October 16, 2006

Our daily bread...

My paternal grandparents arrived in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century as infants, children whose parents came searching for a better life for their descendents. Sadly, I don't know nearly as much of their stories as I'd like. But I do know that among their most treasured possessions were the recipes they brought over from "the old country." Recipes. Ingredient lists, really, scribbled on scratch paper. Often without any indication of volume or preparation method. In dialect. I suspect "Pasta Fazool" translates Pasta e Fagiole. And despite hours with Google, I have no idea how to translate "Toothlatch" -- a palm-sized, rustic ravioli with a chard/ricotta filling. And the subject of today's post, in honor of Zorra's event in celebration of World Bread Day : my great grandmother's "Figassa" (Focaccia).

As small children we spent several summers visiting family in suburban Chicago and in rural Illinois. In those years we were introduced to summer electrical storms, fireflies, and tornado watches. Cipriani's spaghetti. Savoia's lasagna. And grandmother's fresh baked figassa. There is no more heavenly scent than waking up to the smell of cinnamon raisin figassa, fresh from the oven. Garlic-parmesan with a bowl of soup for lunch. And my favorite, sweet onion & raisin with roast turkey or barbecued chicken for dinner.

In the summer of my seventh year -- the summer before she died -- I spent several days with my grandmother, watching as she measured the ingredients (with her hands -- I'm not sure she owned measuring cups), mixed and kneaded the dough, shaped it and let it rise, topped and baked it. It was the closest I came to learning to cook at her side and while I certainly didn't understand the significance then, I'm eternally grateful for that experience now.

Her recipe includes just five ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, oil and water. No volumes or measures. No further instructions. So I consult my bread bible: Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice and use his recipe for slowly fermented focaccia. In the interest of getting this posted while it *is* still World Bread Day, I won't post his entire 12-step recipe, which I followed virtually verbatim.

I opted for an herb topping as I had sage leftover from my soup adventure and rosemary from my CSA. The result was a hearty, rustic bread much more reminiscent of a thick pizza crust than the doughy spongy focaccia available in the grocery store deli. While time consuming, it's a fairly simple recipe to follow -- and one I'll likely continue to experiment with. For the holidays, I think I'll try a mixture of caramelized onions, raisins and pine nuts.

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Ivonne said...


Happy Bread Day!

Bron said...

Looks grand!
Unfortunately my long awaited copy of Peter Reinhart's book came doubley printed on around 18 pages, which makes several of the recipes impossible to read! :-(
Too expensive to send it all the way back to Amazon from NZ to get a replacement though!