Friday, May 28, 2010

Four Generations of Jews at an Italian Supper

I'm up late/early. Dina has a fever from her 6 months shots, and needs holding while sleeping. The brain does odd things at 5 in the morning. A question: what is the best insomnia food?

We went to my brother's for dinner Wednesday night. My contribution was the afore mentioned bread and marrying David, our authority on Italian food. It was commented that my brother must be feeling pretty confident/ballsy to cook Italian for David and I, but he did himself proud. My other roles were keeping good company, keeping Dina busy and doing my fair share of prep.

J.A. Henckels Twin Four Star 8-Inch High Carbon Stainless-Steel Chef's KnifeAaron (my brother) recently purchased a fabulous Japanese chef's knife, and I got the pleasure of using it for onions, peppers and broccoli rabe (Boy, if there was ever a vegetable I couldn't get behind, broccoli rabe would be it). Dave cut paper thin, translucent slices of tomato, so thin you could see through them. We have a Henckles Chef's Knife, kindly purchased by 4 of our friends for our wedding, and it serves us very well. It is heavy and thorough, and all together German. This Japanese knife was light as a feather and razor sharp. It did all the work for us as we were prepping. The next time I have $140 bucks to throw around, I just may have to buy one.

Together, we made Roasted Vegetables, Salmon with Garlic and Rosemary, Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Locally Made Cavatelli with Fresh Tomato Sauce, served with homemade Rustic Italian Bread with Savory Olive Oil.

Ah, this bread. I am really proud of how it came out. It was worth the time it took to make. Beginning a sponge, or biga in Italian, the day before means that the bread takes on a whole new dimension of flavor. It's not bitter like a sour dough, but it does have the same soft depth to it. It's begun in a very hot oven, then the temperature is reduced, so the crust has a bite to it, while the middle is soft with substance.

That was a surprise to me, the middle being so soft. I was expecting a denser crumb due to the use of the bread flour. However, through standing up on a stool, so I could get my whole weight down on the counter, I only needed to knead to the minimum limit of the recommended time for the recipe to achieve a smooth dough. Next time, it will be fun to play with kneading it past that emulsion point, when the dough becomes one beneath your hand. We'll see what the added gluten does to the texture of the bread.

My grandparents, of previous post fame,
and my mother with Dina Margaret.
At the table sat four generations. Dad helped Grandma and Grandpa make it up the stairs into Aaron's apartment, which was sweltering from the cooking and the unseasonably warm 90 degree weather, despite the best efforts of the air conditioning. Mom arrived with a napped Nomi and took up Dina duty, giving her a jar of Earth's Best while Nomi wreaked havoc in the non-toddler proofed apartment. Jana and I set table and gabbed while Aaron and Dave finished up the cooking. Isn't this how families are supposed to live? Isn't this how we as human beings are fed? The sustenance of family being together, despite all the meshugas and tsurus, is as filling as any slice of bread.

So, nu, this is how I made the bread:

Rustic Italian Bread
from America's Test Kitchen's Family Baking Book

2 cups bread flour
1 cup warm water
1/4 tsp instant yeast

3-3 1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup water, warm
1 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp salt

1. The day before, mix together the ingredients for the sponge until they come together. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for 6 to 24 hrs, ideally overnight.

2. Baking day: whisk together your dry ingredients. Combine the water and sponge with the dry ingredients. Bring the dough together. Scrap the dough out onto your board, and knead for 15-25 minutes, using extra flour as needed to prevent sticking. Continue until the dough forms a smooth mass.

3. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl to rise. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 1 hr in a warm place. Fold the dough into thirds, as you would a letter, then fold in half. Allow to rise for another 1/2 hr.

4. Repeat folding. Allow to rise for one more 1/2 hr or until doubled.

5. Prepare a baking stone or sheet pan. Turn out the dough onto a floured board. Press into a dimpled 10 inch square. Fold the top third down over the center, as you would a letter. Continue folding or rolling, until the dough appear to be a torpedo shape. Place the bread seam side down on your baking surface.

6. Cupping with your hands, gently pull the surface of the dough taut. Spritz with vegetable or olive oil. Recover with the plastic wrap. Allow to rise until doubled, about 1-1 1/2 hrs.

7. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Attempt not to do this on a 90 degree day, even if you told your little brother you would. When dough has finished rising, cut slits in the top. If you are so inclined, and have previous experience cutting birds since you have a dear friend for whom you made raven bread on the birth of her son, cut a bird or any design you like into the top of the bread. Everyone will be impressed.

8. Place bread in the oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the loaf and turn down the heat to 400 degrees. Continue to bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

Serve with whatever you heart desires. This bread was delicious with olive oil and with nutella. Personally, I vote for the nutella. Share and enjoy.

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