Archive for the 'Bread and dough-based things' Category

Banana bread with macadamia nuts

March 1, 2010

I learned from Orangette the technique of throwing age-mottled over-ripened bananas into the freezer for baking later. They look very underwhelming when you take them out, all blackened and sludgy, but if you can get past peeling off the slimy skin you’ll have a little puddle of pure, fragrant banana bread gold.

This was so easy I was suspicious: whizz bananas, butter, egg and milk in the blender and stir into a bowl of flour, sugar and chopped nuts. I thought my batter was a bit thick, but I shoved it in the oven and hoped for the best. Within minutes a warm, sweet-smelling fug filled the flat, causing me to leap up and check every 5 minutes until it was done. I managed to restrain myself for about 20 minutes before cutting a slice, and it was every bit as light as I could have hoped, with, to me, the perfect level of banana flavour, almost caramelly.

You could play with this quite a lot – I imagine many people would like icing, for a start, but I wanted to keep to the recipe first time. The notes state that you can also chargrill and serve it warm again the next day.

Banana bread with macadamia nuts  Serves 8+

2 very ripe bananas
100g butter, melted
3 tbsp milk
1 egg
250g plain flour
100g caster sugar
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
50g macadamia nuts, roughly chopped

Heat the oven to 180c and grease and line the bottom of a 500g loaf tin.

Throw the peeled bananas, butter, egg and milk into a blender and blend for a minute or two until smooth and creamy.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and nuts. Pour in the banana mixture and mix until well combined.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and roughly level. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until risen and browned – if it seems to be browning too much before it’s done, you can cover it loosely with silver foil. When ready, a skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Nice warm.

From Sophie Michell’s ‘Fabulous Food: Sexy Recipes for Healthy Living’.


Fried eggs with dates

February 27, 2010

Sometimes, you need simple recipes that are little more than ideas to add into your repertoire, for the times when you don’t really want to cook but you don’t really want to eat any of the things that immediately come to mind. And then you remember that other, slightly odd thing you also used to eat sometimes when you first discovered it and that happens to be exactly what you want for lunch. I think fried eggs with dates is destined to become one of those things.

In the middle of last year I started working part-time – not very part-time, just Wednesday and Friday afternoons off – but this means that on Wednesdays and Fridays I can eat lunch at home. The pleasure of being able to eat something on toast for lunch mid-week is not to be underestimated, I’ve found. I almost always feel like toast, and it’s particularly comforting when a whole free afternoon stretches out ahead of you with many cups of tea to be had and, perhaps, another slice of toast a bit later on.

Fried eggs with dates   Serves 1 as a hearty snack

According to Sophie Michell, who classes this as a ‘pre-party stomach liner’, this is Persian in origin. It seems slightly odd, but actually works really well – I can’t explain how exactly, but it does.

1 thick slice bread
small knob of butter
1 egg
2 large, soft dates

Remove the stones, if any, from the dates and roughly chop.

Put the bread on to toast. Melt the butter over a gentle heat in a small frying pan and crack in the egg. Sprinkle the dates into the white of the egg and fry until the white is set but the yolk is still runny.

Serve the egg up on the toast with a sprinkle of salt.

From Sophie Michell’s ‘Fabulous Food: Sexy Recipes for Healthy Living’.

Leon flatbread

February 22, 2010

I know I’ve written about flatbread before, but when a friend who had borrowed Leon returned it I remembered that this was the flatbread recipe I always used, the one that never failed. It’s super-easy, which is generally what I like about flatbread anyway, but this one you could probably (except that I obviously didn’t) remember off by heart once you’d done it a few times. The ingredients are as follows: 500g of flour of your choice, 250ml of warm water, a sachet of yeast and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. You mix it all up and give it a quick in-bowl knead – no scraping dough bits off your worksurface! – then there’s just one proving stage and the breads cook in minutes. It’s completely non-daunting to the extent that, if you have friends coming round later, you might think, “oh, I’ll just whip up a batch of flatbread for us to eat warm from the griddle with some hummus”. Honestly, I know because I did last week, pre-pancakes. Then I made some more yesterday for lunch.

