg into the flour. From start to finish, the step of adding the egg mixture to form the dough should take about 3 minutes.

 


4) When the dough comes together (see photo above), turn off the mixer and replace the paddle with the mixer’s dough hook attachment. Turn the mixer back on to low and knead the dough for 10 minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer.

 

5) Form the dough into a log shape that will fit into the torchio’s chamber. Very tightly wrap the dough log twice in plastic film and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Tightly wrapping the dough helps hydrate the dough.

 

6) After 30 minutes, unwrap the dough and knead it by hand for 30 seconds to firm up the dough. Ready your chosen torchio die and place the dough in the torchio’s chamber.  Set the piston into the chamber and turn the handle. Cut the pasta at your desired length. The pasta should feel just a tad sticky. When making a long string noodle, I dust the cut pasta with semolina flour before placing the pasta on a tray to dry out for an hour or so. 

 

The above recipe makes enough pasta to serve 4. When I began developing this recipe, I used 115 grams of flour, one egg and some water. This produced a dough that happily skirted around the dough hook in the mixing bowl. So I doubled the qualities and problem solved.

 

I bought a new bronze die to use with this dough: a 3mm square spaghetti die that Emiliomiti (here) calls spaghetti alla chitarra. Per Oretta Zanini De Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta, the pasta chitarra (guitar) ”…consists of a wooden frame (beech or other neutral wood) strung with parallel steel wires.” The pasta maker places a thick-ish sheet of pasta on top of the “strings”. Zanini De Vita continues: “[u]nder the uniform pressure of a rolling pin, the strings cut the pasta to make the famous maccheroni, which are a sort of square spaghetti about 12 inches (30 cm) long. They are boiled in salted water.”

 



In Molise maccheroni alla chitarra is called crioli, in The Marche stringhetti, and in Lazio it is tonnarelli. If you like to make cacio e pepe, the above dough paired with the tonnarelli die will make you very happy. I also used the dough in my torchio fitted with a No. 98 rigatoni die. The pasta tasted great, but the tubes didn’t hold their shape after extruding.

 

I originally started this food blog, in part, as a lark, thus its silly name. If I had known I’d be at it for ten years, I might have considered a more serious moniker. But…maybe not. What could possibly be more Serious than a Bunburyist? Another ten years?