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Saturday
Sep272008

Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers with Peperonata Topping

It's Daring Baker's time again!  The challenge this month was from Shelly from Musings From the Fishbowl and Natalie of Gluten a Go Go.  The Challenge: make Lavash crackers and create a vegan and gluten free topping or dip.  The Lavash crackers are from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice".

I was excited about this challenge because Lavash crackers are basically identical to Italian Croccantini crackers. These crackers are crisp and light and the perfect vehicle for any kind of spread or topping. This peperonata topping is one of my favorite things. You can use it for so many things - even over pasta, if you want!

The crackers were interesting to make. The recipe calls for rolling out the dough with a rolling pin until it's super thin. Well, I thought why do all that work with a rolling pin when I can just zip it through my pasta rollers? I rolled out the dough very thin and then I just cut the dough with a pizza cutter into the sizes I wanted and placed the dough on a Silpat in a baking pan. They crisped up really nice, although there were a lot of bubbles. But it didn't matter. The crackers were really delicious and crisp. And making the crackers fresh - what a difference that makes!

Lavash Crackers with Peperonata Topping

to print recipe only, click here

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. instant yeast (Rapid Rise kind of yeast)
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. water, room temperature
  • Kosher Salt and pepper for topping

Instructions:

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, yeast, sugar, oil and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball. You may not need the full amount of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is nice and firm, satiny to the touch, not tacky and supple enough to stretch when pulled. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also refrigerate the dough and bring to room temperature the next day, let it rise and continue on with the recipe).

Roll out the dough with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 x 12 inches. You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax. Cover it with a towel while it relaxes. When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes. (Or alternatively, roll out the dough in pasta rollers like I did). Line a sheet pan with a Silpat or baking parchment. Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment. (Or cut the dough with a pizza cutter into strips).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack in the middle. Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. If you rolled out the dough into one large sheet with a rolling pin and you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough. You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the crackers begin to brown across the top.

Remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. You can then snap them apart.

for the Peperonata Topping

Ingredients:

  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. salt packed capers*
  • 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red chile flakes
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • chopped parsley, about 1/4 cup 

Instructions:

Put the oven on broil. Cut tops off peppers, cut peppers in half and remove seeds. Lay a piece of foil on a baking sheet and lay peppers (including the tops) on sheet, skin side up. Broil until skin blackens. Place peppers in paper bag and let steam. Remove and let cool. Skins should slip off.  Chop peppers into small pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Cook the garlic gently for a couple of minutes. Rinse the salt off the capers and dry capers. Add the capers to the garlic and fry for about one minute over medium heat. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes and then add onion, chile flakes and salt and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Add the vinegar to the pan and deglaze, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan and then stir in the chopped peppers. Adjust seasoning for more salt or vinegar. Add parsley. Remove topping to a bowl and let cool. Do not refrigerate. Let sit at room temperature until ready to use.

*tip: Don't use vinegar packed capers, only salt packed! They are far superior. Just give them a rinse before you use them. They are so delicious.

Sunday
Sep212008

A16 Food + Wine Cookbook Giveaway


Post a comment to win a chance for this beautiful book!

I've been waiting for this book to come out and it's finally here! And it was well worth the wait. A16 is an Italian restaurant in San Francisco which prides itself on cooking authentic food from the Campania region of Italy. It is named after the highway that connects Naples to Puglia, the "A-16". This is the highway from which the owners of the restaurant explored this region of Italy - tasting wines and eating food all along the way.

The book begins with one of the largest and most comprehensive discussions on southern Italian wines, written by wine director Shelley Lindgren. Covering wine from Campania to Sardinia, it's a full 58 pages! Anyone interested in Italian wines should pick the book up for this section alone. One of the white wines she writes about, Falanghina, intrigued me so much I ran right out and bought a bottle. It was such a nice surprise, a really delicious wine and such a change from the mediocre Chardonnays we have too much of around here.