This makes quite a bready flatbread, if that makes sense. Although flat, it’s a relatively airy dough, like a bread duvet. You can’t wrap anything with it, but it’s a good solid dipping bread. The sprinkle of za’atar on top is a nice addition: I wrote about za’tar here, but if you don’t have any use herbs, spices or seeds of your choice, or just sea salt.

Flatbread  Makes 6

I generally use half white and half wholemeal flour for these – plain is fine, you don’t need bread flour. Yesterday I made them with half spelt flour, which was nice enough, but you couldn’t really tell so I think I’ll try upping the proportion next time.

500g flour
250ml warm water (hand-hot)
1 sachet instant active yeast
4 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
za’atar (optional, to sprinkle)

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and stir in the yeast. (If you have the kind of yeast you need to activate first, do that in the warm water beforehand.) Make a well in the flour and tip in the warm water and olive oil. Mix with one hand until it comes together into a ball of dough and then knead roughly with the heel of your hand until it’s smooth and well-behaved, adding more flour if necessary. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and leave it to stand for an hour or two until well risen. It shouldn’t come to much harm if you leave it longer than that.

To cook the dough, you can either use a griddle pan or the oven. I always used the oven until last week, when having something else in there I was forced down the griddle route. Now I think I might prefer it: not only do you get the pretty stripes, but there’s less chance of forgetting about it. The downside is, you can cook more bread at once in the oven. OK, so, either heat your griddle pan or heat your oven to 220c and put it a couple of baking trays.

Take out the dough and shape it into 6 rounds. Roll each one out into a long pitta-shape, about half a centimetre thick. You may need to lightly flour your work surface. Sprinkle your desired toppings onto the shaped loaves and give them each another roll so the spices stick. Proceed by either cooking on the hot griddle pan for 3 minutes a side, or placing on  the preheated baking trays, lightly oiled, and cooking for the same amount of time in the oven.

Adapted from Allegra McEvedy’s ‘Leon’.

Mushroom pizza

January 25, 2010

When I make pizza at home, I generally use a different recipe each time. None of them have been bad, I just haven’t found a definitive version yet; they’re always just a little bit too bready, too doughy. And I don’t mind that, I mean I like bread – even more with tasty things grilled on top –  and I don’t really expect to replicate the perfect authentic Italian pizza in a grimy domestic oven. But I still can’t resist trying new dough recipes, just in case. Add the fact that I got a pizza stone for Christmas, and I had the perfect excuse to make the Greens pizza last night.

I don’t know if it was the pizza stone, or this recipe, or more likely both, but let me tell you – this pizza was outrageously delicious. The base was soft in the middle and crisp at the edges, as it should be, even though I didn’t stretch it thin enough. And on top, an intense tangle of garlicky mushrooms, both fresh chestnut mushrooms and dried wild mushrooms for a deeper, fuller mushroom flavour, then bright  lemon thyme and soft, milky mozzarella (sorry, I just went a bit Gregg Wallace there). This is what mushrooms on toast aspires to in its wildest dreams.

I modified the recipe for the topping slightly to omit the jack and dry jack cheese called for – I didn’t think I’d be able to find those easily in the UK, and also I think that mozzarella is the most common pizza cheese for a reason. Mozzarella is just right on pizza. I got mine from the Moroccan deli, oddly enough – I didn’t know Moroccan people ate a lot of mozzarella, but I guess everyone likes pizza. I got a bit carried away while I was there, as I always do – giant tubs of halva! Black mountain honey! Fresh feta! – and I couldn’t resist buying some clementines with their shiny green leaves still attached and lemons in cute little dinosaur wrapping paper.

I aspire to having go-to recipes, standards that I can pull out whenever I feel like making a certain thing and know that they will turn out exactly as I want. I think that this may well become my go-to recipe for pizza (well, at least until the next one comes along).

