Archive for the ‘Artisanal foods’ Category
April 26 is National Pretzel Day and I wanted to share my recipe for traditional Italian
pretzels called taralli.
Just about anyone of Italian descent is familiar with taralli. Common all along the southern provinces of Italy, taralli are crunchy and pretzel-like and are eaten as bread or enjoyed as a snack.
These baked snacks are often referred to in English as biscotti, because technically it is cooked twice (the definition of biscotti). But the end product is nothing at all like a biscotti. In both appearance and texture, these are more like hard pretzels.
Believed by many to have originated in Puglia, where bread reigns supreme and bread-like products are abundant, taralli start off much the same way as other pretzels: they are shaped, boiled, and baked until hard and crisp. There is a subtle difference between taralli and pretzels, though. Pretzels are often made with eggs, which give them a “softer” crunch flakier texture than taralli, and the spices added to taralli make them the perfect accompaniment to meals.
I never had much of a sweet tooth, not even as a child. I got this trait from my mother, who would (and still does) pass up a slice of cake for a tasty cracker and some grapes anytime. This proclivity, plus a desire to avoid giving her family too many sweets, my mother has always made taralli for us to snack on.
The crunchy, pretzel-shaped treat and, fennel seeds give these biscuits their unique flavor and aroma, but sweeter versions can also be found.
Although taralli are eaten throughout the year, production by bakeries and home cooks alike ramps up around holidays. This Easter, I helped my mother make the taralli and here are some shots of the process, as well as her recipe, which appeared in my cookbook, What, No Meat? Traditional Italian Cooking the Vegetarian Way. Enjoy.
Biscotti di Mamma (My Mother’s Pretzels)
1 package active dry yeast
5 pounds all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
4 teaspoons fennel or anise seeds
5 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/3 cups corn oil
Sprinkle the yeast into 1 cup very warm water. Let it sit until it is murky, about 5 minutes. Stir until all the yeast is dissolved.
On a kneading board, make a well of flour. Have about 2 cups warm water nearby. Sprinkle the salt and seeds over the flour. Place the remaining ingredients in the center of the well and begin mixing by working your way around the inside of the well with your hand and pulling in the dry ingredients, a little at a time. Mix all the ingredients well. If the dough is too dry, add a little water as you mix. Knead the dough for about 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be firm but not tough. If it is too wet, add a little more flour and work it in. If it is too dry, add more water and work it in.
Cut the dough in half. Cover one half with a bowl until you are ready to use it. Cut off several 1-inch pieces from the other half and cover the rest with a bowl. Roll a piece out into a 1/4-inch-thick rope. Fold over the ends of the rope to make a criss-cross shape. Press the ends in firmly or they will come apart. Repeat this process with the remaining dough.
As you are shaping the last few pretzels, bring a large pot of water to boil. Place several pretzels into the boiling water (this will give them a flaky texture and a shiny exterior). When they rise to the surface, remove them immediately with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean cloth towel to dry. They should only take about 30 seconds to rise. If they don’t rise after a minute, nudge them a little with the spoon—they sometimes stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil the remaining pretzels and allow them to dry out, about 10 minutes.
As the pretzels are drying, preheat the oven to 375. When the pretzels are dry, lay them directly on the oven racks, about ½ inch apart, and bake them until the undersides are a golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn them over and bake until their undersides are deep golden brown, another 10 minutes. If they burn quickly, lower the oven to 350º. They will not all brown at the same rate so keep checking them. Remove the ones that are done and replace them with others.
Serve them as a snack or as an accompaniment to antipasto or dinner.
Store the pretzels in a tin or loosely covered in a basket up to 2 months.
Makes 70 to 80 pretzels.
Over the last two days, I did two 12-hours shifts at the James Beard House for my internship. Here’s my report.
The first night, I worked with the crew from Patina restaurant in Los Angeles, headed up by Chef Tony Esnault. Chef Esnault is a protégé of culinary legend Alain Ducasse, and earned his restaurant a four-star review in the Los Angeles Times.
