Cooking “a l’Italienne” in summertime is one of my absolute favorite ways to enjoy these warmer months. With mouthwatering images from the World Expo in Milano this year, it is harder than ever to avoid all that Italy is sharing with the world community. The cuisine is brave, thoughtful, patient, and soulful. Italy’s food popularity soared to new heights in Europe and North America in the early 20th century and hasn’t looked back (and rightfully, why would it?) Embraced by all social strata we can see that Italian food is going nowhere fast, fortunately.
The Bell Kitchen is traveling outside the usual comforts & pleasures of French cooking this week – not only for taste but for baking technique. I have been blessed to have strolled the streets of Venice, Trieste, and Milan and saw the shop windows blanketed in men’s tailored suits, licorice-black lacquered shoes, and the rows of cafe awnings that seem to swim down narrow alleyways infinitely. I took in the the grand piazzas, opulent opera houses, labyrinthine canals, and the weathered Italian doors pimpled from years of sea breeze and ocean salt.
Some of my favorite books are set in Italy; “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann or my absolute favorite play, “The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare. It’s hard to be short of inspiration. With the northern Alps or the southern islands one could see why this is so – and coupled with food? Yes, please! A friend L. said to me this morning, “Adam, you can drive 20km in any direction and find a complete different cuisine.” As an Italian, he only makes me want to visit more of his country. “This summer,” I silently consider in mind.
Italian cuisine truly varies by region and recipes are handed down from one generation to the next. The recipe below (2 recipes in fact) hail from Umbria – a central Italian region. The bread is rolled out as a flatbread and the dough is filled with Pecorino romano cheese. Although the bread itself can be enjoyed with no accompaniments, you can explore adding herbs, sauces, and textures as I have done; sundried tomatoes, olives, Gorgonzola, garlic, and rucola. It made for a perfect treat the other night and surely will be my next starter at one of our cocktail parties in downtown Prague.
I have baked Italian breads before and, going forward, will keep this Umbrian bread my baking repertoire – an absolute summer delight.
- 3 1/3 cup (400 grams) AP flour
- 1 1/2 cup (180 grams of Pecorino romano (freshly-grated)
- 1 large egg
- 2 tbsp EVOO
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp (16 grams) dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cup (200 grams) of cold water
- Preheat oven to 430 F (220 C) - cover baking rack with parchment baking paper.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, yeast, and salt. Add the cheese and egg. Thoroughly combine and slowly add the water, bits at a time.
- Once your dough is elastic and pulls away from your hands, create a ball & set the dough to rest for minimum 1 hour, covered, away from drafts.
- Once ready, roll out your dough to 1/2 inch thickness to desired shape, poke dough with a fork, and pinch the edges. Bake for 17-20 minutes, centered in your oven, until browned.
- To serve: Brush on EVOO and a sprinkle of Pecorino romano
- Umbrian bread can be enjoyed by itself or with varying toppings decided by the homecook such as sundried tomatoes, rucola, prosciutto, or olives. The bread itself is delicious when paired with a fresh Italian salad and a regional red Italian wine.
- Umbrian Bread
- 3/4 cup chopped sundried tomatoes (in oil)
- 1/2 cup diced black olives (pitted)
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup Gorgonzola cheese
- EVOO / Freshly-cracked pepper
- Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C) and center your baking rack
- In a small sauce pan, combine chopped tomatoes in oil, olives, garlic and basil. Gently combine and warm over medium heat to blend flavors. Add chopped basil in the last 2 minutes. Set aside.
- Brush on extra virgin olive oil evenly to coat bread. Add your sauce mixture and pinches of Gorgonzola and bake for 10 minutes. For 3 minutes, move the rack to the broiler and melt cheese thoroughly.
- To serve: Top with fresh rucola generously, a drizzle of EVOO, and a crack of pepper
- Optional: try adding some red chili flakes or capers. Additionally you can add anchovies and create a traditional Puttanesca sauce over your bread. Pair with a Chianti -- makes for an excellent appetizer at a cocktail party.