Mushroom pizza  Makes 2 10-inch pizzas

For the dough, you can use all white flour or a mixture of white, whole wheat and rye. This gives texture and flavour, according to the recipe notes. I’d just used up the last of my rye flour, so I substituted more whole wheat flour for the rye. I should also mention that the original topping recipe included leeks, which I wasn’t about to go out and buy, so I left them out. If you want to use them, you’ll need 4 medium leeks for 2 people (!) Saute them until soft and add them on first when you dress the pizza.

For the pizza dough:
6 tbsp hot water
6 tbsp milk
2 x 7g packets instant yeast
large pinch of sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp rye flour
4 tbsp whole wheat flour (I used whole wheat bread flour)
210g plain white flour

Combine the water and milk. The mixture should be about body temperature, so you’ll need the water to be fairly hot if the milk’s come straight from the fridge. Add the yeast and sugar and give it a good stir. Mix in the olive oil, salt, and rye/whole wheat flour, if using, then gradually add the white flour, stirring to combine into a soft dough. It should remain moist, so you may not need all of the white flour.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes, until it’s pliable and no longer sticking to the surface. Put the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 40 minutes to 1 hour. I turned on the oven for a few minutes and then put the dough in the switched off oven, with a loaf tin full of just-boiled water to keep the temperature up.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to its highest setting, about 250c. Heat the pizza stone if you have one. You’ll need to heat the oven for about 20 minutes to get it good and hot – if you have an oven thermometer, check on that.

To shape the pizzas, separate the dough into two balls and then roll them each out into a circle on a well floured surface. Caution! Don’t do what I did and make them look all pretty on an inadequately floured surface and then have to pull them apart and squidge them back together getting it into the oven. I think the best thing is to flour something that you can lift and slide the pizza from, like some foil or a tray, and shape them on that. The pizzas should only be about 1/8 inch thick. You can pick them up and stretch them with your hands to get them thinner.

Cover the dough with the topping:

For the topping:
30g dried wild mushrooms (usually a whole pack)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
200g fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced (the recipe called for  twice this many mushrooms, but I think what we had was plenty)
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
about 2 tbsp fresh herbs (I used parsley and lemon thyme, but use any herb you’d want to eat with mushrooms)
4 tbsp white wine or water (optional)
1/2 ball mozzarella

Pour boiling water over the dried mushrooms, just to cover, and leave to soak for 15 minutes. Lift them out and squeeze dry, reserving the straining juices.

Heat the oil in a frying pan and saute the dried mushrooms over high heat for 1 minute. Add the fresh mushrooms and 1/2 tsp salt and continue cooking until soft and juicy. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more, until the mushrooms are done. Season with pepper and more salt if needed. Add half the herbs. Remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon.

Now, the recipe directs you to make a syrupy reduction with the reserved mushroom juices and the white wine. The idea is that you’re left with a tablespoon or two of sauce which you drizzle over the pizza at the end. However, I’m not sure I’d do this again – mushrooms are already a fairly wet vegetable and the middle of the pizza ended up slightly soggy. It didn’t ruin it, by any means, I’m just not sure it’s worth the effort.

Cover the prepared pizza base with two-thirds of the cheese, the mushrooms, and then the rest of the cheese. Slide it into the top third of the oven, onto the pizza stone if using, and bake for 8-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and scatter with the rest of the herbs before serving.

Adapted from Deborah Madison’s ‘The Greens Cook Book’.

Kofta curry and naan bread

December 13, 2009

I’m not going to pretend that making your own naan bread is easy. This is one flatbread that’s easily as labour intensive as any risen loaf, the dough is difficult to work, you’ll end up with bits of it sticking to your fingers, flour on all your teatowels, and your boyfriend may just start to think you design your choice of evening meal with the express purpose of creating as much washing up as possible. And does it end up exactly like the naan you get in an Indian restaurant? Well, no, not exactly. It is curiously satisfying, nonetheless. My mum used to make naan bread in the bottom oven of the aga which was, also, not exactly authentic, but we loved it and my brother and I used to butter any leftovers for breakfast the next morning. What I’m trying to say is, naan or not, it tastes nice. Just be in a relaxed frame of mind before you start.