The theme of the evening was Black Truffle Extravaganza. The nine different dishes that were executed all contained black truffles, including dessert. There were thousands and thousands of dollars worth of black truffles in that place. At $800 per pound, I would not be able to afford even one knotty fungi. Then, his truffle importer, Christopher Poron, brought in about 6 or 7 more pounds in a little cooler bag. These truffles were huge and very aromatic. I alone shaved and cut into little circles about $1,600 worth of the black fungus. I would say that people got their money’s worth.
Aside from shaving truffles, I picked 300 little leaves off celery, laid them out on a sheet pan, and brushed each one with egg wash. Talk about painstaking. They then put them in a low oven, where they crisped up into little chips.
It felt like I was working in a traditional French brigade kitchen. It wasn’t that all the cooks were formal or that Chef Esnault, a Frenchman, cracked the proverbial whip, but it just had that “French kitchen” vibe. And it seemed as if Chef Esnault is an old-school kind of chef who really has no use for a woman in the kitchen. [See comments below.] He wasn’t mean or rude to me; on the contrary, he was very polite to me—when he addressed me at all. I think he was just indifferent to me—I could have been there or not, he couldn’t have cared less. The only time this changed was when he yelled at me to hurry up and put these teeny, tiny little crispy celery leaves on top of these little celeriac squares and julienned celery. This was not easy. Trying to balance fragile little chips on top of a small cube AND a julienned celery is frustrating, especially when you have an assembly line going and the plates have to get out. I felt like Lucy on the assembly line at the chocolate factory. I actually thought that while I was doing it, and it made me chuckle.
It was a loooonnnggg day. We never got an official break and we didn’t get any food until after dinner service. I had to scoot away to sit down for a couple of minutes at a time and snack on a few of the food items I brought with me. I finally got out of there at about 10:30.
Here’s the menu:
Potatoes with Truffles
Champagne Louis Roederer Premier Brut NV
Duck Foie Gras with Poularde, Artichokes, Frisée, Mâche, and Truffle Vinaigrette
Spottswoode Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Glazed Seasonal Vegetable Mosaic with Black Truffle Condiment
Vogelzang Vineyard Reserve Viognier 2010
Seared Day Boat Scallops with Potatoes, Leeks, and Tuber Melanosporum
Pazo de Barrantes Albariño 2010
Milk-Fed Veal Tenderloin with Celery and Jus Truffé
Neyers Sage Canyon California Red 2010
Poached Pear with Brown Butter Cake and Black Truffle Ice Cream
Pavi Due Sorelle Vin Santo 2003
While I refused to sample the veal, everything I did taste was delicious. My favorite part? The Vegetable Mosaic. Simply delicious. I wish I’d gotten a shot of it.
The next day was a completely different experience. I worked with the chefs from Blackberry Farm in Walland, TN. The atmosphere was much more mellow and laid back. And I was so happy to see that one of the chefs was a woman. Another volunteer was also a woman, though she left at about 4. That’s not to say that they were lackadaisical about their work; on the contrary, they were so prepared that it left relatively little for the volunteers to do. We got a nice long break, which went a long way toward keeping up my energy level. But we did have things to do and once dinner service began, it was the usual adrenaline-rushed craziness of getting the plates out.
I had written about Blackberry Farm when I was Assistant Managing Editor at Travel Agent magazine because they do cooking classes on the premises. They grow their own food and have animals on the farm from which they get some of their meat and their eggs and make their own charcuterie. They also brought along a few black truffles, which had been plucked from the ground only hours before in (I believe) North Carolina. While the French truffles were, without a doubt, flawless, these locals truffles were more perfume-y and fresher tasting, which is understandable.
Chefs Joseph Lenn and Cassidee Dabney were a pleasure to work with, as they brought a sense of fun to the work. They take their business seriously, but it was clear that their attitude was that you should whistle while you work. I like that. If you have to do something all day long, it’s best to enjoy what you’re doing.
I peeled and quartered little baby red and golden beets from their garden, shucked oysters (not well), piped field pea puree onto little pieces of crisp rice thingies that they made themselves, sliced biscuits, and whatever else needed to be done. Another wonderful dinner.