One of the things I loved about this book is the attention to ingredients - it is not just a book of recipes. Chef Nate Appleman devotes a dozen pages  to explaining key ingredients and their uses such as San Marzano tomatoes, salt, bottarga, anchovies, capers, herbs, olive oil, cheeses and vinegars. Remember my pizza post, explaining the difference between flours and the 00 flour imported from Italy? There is also an interesting section explaining the differences in these flours and the difference it can make in your pizza dough. There is a whole section devoted to pizza making which I found helpful. Chef Appleman talks about visiting the famous pizzeria in Naples, "Da Michele" and discovering the secret to its outstanding pizza dough - addding older, fermented dough to fresh dough to build a more complex flavor. A16 uses a method which replicates this taste - letting the dough proof for 2-3 days (which I'm going to try for our weekly pizza nights at home!)

The recipes in this book range from Antipasti to Desserts, with dishes such as Bruschetta Four Ways, Ricotta Gnocchi, Bucatini with Fava Beans and Pancetta, Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata, Short Ribs alla Genovese, Chard Gratinata with Bread Crumbs and Pistachio and Almond Cake. Each recipe is thoughtfully paired with a wine selection. Nice touch.  There are also thoughtful discussions on the techniques of making soffritto, meatballs and fresh pasta.

There is also a comprehensive "Resources" list at the back of the book for hard to find ingredients.

I love this beautiful book so much, I'm going to share it! I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader. All you have to do is leave a comment on this post and I will randomly select someone to receive this book. Just be sure to leave a link somehow so I can find your e-mail to contact you. Please leave your comment by midnight September 30th to be considered. Good luck! You'll be making chocolate gelato in no time!

A16 Food + Wine by Nate Appleman and Shelley Lindgren with Kate Leahy
Published by Ten Speed Press

Thursday
Sep182008

Tuscan Bean Soup


This is a traditional Tuscan dish made with farro and beans, both staples in Tuscan cooking. This soup is really hearty and paired along with a salad, is a complete meal. The beans, of course, are high in protein but so is the farro, making this dish a great vegetarian meal. Farro is an ancient grain that has been used in Italy forever. It's similar to spelt. It has a great nutty flavor.

The beans I've used are the best beans you can buy. Never heard of Rancho Gordo? You should check them out. This guy lives in Napa Valley and produces heirloom beans that are really outstanding. He has all kinds of beans from yellow beans and pinto beans to hard to find beans such as Christmas lima beans and flageolet beans. And if you think you've had good black beans, try his black turtle beans. You've never tasted such great black beans. I make vegetarian tacos with them and never miss the meat.

Tuscan Bean Soup

 

for a recipe only to print, click here

serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup diced carrot
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1.5 cups dried white beans such as cannellini or Great Northern, soaked in water overnight
  • 6 cups Chicken Stock
  • 15 ounce can plum tomatoes, San Marzano preferably
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3/4 cup farro
  • Olive Oil for drizzling
  • Grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano for grating or shaving for garnish

 

 

Instructions:

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the vegetables and garlic and saute slowly, about 7-8 minutes. Drain the beans and add to the pot with the stock. Break up the tomatoes a little with a spoon (I use my fingers) and add to the pot with the rosemary. Raise the heat a little and bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, until all the beans are tender, about one hour. Discard the rosemary.

Meanwhile, cook the farro in a small saucepan with water to cover and simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Take an immersion blender (please get one if you don't have one and save yourself a lot of trouble) and insert into the soup and puree. I like to puree it just until it's thick and you have some small chunks of the bean left, not until it's perfectly smooth. You can puree further if you like. If you do not have an immersion blender, transfer the soup to a blender or food processor, blend and then transfer back to the pot. Add the farro and reheat gently.

Ladle the soup into bowls. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and shave Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese on top. Serve immediately.

You can buy farro here

For my recipe for Farro Salad (one of my favorites) click here