The kofta curry – yes, meatballs again – ended up playing second fiddle slightly, but it’s a good recipe. The meatballs are tender and juicy with a hit of spice more interesting than average and a slight hint of ginger. And they seemed to be none the worse for the fact that I accidentally used garam masala instead of cumin – in fact, I quite liked it. We also ate a cauliflower bhaji which almost managed to make me enjoy cauliflower.

All in all, not the most true to its origins of meals, but I declare it a success.

Naan bread  Makes 8

A word on butter: Madhur Jaffrey calls for 265g altogether, but I probably used about half that. I’m not sure how you could use as much as this, even if you were extremely liberal with your smearing, but I suspect that the more you manage to work on, the more restaurant-like they will be. Or you could just keep the leftover butter for next day’s breakfast.

620g strong white bread flour (I’d say you’ll need a bit more than this)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp yoghurt
250ml milk
1 egg
15g melted butter, plus 225g butter or 25oml oil for assorted other uses
250ml water
2 tbsp oil
about 1/2 tsp nigella seeds, also called kalonji or black onion seeds
about 2 tsp sesame seeds

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl.

Put the sugar and yoghurt into a separate, large, mixing bowl and beat with either an electric whisk or a wooden spoon. Add the milk and water and continue to beat. Now gradually and thoroughly beat in about 255g of the flour (100 strokes if you are using a wooden spoon). Add the egg and the 15g melted butter and continue to beat. Slowly add another 255g flour, continuing to beat until the dough is difficult to move the whisk through. Remove the whisk (if using) and add enough of the remaining flour with a wooden spoon to make a soft, sticky dough. I ended up tipping quite a bit more flour in until it was just about possible to handle it, although it was still very sticky – I’m not sure if this was the desired texture or something was up with my dough.

Oil your hands (this makes the dough stick to your hands less) and briefly knead the dough on a floured work surface. Divide it into 8 balls and place them on a generously floured baking sheet (you might need two). Press each ball with an oiled palm to flatten it slightly and cover the trays with cling film. Set them aside for at least 30 minutes – they may now be refrigerated for up to 48 hours.

When ready to go, put a large, cast-iron frying pan on a medium-high heat and set the grill to hot (I had mine on its highest setting). Make sure your shelf is about 13cm from the source of the heat.

Take the first naan and place it onto a floured work surface. Dip your hands in the melted butter or oil and press down on it, enlarging it with your fingers and making it into the traditional tear shape. This is where the instructions begin to get delightfully precise, in true Jaffrey style. The shape should be 23cm long and 13cm at its widest. Dab more melted butter on top and sprinkle with some of each of the seeds. Press down in the centre, leaving an unpressed border of around 2 1/2 cm. Lift up the naan with both hands and stretch it to about 30cm long and 18cm wide, then slap it into the frying pan. This was too much to ask of my dough, which was still a sticky mess, so I settled for approximating the right shape and dumping it in the pan. Cook for 1 minute and 15 seconds on the first side, moving the naan around after the first 30 seconds so it develops an even browning on the base. Dab with more butter and put the whole pan under the grill for 1 minute. There should be reddish-brown spots appearing on the surface. Remove the pan and keep the naan warm in a teatowel while you make the rest in the same way. I found the method of working the next naan into shape while the previous one was under the grill worked for me.

If you’re not going to eat all the bread at once, wrap any left over in foil and keep refrigerated. You can reheat the foil bundle in a medium-hot oven for about 15 minutes, or if you have a microwave, one naan can be reheated by sprinkling it lightly with water and blasting for a minute or two.