The Blackberry Farm menu was:
Biscuits with Pork Belly, Blackberry Farm Preserves, and Pickles
Capers Blades Oysters with Muscadine Mignonette
Blackberry Farm Charcuterie
Carolina Gold Rice with Field Pea Purée
Domaine des Terres de Velle Auxey-Duresses 2009
North Carolina Trout and Beet Salad with Watercress, Preserved Lemon, and Trout Roe
Domaine Saint-Marc Bois de Blagny Meursault 2009
Blackberry Farm Pencil Cob Grits with Sorghum, Benton’s Country Ham, Pickled Ramps, and Hollandaise
Domaine Alain Jeanniard Les Saussilles Pommard 1er Cru 2008
Guinea and Dumplings with Poached Egg and Black Truffles
Domaine Durieu Cuvée Traditionnelle Rouge Châteauneuf–du-Pape 2009
Roasted Lamb with Blackberry Farm Peas and Greens
Domaine Paillère & Pied-Gû Gigondas 2005
Blackberry Farm Blue Cheese Cheesecake with Pears and Pecans
More Photos HERE!
Pizza has an interesting history, which I talk about in my cookbook, What, No Meat? Here’s an excerpt:
Virtually every culture in the world has one form of pizza or another. In the last couple of decades it has even found its way to the most culturally isolated countries. You probably knew that pizza is an Italian creation, but did you know that it goes back to the ancient Romans? The Romans made what they called moretum, a plain baked piece of dough that they ate with onions. Near the beginning of the 2nd second century A.D., the word picea entered the language to describe a piece of round dough dressed with various toppings, perhaps influenced by the Greek word pièzo, “to flatten.” It finally became pizza soon after. (Sauce didn’t enter the picture until the 18th century.)
The pizza that we know today was created in Naples in 1535 in honor of the marriage of Bona Sforza to Sizismondo I, King of Poland. Despite its grand origin, it became a food for common folk. Pizzerias started out as little holes-in-the-wall, selling pizza to the local peasants. As pizza’s popularity grew, pizzaiuoli (pizza-makers) began adding tables and chairs to entice people to enter. Little by little, they began to decorate and beautify their establishments by putting in colorful tiles or fancy brickwork.
Gennaro Lombardi opened the first pizzeria in the U.S. in New York in 1905. Over time, it became very popular and more pizzerias opened all across the country, becoming a favorite gathering place for people of all classes. Today, pizza is just as American as it is Italian. According to one urban legend, U.S. pizza is so popular that in the 1980s, college students in England ordered pizza to be shipped overseas. Papa John’s pizzeria filled the largest pizza order in history by delivering 13,500 pizzas in June of 2006. This surpasses the Guinness World Records champion, Little Caesar’s, who delivered 13,386 pizzas on August 19, 1998 to employees of the VF Corp. of Greensboro, N.C. at 180 locations in the U.S.
(Excerpt from What, No Meat?: Copyright © Roberti Roberti
Do not reprint in ANY form or media without express written consent.)
Wednesday night was pizza night at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was probably a little awkward for some because our bread class was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. Irene hit us full-on on Sunday, August 28, 2011, but the city began shutting down on Saturday. Mayor Bloomberg ordered all mass transit to halt service at noon. This meant that people could get to class but they wouldn’t be able to get home. So, the school closed. That was a relief to me because to make up those classes would have been a pain in the behind for me.
Logically, bread baking should be a prerequisite to pizza making, but circumstances precluded that. But the students in my class are pretty quick learners and in the end, we made some pretty tasty pizzas and focaccia, some of them gluten free. (However, I must say that I did not agree with all the toppings that were made available to us. I just don’t think that tofu belongs on a pizza, no matter how tasty you make it.)
First, we all started by making sponges, a starter made with yeast, water, and flour and is set aside to ferment. Some bakers make a sponge and let it sit for days, even weeks. Some starters—often called “mothers”—have been around for years and years. This is achieved by making a dough with the starter, then taking a piece from that dough and setting it aside, making a dough with that starter, taking a piece, and so on. Artisinal bakers are known for doing this, as it supposedly makes a superior bread.
One of the gluten-free versions of the pizzas was slightly gummy. The bottom was crisp but the part just beneath the toppings had the appearance and texture of undercooked dough, even though it wasn’t undercooked. But the flavor was quite good—better than you’d think from a gluten-free dough. The texture of a gluten-free dough can never be that of regular dough, but you can still get a really good pizza, with a nice, fluffy texture and, with the right toppings, a complex flavor.
