The Staff of Life

It’s a good thing that I’ve always been on good terms with gluten and carbohydrates. So many of my favorite foods come from wheat berries. As I look over the material I have about cooking and the foods for this blog, I am struck by the significance of bread and pasta in the crowd. Fortunately, this is balanced by vegetables, fruit and seafood which we have in abundance. This post illustrates some of the month’s highlights on our tables.

Sourdough Again

Two batards and a good-sized boule came out of baking Tartine-style country loaves again this month.

Toasted or fried, the thin slices of this bread (90% bread flour, 10% whole wheat) have been the basis for breakfasts and lunches regularly. Hummus, smoked salmon, Basque sheep-milk cheeses, just plain unsalted butter — each has graced and enhanced this marvel of the fermentation process.

In the brief period between finishing the last batch of sourdough and the completion of this one, I also baked a couple of small loaves of peasant white bread from Alexandra’s Kitchen.

Marcella’s Genius

I keep re-discovering the meticulous magic of Marcella Hazan’s cooking. Here are two examples, each of which includes pasta or bread neatly integrated into the meal.

Ligurian-Style Pasta.

Over the years I have occasionally made a pasta dish from Liguria, which features zucchini and carrots, usually cut into small julienned pieces. It has been a good dish, but not over-the-top marvelous. This month I was re-reading my Marcella Cucina cookbook (1997), and I found and tried her version.

Her attention to all the little details, including removing the core of each carrot prior to the julienne process and the steps of successive salting in small amounts, made all the difference. The result was clearly superior. I have only one photo, because we gobbled up the rest of the dish with gusto.

Marcella’s Escarole, Sautéed Apulian-Style

Another example of Marcella’s ability to make a simple dish supremely good is this recipe for sautéed escarole. I had purchased a very attractive, large head of escarole at the market, and I was looking for a new way to cook it when I found this recipe. Normally, I would blanch the greens and then sauté with olive oil and garlic. The other usual option was escarole and rice soup. Each of these choices has just a few steps in the instructions and is easy to prepare.

Marcella, on the other hand, takes two pages of detailed instructions to describe a terrific dish, using just escarole, bread, garlic and anchovies. It also turned out to be a great way to finish the remaining loaf of white peasant bread I mentioned earlier.

Simple, rustic, traditional, and delicious. Grazie, Marcella.

I close with this insight from another great chef:

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