Kofta curry  Serves 6

For the meatballs:
675g minced beef or lamb
1 medium onion, very finely chopped
2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, crushed
7 1/2cm piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the sauce:
7 1/2cm piece ginger, peeled and chopped
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1-2 green chillies, deseeded and sliced
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 1/2 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/4 tsp salt
1.2 litres beef stock or water (this seems to be a recurring problem with me and Madhur Jaffrey recipes – I thought this was too much liquid as it never really seemed to be reduced or thickened. Go with it if you like a lot of juice)
2 sticks cinnamon
4 black cardamom pods (I didn’t have any black, so used green)
2 bay leaves
5 cloves
10 peppercorns
Small piece of muslin, or toe of old (but clean) pair of tights

Put the meat in a bowl and add all the remaining meatball ingredients. Mix well with your hands and roll into meatballs about 4cm in diameter. Return to the bowl, or place on a plate. Cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight (oops! Forgot to read this step. I refrigerated them for about 30 minutes, they were fine).

Put the ginger, garlic, green chillies and 4 tbsp water in a blender. Blend into a smooth paste.

Pour the oil into a wide, lidded pan over a medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and fry for about 5 minutes, or until starting to brown. Add the ginger-garlic-chilli paste and fry for about one minute. Put two tablespoons of water in the blender, swish it around, pour this into the pan and add the tomatoes. Fry and stir until the sauce starts to thicken. Add the tomato puree and stir for a minute. Add the coriander, turmeric, cayenne and salt. Stir for a minute. Add the stock or water and bring to the boil.

Tie up the cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns in the muslin and drop it into the sauce. When the sauce is boiling, cover it, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Add the meatballs to the pan, spooning the sauce over them, and continue to simmer for 40 minutes, stirring to turn the meatballs every so often. Remember to discard the muslin bag before serving, but squeeze the juices from it first.

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s ‘Ultimate Curry Bible’.

Focaccia with salt & potato and rosemary pizza

October 26, 2009


That whole hibernation thing still seems pretty tempting. Yesterday I managed not to leave the house until about 5pm, and that was only to go to the corner shop. We briefly toyed with the idea of going to the cinema, but it just seemed like sooo much effort that we decided to stay in and eat potato pizza in front of Come Dine With Me instead.

On the upside, my kitchen was astoundingly productive yesterday. I prepared a few things for this week’s featured book, Skye Gyngell’s ‘A Year In My Kitchen’, about which more to follow, and I rounded off week two of the River Cafe with attempts at focaccia and pizza dough. You know it’s been a good Sunday when you’ve got through a kilo of flour.

I was pretty happy with both efforts – a touch disappointed when the focaccia emerged from the oven and looked generally a bit neat and firm and not really porous or oily enough to be authentic, but when we cut into it (perhaps a bit too soon) it was good: fluffy but doughy with a light, crisp crust, perhaps not quite as olive-oil rich as true focaccia but good nonetheless.

The pizza, similarly, was not quite thin enough if one was being picky, but I like dough. I also, as documented previously, like carb-on-carb action, so the idea of thinly sliced potatoes layered with pecorino cheese and sprinkled with rosemary and sea salt appealed both in idea and practice. And there you have it, my hibernation fare: bread, salt, potatoes.


Focaccia with salt  Makes one loaf

I halved the recipe as written, which they say serves 10. I still managed to get about 10 hefty chunks out of my loaf. I also adapted it to use dried, rather than fresh, yeast – I use the dried, granular kind which you rehydrate in water.

375g Tipo ’00’ flour (if you don’t have an Italian deli, you should be able to get this from a well-stocked supermarket; mine came from Waitrose)
1/2 tbsp finely ground sea salt, plus non-ground for scattering over the top
6g, or 1 heaped tsp, active dry yeast
75ml olive oil, plus around an extra 25ml for cooking

Measure out around 250ml warm water. You may need a little less, but the recipe says the dough should be soft and pliable so I erred on the side of more. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and stir it in vigorously. Leave for 10-15 mins in a warm place: it should start to bubble and produce froth.