We were each assigned a specific recipe. Mine was pissaladiére, which is a French pizza made with caramelized onions, Niçoise olives, and anchovies. I thought it came out pretty good, although I refused to use anchovies. Sorry, all you anchovies lovers, but I just can’t stand the sight, smell, or taste of them. And that pizza was delish! I split my dough into quarters, so I wound up with 4 small pizzas. (See the picture below.)
It was a scramble to get a pizza stone. We actually had lines forming because there were only a few pizza stones and each person had multiple pizzas to throw into the oven. But, eventually, everyone got theirs in and we feasted! At the beginning of class, I was starving. By the end of class, I was stuffed.
So, here is the recipe for pissaladiére, as I made it in school. Enjoy!
¼ cup warm water
1 ½ tsp dry yeast
2 Tb unbleached white all-purpose flour
½ cup warm water
½ tsp sea salt
1 Tb olive oil
1 ½ cups unbleached white all-purpose flour
cornmeal for coating peels
1/3 cup olive oil
4 lbs. onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
2 Tb Herbs de Provence
½ tsp sea salt (or to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Niçoise olives, pitted
6 plum tomatoes, sliced (optional)
In small bowl, combine ¼ cup water, yeast, and 2 Tb flour; stir until thick like batter. Cover sponge and set aside in a warm, draft-free place for 20-30 minutes.
- Add ½ cup water, salt, olive oil and just enough of the remaining flour to create dough that pulls away from sides of bowl.
- Knead dough on table about 10 minutes or until soft dough is created.
- Place dough in medium, clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Proof in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or until dough has doubled.
- While dough is proofing, place pizza stones in preheated 425 oven, and prepare toppings.
1. Heat olive oil in medium pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, Herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Slowly cook about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until onions are very soft and translucent (don’t brown). Remove garlic.
2. Gently punch down dough and cut into 2 equally sized balls. Stretch out each ball of dough into a circle about 1/4-inch thick. Place on peel.
3. Spread cooked onions on top of each dough. Add tomato slices and sprinkle olives over the top. Fold edge of dough over onion mixture to cover about 1 inch around. Let rise 15-20 minutes.
4. Slide pissaladiére onto hot pizza stones and bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Hi, all. Summer’s rolling in and we’re finally able to do all those things we love to do in beautiful weather. One of the nice things about summer is being able to stroll leisurely around the neighborhood after a good dinner. (I suppose you can do that in winter, too, but who wants to?)
The other evening, I had dinner with a couple of friends in an area of Brooklyn called Carroll Gardens. It’s a really cute little area, reminiscent of Greenwich Village, only more intimate and with a “local” feel to it. Anyway, after dinner at an excellent vegan restaurant called Wild Ginger (more on that another time), we strolled Smith St. I picked up menus from restaurants I wanted to try, window shopped, and caught the strains of various types of music coming from different bars (I really must try the Zombie Hut one of these days). On this stroll, I encountered a tiny little gourmet shop called Stinky’s Cheese. It’s aptly named, I realized as I stepped inside–the aroma of the cheeses they offer permeates the entire space.
Hi, gang. Phew, now that I’m working again, it’s becoming a struggle getting my weekly blogs done. I missed last week but I’m going to try and be diligent from now on. No promises, though.
Anyway, this week, I’d like to talk about a great little restaurant I had the pleasure of visiting in Old Colorado City (part of Colorado Springs), Colorado. I’d first heard about this place in a magazine called Alegria Living Colorado Style, which focuses on certain counties in central Colorado. The restaurant is called Pizzeria Rustica, offering—what else?—pizza. But this is no ordinary pizzeria and the owner is no ordinary pizzaioulo.
Hi, all. As promised in a previous post, this week is all about the Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy. I’d never been to a goat dairy before and it proved to be an educational and fun experience. The goats are really cute and I never knew what sweet animals they are. One of the females came over to one of the fences where I standing and was practically begging to be scratched. I obliged and was rewarded with adorable nuzzling.