It’s comforting when you make a good meal and you know the recipe well enough to repeat the performance again at a later date. This post is about three such meals in July:
- my wife’s vegetable lasagna
- my favorite way with Spanish octopus
- my own sourdough bread
Barbara’s standard lasagna features packaged lasagna noodles and multiple layers of vegetables and cheese. Key ingredients were Swiss Chard, lacinato kale (a/k/a cavolo nero), mushrooms, onions, three cheeses (Feta, almond milk ricotta, and mozzarella), and a jar of tomato sauce. She bakes it in a large lasagna pan (13″x 9″x 3″), initially covered with foil for quite awhile (to ensure everything is fully cooked), and then uncovered to melt the cheese on top.
It’s enough to serve 8 to 10 people. We enjoy it for a couple of days (one dinner, next day lunch) and then freeze another section for another occasion.
My routine for a 3.5 lb. Spanish octopus is well-defined now. It is removed from the freezer and defrosted at room temperature overnight. The next day I remove the cap and cut out the beak. After a 30-second dip of the tentacles in a pot of boiling water, I simply place the octopus in an empty Dutch oven, so that it can poach in its own juices in a preheated 200 ° F. oven until it’s tender. That usually takes about 4 hours.
I prepared the marinade, with juices and zest from lemon, orange, and lime, added to a large stainless bowl of extra virgin olive oil. Then add:
- rosemary branches,
- garlic cloves,
- lots of Kosher salt, and
- dried, ground Calabrian pepper flakes.
The octopus (still quite warm from the pot) is added to the marinade and placed in the refrigerator overnight to absorb the flavors in the bath.
The first prepared dish the next day is almost always Pulpo a la Gallega, the classic Spanish Basque rendition with just sliced octopus, pimenton, olive oil, and sea salt. Various other dishes with grilled octopus are made during the rest of the week. Sautéed potatoes is one good accompaniment. Chopped salad with radicchio and bitter greens is another.
I’ve been making sourdough bread for 14 years, and I’ve worked at improving the process often. That ought to make Repeat Performances relatively easy for me. Much to my amazement in the past few months, I found that my breads were very disappointing. They were dense, relatively flat (very little “oven spring”), and showed a tight crumb structure that was unappealing. I was stumped, and as a result, didn’t bake at all for a few months.
Finally, I did more reading (of course), and I committed myself to researching possible causes and appropriate remedies for this dilemma. Help came swiftly from a baker called “The Regular Chef“. After watching his 15-minute video on how to make Tartine style country bread several times, I came to the realization that my problems were probably caused by at least three factors. One seemed to be that my sourdough starter was not vigorous enough when I made my levain. Solution to try: feed the starter twice a day for two days, and add to the levain near its peak expansion activity.
Another issue I suspected was insufficient dough development. I had been stretching the dough multiple times over a 6-8 hour period, but I never had tried to add “coil folding” to help build structure. Solution to try: add “coil folding”.
The third element was a surprise for me. After completing the dough development and bread shaping, I have been placing the loaves in the refrigerator (“retarding” the dough), and then baking the loaves the next day, 10 to 12 hours later. In his video, The Regular Chef indicated that he felt he achieved the best “oven spring” by baking the loaves 4 to 6 hours later. In effect, I may have been over-proofing my loaves. Solution to try: retard for only 4 hours.
On July 6-7 I tried all of the proposed solutions, and I followed the video carefully as prescribed. Most of the measurements and techniques were the same as I had been using, but with the changes noted, I was able to get a much better product.
Now I just hope I can Repeat the Performance!