Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pane del Nonno (Grandpa's Italian Bread)

It was a ritual for my grandfather to bring to our home every Sunday some Panella bread.  Bakeries on Sunday were always open.  It was a ritual for so many to stop on Sunday morning after church at the Bakery to pick some fresh bread up  before the traditional Sunday lunch.   Not much was available as far as Italian bread was concerned  in the local supermarkets in the 1970's, even in New York.   Local bread bakeries began expanding their territories and delivering to the local markets in the early 1980's.  Not ever locality was included as there was only so much supply to go around.  Most bakeries would run out early on Sunday morning having sold their supply.    We had almost nothing in Scarsdale, New York, except the local bakery, which was french and not acceptable as they did not carry the Panella bread that we were accustomed to having on the table.    My grandparents lived for years on 116th street and 1st  avenue in Manhattan, where Italian bakeries in the 1970's were plentiful.    My grandfather would arrive so proudly, carrying his bread bag,  as if he himself had baked it.  We would never have a bread plate at the family table, but a lovely Sunday tablecloth, cleaned and pressed for the weekly event.  My grandfather would strategically place the sliced bread at the table with such elegance and grace you didn't dare touch it before lunch.   I must confess,  that when he wasn't looking,  I would get myself a piece and run out of the kitchen!
I learned to make this recently quite by accident. I came across several recipes on the subject and this sounded so interesting,   I just had to experiment some and try it.  I had not come across any good bread   livng here in the Deep South.    For anyone who is craving that long lost Italian bread, and who doesn't have the luxury of living next door to an Italian bakery today, its worth a try. I must admit, living in Tupelo, Mississippi has made me just a little more daring.  This will transport you back in time.


Ingredients:
You will need one food processor for combining your ingredients.  It can be combined by hand.  It does not require as much work as you might think.  Fit your food processor with a dough hook.
One Dutch oven with lid, knob removed.
3 cups of good quality unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup  plus approx. 1/2 warm water (warm to touch)
1 tablespoons  olive oil
2 tablespoons of Cornmeal
Cooking time:  One hour
I have tested many bread recipes. This by far gives the best result. It is rather important that you use a heavy cast iron pot to achieve the best result.  i like to use the food processor method for combining ingredients.  It can be done by hand~ This is my favorite as it can be prepared in such a short time and then left to rise in a warm corner of the kitchen while one is out for the day~ While one is preparing dinner it can be placed in the oven and be ready in one hour~
Combine yeast and 1/2 cup warm water in bottom of food processor bowl and pulse to combine.  Bubbles will form.. Let stand 5 minutes.
Add another 1/2 cup water, salt,  flour and begin mixing. add your remaining water. Add your flour and Mix.   You will see that within 30 seconds your flour will begin to come away from the sides of your mixing bowl and sticky ball will form.   If it still looks dry, add your remaining water a drop at a time.  If you are unsure, remove the lid and press the dough.. it should be somewhat sticky.  It should look rather elastic.  Do not worry if a complete ball is not formed.    Place flour on your hands and remove from bowl onto a floured surface.  Fold over 2 to 3 times into a ball.  You should see a sticky and smooth consistency.  Do not worry if its sticky.
Place in a bowl large enough for the dough to double in size~On a paper towel  add some olive oil and brush or gently rub  your bowl with it.  Place your dough in the bowl.  Brush  the remaining oil over your bread dough.
Cover with plastic wrap and towel.
Place in a dark, warm place like inside a kitchen cabinet.  Let rise for 8-12 hours. .The longer the better.  Overnight is good.
Take you covered pot and place in oven at 450 degrees and bake.  You need to warm up the pot you will be placing your bread in.  The lid causes the air to trap and expand your bread while cooking.  If you want the crispy, bakery  texture, this will work~
8 hours later uncover, you should see it double in bulk.  Do not worry about the bubbles This indicates your yeast is active and doing it's job.  Roll out onto a floured surface.  Fold over into a ball again (Should take a few seconds to do).  Let rest on Counter.  Pat down into a flatter
circle about 8 inches round.   Cover  with a towel.
Be careful and remove your hot pan from oven.
Remove the lid.  Be careful as it is very hot.  Sprinkle one teaspoons of Cornmeal in your pan.  Carefully drop your bread in pan. Do not worry if it looks like your pan is much bigger than your bread dough. It should almost fill the bottom of your dutch oven but only be several inches in height now.   Your bread will expand.
 Sprinkle teaspoon of Cornmeal all over your bread.  Place lid back on pan and place in oven.  Make sure your lid is tight fitting as you do not want the air to escape~
30 minutes with lid on.
Remove lid.  You will see your bread has risen some and is light golden.   Let cook approx 30  more minutes without the lid.    You will see the bread turn golden brown.
Remove from Oven. Carefully remove the bread.   Let cool.   Use your fist to Knock on top of the bread.  It should sound hollow almost. You will also hear the bread cracking as it cools down~  A very good indication of Success ~
Enjoy and Buon Appetito~

