This week it was my turn to host our book group. As it’s also River Cafe week, I decided an Italian snack theme would be appropriate – those colossal juicy green olives and the smaller black ones with chilli for people who like olives, beetroot and parsnip crisps (not strictly Italian, but they are good) for the crisps component, and to go with them I would try my hand at making grissini.
There is a grissini recipe in the new River Cafe book, but it contains semolina and ‘OO’ flour and generally sounded a bit unachievable without a trip to the shops. Turning to Stephanie Alexander’s ‘A Cook’s Companion’ , I found an alternative which mentioned giving your finished breadsticks a bath in garlic and fennel seed scented olive oil, which all sounded rather lovely.
I didn’t change much of the original, though I did use my Cotswold Crunch granary bread flour instead of strong white for a bit of added goodness. I also discovered that rolling tiny balls of dough into sticks with a rolling pin is difficult and it’s much easier to just roll them between your hands (a bit like playdough) while pulling them into stick shapes. And, in the interests of washing up, I dispensed with the step of rolling the grissini in olive oil and transferring them to a different tray to bake, instead just using less oil in one tray.
Unthinkingly I only made one batch, a grand total of 15 breadsticks – not enough, semi-intellectual conversation is surprisingly hunger-forming . This was also a quite silly amount of dough to prove and not particularly economical since I had to turn the heating on to get them to rise. Next time I would try at least doubling the recipe. However, they were pleasingly rustic looking and went down well, being generally better received all round than Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy. Admittedly they could have been a bit crisper for authenticity, although I kind of liked the breadiness.
Grissini Makes 12-15
125g plain or wholemeal bread flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp instant dried yeast
pinch of sugar
2 tsp olive oil
65ml lukewarm water
olive oil, for flavour bath
1 clove garlic, bruised
1 tsp fennel seeds
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 10-15 minutes. Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Add the yeast, water and olive oil to the bowl and mix into a dough. Knead well until smooth.
Put the dough back in the bowl, cover and stand in a warm place until doubled in size (this should take 30mins to 1 hour). Gently knock back and leave to double in size again (around 15 mins).
Preheat the oven to 180C. Divide the dough into about 15 small balls and then stretch and roll them between your palms to elongate them into sticks about 20-25cm long. Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a baking tray with the garlic and fennel seeds and roll the grissini in the oil until coated. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 10 mins, before shaking the tray to turn the grissini and baking for a further 10-15 mins. They should be quite crisp. Cool on a wire rack.
Adapted from Stephanie Alexander’s ‘A Cook’s Companion’.