Mix the flour and salt  together in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour in the olive oil and yeasty water gradually, until you can form the mixture into a dough with one hand. When you have something of a kneadable consistency, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes until elastic.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and leave in a warm place until doubled in size. This should take about an hour.

When the dough has doubled, lightly oil a baking tray (mine was about 20cm x 10cm). Roll the dough out to fill the tray and brush it with oil to stop it drying out (which I forgot to do…) Cover and prove for another 3o mins. Then dimple the dough with your fingertips, leaving a border around the edge, and leave for the final proving, around 30 mins.

Heat the oven to 200c. Sprinkle sea salt over the loaf. You can also add sprigs of rosemary here, which I did. Mix around 25ml each of olive oil and water in a jar and pour this over the focaccia before putting in the oven (apparently this helps keep the dough soft in the grooves). It should be ready in about 25mins, when it’s golden in colour and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.


Potato, pecorino and rosemary pizza Makes 2 large or 4 small pizzas

Again, I halved the original recipe and adapted it to use dried yeast.

For the pizza dough:
500g Tipo ‘0’ flour, ’00’ or plain flour – I used ’00’.
6g, or 1 heaped tsp, dried active yeast
250ml warm water

It must be warm for this dough to work – the book very specifically says over 25c. Well, it wasn’t the most eco-friendly of recipes: I whacked the thermostat up to 25c and shut the doors. I did turn off the radiators in the other rooms though.

As before, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and stir in. Leave in a warm place for 10-15 mins or until frothy.

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add half the yeast mixture. Combine with your hands and then add the remaining yeast mixture until you have a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured worksurface and knead for 10 minutes, until elastic. Oil the bowl and place the dough back in, covering well. Leave to rise in your warm place for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Tip the dough back onto your floured surface and knead again for 2-3 mins. Return to the oiled bowl and leave for a further 30 mins (or until you want to make the pizza). Divide the dough into 2-4 balls and roll out thinly into circles or rectangles.

Preheat the oven to 230c. If you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven on the bottom shelf. If not, use a baking tray. You should use your fan-assisted setting if you have one.

For the topping:
2 large potatoes, peeled and very thinly sliced
sea salt and ground black pepper
olive oil
125g fresh pecorino
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Rinse and dry the potato slices (I didn’t bother). Place them in a bowl and drizzle lightly with olive oil to coat. Season and mix together.

Slice the cheese into thin slices, cutting off any hard skin. Pick the leaves off the rosemary.

Place a single, slightly overlapping layer of potatoes on your pizza bases, leaving a border around the edge. Lay the pecorino on top and scatter with rosemary, salt and pepper.

Slide the pizza onto the baking tray or pizza stone and bake for about 10 mins – the potatoes should be cooked through. Serve immediately, although I found this made a great packed lunch the next day even if it was a bit chewy round the edges.

Adapted from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ ‘The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook’.


October 17, 2009

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’.

Rye and thyme flatbread

October 14, 2009

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This one was adapted from Bill Granger’s ‘Every Day’ recipe for Rosemary and Olive Spelt Bread – fairly heavily adapted, since I had neither rosemary, olives, nor spelt. I wanted to buy spelt flour, because it’s exactly the kind of thing I’m constantly drawn towards like a magnet in Waitrose, but this time I fought it’s evil spell because spelt flour is really quite expensive and I sensibly decided to use the half-full/empty (delete as outlook appropriate) bag of rye flour in my baking cupboard. What, you don’t have a baking cupboard?

What you end up with is focaccia crossed with a wholemeal loaf – the satisfying salt sprinkle and Italianate herbiage of focaccia but with an infinitely more wholesome and denser breadcrumb underneath. I used almonds and thyme on top of mine, which I liked, but I imagine you could use pretty much any woody herb and whatever springs to mind as a suitable bread topping – you just need something you can poke into the holes on top.