Pasta al Forno (Pasta baked in the oven with Ham, Bechamel, Asparagus and Mozzarella)


This baked pasta is so delicious you will find yourself making excuse's to cook again.  Pasta is pre-cooked for several minutes, drained and added to bowl where bechamel, mozzarella, parmigiano, cooked ham and cut up asparagus are added and mixed.  Poured into baking dish and baked in the oven.  This beautiful dish serves up perfect every time.  The tricky part is the bechamel,  but with a little practice and patience, you can do it too.  A meal in a pasta bowl.  Buon Appetito

Ingredients:
Preheat your oven at bake 350 degrees
One baking dish large enough to acommadate  your assembled ingredients.
1 pound of cooked ham, sliced thick. You should be able to get pieces.  Cube into small pieces and set aside.
1 cup Parmigiana Cheese
8 oz of Mozzarella sliced thin
1 pound of asparagus, trimmed (woodsy bottoms thrown away), blanched in salted water with a pinch of baking soda. *The baking soda will help the asparagus retain it's bright green color after it's baked.  Cut into small pieces and set aside the tips for serving later. Set aside.
Additional tablespoon of butter/ cut into tiny pieces for the top


For the Bechamel: 
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 plus 1/2 cups whole milk heated (until bubbles form around the edges)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg
One pound tubular pasta such as Rigatoni or Mostaccioli
Heat your milk in a pan.  In another 3 quart pan, place your butter and heat on low. Let it melt slowly. When you butter is melted add your flour one spoon at a time and combine, stirring constantly.  Do not let you flour turn dark. If you see this happening, you will have to start again.  The idea here is to form a Roux that will act as a thickening agent for your cream.  At this point, turn your heat off and begin adding your hot milk a little at time and combine.  You will notice as you stir that your bechamel will thicken.  Keep adding your liquid until finished.  Your result should be a creamy consistency that should coat the sides of the pan.  Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg and set aside to cool slightly
Cook your pasta for 5 or so minutes in boiling water.  You do not want to cook any further as your pasta will cook while being baked in the oven.  Do not overcook.   Reserve a few tablespoons of starchy water.  Drain and set aside.
Into a bowl: Ham, asparagus pieces,  3/4 cup Parmigiano and half the mozzarella slices. Add your drained pasta (still hot), and mix.  Add 1/4 cup of your Bechamel in the botttom of your baking dish and spread.  Add your reserved Bechamel to your bowl with your pasta and mix gently.  Pour into your baking dish.  Spread evenly and add sprinkle of  your reserved Parmigiano, evenly distribute  mozzarella cheese across the top and dab with your butter pieces across the top.  Bake in the oven covered for 25 minutes on 350.  Remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes more. Look for the top to turn golden. Be careful not to burn.  (The steam from the covered baking dish will cook your pasta).  Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving in pasta bowls.  The dish is hearty and goes a long way. Add your reserved Asparagus tips and serve.   Buon Appetito.