Monthly Archives: June 2012

Schiacciata

Aerial view before going into the oven

Schiacciata means squashed in Italian, and this is a recipe for a sort of foccaccia bread with grapes squashed into it. It’s not a sourdough recipe, you don’t need a bread maker. It’s really very simple. I have had this recipe for ages, cut out from an Italian magazine and converted into English stuff.

It’s an odd bread though. People often say to me things like “oh God I couldn’t make my own bread I’d just spend all day eating it”. Well, I don’t spend all day eating bread. I think this is largely because sourdough (what I usually make every day) is delicious, but satisfying. Even though it’s a sum of parts of water, flour and salt, the way it’s made makes it far more satisfying than bread made with commercial yeast plus those same parts. My partner makes a foccacia that is so addictive I am as bloated as a puffer fish by the end of a meal as I carry on eating it well after my stomach is stretched to fullness.

This is an odd bread, however, because what would you eat it with? Well cheese is an obvious one. A salty cheese especially I think (actually, almost any after-dinner type cheese, I just really wanted to write the words ‘salty cheese’). And I think it would be perfectly wonderful with Parma ham. Whatever you have it with, it makes for a very attractive centre piece, would make a lovely present, is easy and quick to make but really needs to be eaten within a day of making it. It’s lovely warm, but not too hot, from the oven. And it’s very hard to resist, so don’t make this if you’ve just gone on a diet (loathsome word). You won’t get a big, airy crumb. This is altogether a more cakey bread.

So, this is what you need:

1tsp of dried, fast acting yeast (I use Dove’s)
1tbsp of caster sugar
80ml extra virgin olive oil
Fresh rosemary sprigs, I dunno, like about five or six
200 strong white bread flour
200-300g red or black seedless grapes, washed and dried, all off the stems.
a generous half a teaspoon of salt

You can easily double up or treble the recipe. I double it usually and make it in a big rectangular tin. But really, that gives you enough for a dinner party and you don’t really want that unless you are actually having a dinner party. And as this bread doesn’t keep I’d keep the quantities modest until such time as you know you’ll be feeding the five thousand.

This is what you do:

Chop up the rosemary sprigs (take the leaves off the stems) until you have very finely chopped bits, about a tablespoon’s worth. Put in the olive oil in a pan and warm very gently through for a few minutes. Then take it off the heat and let it cool and infuse. You want it to be back down to kinda blood temperature, honestly as long as it’s not boiling hot you can’t go wrong.

Whilst that’s happening, mix the yeast in 90ml of warm water and a scant tsp of the caster sugar (more like half really, kinda like a pinch). Whisk gently and leave for 10 mins until frothy. Maybe longer, but it will have frothed and puffed up a bit.

Now add the flour and salt to a bowl, make a well in the middle and then the yeast mixture and half the rosemary oil. Mix together roughly with your hands until you’ve got it mostly together. Leave, covered, for about 8-10 mins.

Turn out onto an oiled board and knead for about ten seconds. Leave for 8-10 mins.

Turn it out onto an oiled board again and knead for about ten seconds. It should be all nice and smooth now. If not then do it one more time. If it looks good and smooth, cover with a bowl and leave to rise at room temperature for 1-2 hours. Sorry not to be more accurate, but it depends on your room temperature. Until it’s doubled in size. As a guide, my kitchen was at 22C and it took about 90 mins.

When you feel it’s ready, oil a suitable oven proof dish – you can use a round cake tin (23/24cm) or a rectangular one. You need something with sides really as you’re going to be brushing it with a lot of oil and you want to keep the oil in the dough, not escaping out onto a baking tray. I sort of squash the bread in, and over about 10 – 15 mins (so the dough is nice and relaxed) I push it out to the sides of the tin so it fills it. You want a thin layer of dough, not thin-crust pizza thin, but about 1-2cm thick.

Now squash the grapes in. I say squash but don’t break them, kinda push them in. Brush the bread with the remaining oil. yes it will see like a lot. Now scatter over some more rosemary, sprinkle over some caster sugar (not loads) and set aside for about half an hour, covered with cling film or a very wrung out damp teatowel.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 250 (or as high as it will go if not as high as that). Bake for about 10-12 mins, then turn down to 220 for a further ten mins or so. It’s done when it’s golden brown.

Cooked and heavily nibbled by someone.

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Minestrone

Minestrone with broken up spaghetti and small bits of ‘pastina’

It’s mid June as I write this. In Italy, where my mother is from, it’s nearly 30C. Here, in Suffolk, it’s 12C.

And everybody’s complaining about it.

So today, I decided to make some minestrone. Minestrone is peasant food. You’d make it out of the bits ‘n’ bobs of vegetables you had left over. As such, there are many different versions. This is the beauty of it really, which is that you can add more or less whatever veg you have. Use bits of broken pasta that you can’t use for anything else, etc.

My mother makes an amazing minestrone, but she makes it using frozen veg. Which is quite inspired really when you consider that she lives in central London now, not on the edge of a vegetable patch. And the frozen veg is really fresh and delicious. I used to hate her minestrone (sorry Mamma, although the likelihood of you reading this is as high as the Vatican ever admitting it is wrong about anything) and the one and only time I was sent to bed without my dinner was when I, one evening, refused to eat it. I thought – and still think – this was quite harsh considering that I used to eat almost everything else. Including chickens’ feet and chickens’ stomach and tripe and brains. I mean, come on! Give me a break.

Anyway, I love it now and this is how I make it. I’d love to say this is a recipe passed down from my Nonna, but nope, I got it from Waitrose.

2tbsp olive oil
140g pancetta, cut up; or cut up bits of bacon (entirely optional, but makes it nice)
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 sticks of celery, you guessed it, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced or chopped, go crazy
1 medium potato, peeled and guess what? diced
2 medium courgettes, diced
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 large sprig of basil
Parmesan rind (save them for this)
salt and pepper (but not salt if you use the parmesan rind)
410g borlotti beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
50g your chosen pasta, nothing too thick, I love broken up spaghetti

You can prepare each veg as you go along.

Put the oil in a large saucepan and then add the pancetta/bacon. Once it’s beginning to colour, add the onion and cook gently until soft. Fry until soft.

Add the carrot, then the celery, then the garlic, then the potato, then the courgette. At each stage add the veg and let it cook for a minute or two.

Give the courgettes a couple of minutes, then add the chopped tomatoes. Fill the now empty tin with water, twice, and add to the minestrone. Now add the basil (if you don’t have it, don’t stress). Add parmesan rind and some pepper. If you don’t have the parmesan rind then add salt too.

Bring to boil, lower to simmer. With lid off, simmer very gently for two hours. You can eat it after one hour but it’s so much nicer after two hours. Twenty mins before the end, add the beans if you want to use them (I’m not a mad fan of the beans, and prefer it without).

If you’re planning on eating the whole lot in one go, also put the pasta in now, otherwise you get a better result cooking the pasta separately and adding it when you eat the minestrone.

That’s it. I find this really therapeutic to make and deliciously wholesome to eat.