Rye and thyme flatbread
250g spelt flour, or rye flour
250g plain flour
1 tsp honey
300ml tepid water
7g instant dried yeast
3 tbsp olive oil
sea salt
decorative items: rosemary or thyme sprigs, pitted olives, almonds, pumpkin seeds, roasted tomatoes etc.

Stir the two flours together in a large bowl. Take out about one quarter of the combined flour mix and put it in a small bowl with the honey and water. Whisk to mix, sprinkle the yeast over the top, mix again and set aside for 10-15 mins until it starts to look bubbly.

Add the oil and 2 tsp salt to the big bowl of flour. Make a well in the centre and pour in the yeast mix. Stir to combine into a dough. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for about 10 minutes until pliable and smooth. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Knock the dough back and leave it for 5 minutes. Lightly oil a rectangular baking tray and pile the dough into the tray, stretching it out until it reaches the edges and is fairly even in shape.

Cover the dough again and leave it for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220C.

Poke holes in the dough with your thumb and push your chosen decorative items into the holes. Brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake it for 10 minutes before reducing the heat to 190C, then bake for a further 12-15 minutes  until golden brown.

Courgette and almond flatbread pizza

September 28, 2009

Friday night in with a DVD and persistent colds. Inspired by a courgette that had grown amok, its monstrous bulk menacing the fridge, I thought about making one of my favourite courgette dishes into a pizza topping (don’t you love how you can make anything into a pizza topping? OK… almost anything). The original recipe is from Moro East, and with the Moorish vibe in mind I went with a flatbread base, though obviously you could use a traditional pizza base – or just buy your favourite kind of flatbread for a quick version. I used the traditional mozzarella because I had most of a ball needing to be eaten, but really I think this would be delicious with feta. We made some garlic bread while we were waiting for the dough to rise and ate it with a salad of roasted beetroot and tomatoes (remember from the sweetcorn fritters?), spinach and dukkah. I wish I could tell you it cured the cold, but seriously, I’ve had this thing for well over a week. It’s an uber-cold. It pays no attention to the intake of vitamins, adequate rest, orange juice by the gallon, or max strength lemsip. Ah well: at least I still have an appetite.

A couple of other things: I upped the amount of tomatoes used because our toppings were a little on the sparse side. There is a picture but it would seriously put you off and I’m not sure you’d believe that it tasted better than it looked.

Courgette and almond flatbread pizza Serves 2-4 (2 if you’re poorly and need to keep your strength up)

For the flatbread:
225g wholemeal bread flour (or use strong white)
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. dried yeast
150ml tepid water
1 tbsp olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5-10 mins – it should start to froth. Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl. When the yeast is ready, add the olive oil to the water, make a well in the flour and salt and pour the yeasty liquid gradually into the middle, mixing with your hands until it comes together into a kneadable ball. Add more water/flour as necessary.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for at least 5 minutes until it’s smooth and pliable. Put it back in the bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place for 1-2 hours. It should double in size.

Meanwhile, make the topping:

For the courgette and tomato sauce:
500g courgettes
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
500g cherry tomatoes, halved
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
salt + pepper

+ 30g whole almonds and 150g mozzarella or feta (depending on how cheesy you like your pizza) for the top

Slice the courgettes thinly and heat the olive oil in a big saucepan. Fry the courgettes for around 10 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic, tomatoes and most of the thyme and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until breaking down and sauce-like (you can stir and squish the tomatoes with a wooden spoon to help it along). Season well.

Preheat your oven to its highest setting and put a couple of baking trays in to heat up.

When the dough is ready, take it out and divide it into 2-4 balls. On a well floured surface, roll the balls into long oblong shapes. Top with the courgette and tomato sauce, then scatter with almonds, cheese and a few extra sprigs of thyme.

Take out your baking trays, flour them and arrange the pizzas on top. Put in the very hot oven 5-10 minutes until the edges are crisp and the topping looks nice and browned and pizza-like.