Feeling pea green

Everything has popped.  As I walk the streets of my neighborhood, bright colors are bursting at every corner.  

Over the last two weeks, it's as if people are coming out of hibernation, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm in the Wizard of Oz, seeing the emerald city for the first time.  It's that special moment when Dorothy steps out of black and white into technicolor. 

I've been buying big bushels of beautiful green granny smith apples that I intend to make an apple tart out of.  The problem is, they look too good to eat.

Green of all shades is everywhere, and it's about this time of year that I want to start cooking with peas and mint.  Maybe it's a bit early, but on a warm day, anything with mint is refreshing.  I've been making a pretty pitcher of peppermint iced tea and topping it with sprigs of mint.  Poured over ice, I love the way it makes the glass sweat at the table.

My Mom used to make sun tea nearly every day during the hot, sticky Indiana summers.  She'd fill a big glass jar that had a yellow plastic lid and a spout at the bottom with tea bags and water and let it bake from morning till dusk.  When the sun went down, she put it on the top shelf of our fridge so we could help ourselves.  I remember her drinking iced tea all day long in the blue glasses I now have in my kitchen cabinet.  

It's the combination of mint and peas that makes one of my favorite spring and summer snacks. Crostini, a thin grilled toast usually made out of Italian ciabatta bread, is a great thing to serve at a moment's notice.  I have them for lunch, as a light snack with a cold beer, or if I'm having people for dinner, I serve a big tray with lots of different toppings and a well-chosen cocktail.  If you make a topping with an interesting combination of flavors, no one will ever know you're just serving them fancy toast.  

Jamie Oliver, who inspires me in so many ways,  makes several topping suggestions for crostinis in his book, Jamie's Italy.  I particularly adore the pea and broad bean (fava bean in the US) puree with pecorino which I'll get to in a minute.  Other great ideas are: prosciutto, figs and mint; buffalo mozzarella and chilli with basil leaves; squashed canellini beans with garlic, little heirloom grape tomatoes and chopped olives. 

My mother would be proud, I believe, if she knew how obsessed I am with eating my greens.  If you are too, try this from the same book: Take 3 handfuls of cavolo nero (dark green long leaves with a thick vein and little leaf curl), spinach, cabbage or swiss chard- any greens you can find at the store.  Add 3 cloves of garlic to a pan of salted water and bring to the boil.  Add the greens and cook until tender.  Squeeze out the excess water and mash the garlic.   Stir together and season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve on top of the crostinis with a final dose of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.  

If you're not inspired yet to get the ciabatta out, try slicing some in larger pieces. Grill them and then rub with a garlic clove cut in half.  Tear up some field mushrooms and fry with a little olive oil adding finely chopped red chilli, garlic and thyme.  Finish with a little butter and a squeeze of lemon.  Served atop the grilled bread with a simple green salad and a mustard vinaigrette, it's one of my very favorite suppers.  Just another of Jamie's genius ideas from Jamie at Home.

The recipe below calls for broad beans which I used to buy in great big bags still in their pods.  Plucking them from their soft fuzzy beds was bliss, but alas, I cannot find them in Chicago yet.  I can't even find them frozen.  A proper search must be started.  Maybe it's not the season, although my research tells me it is.  I do love broad beans in lots of dishes so I have been sad not to find them.  Risotto with broad beans and gorgonzola is a creamy treat.  If I don't have the fava/broad beans at home, I simply make this with peas and it's still very, very good.

The combination of the peas, beans and mint make the brightest viridescent mixture, much like mushy peas.  It's hard not to be smile just looking at it.  The pea green puree is balanced perfectly with the zing of lemon juice and the saltiness of the pecorino cheese.  Season and taste as you go to get it just right.

Adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver

1 loaf of ciabatta bread, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
good quality extra virgin olive oil

Grill both sides of your dry slices of ciabatta on the barbecue or in a grill pan over high heat until bread is toasted and lovely golden marks cross each slice.

While they're still hot, rub them gently with the cut side of the garlic.  This step is key and adds so much flavor to any crostini.  Drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil and finish with your choice of topping.

Pea and Broad Bean Puree with Pecorino
Adapted from Jamie's Italy by Jamie Oliver

small handful of mint leaves
1 cup of peas (freshly podded preferably)
1 cup of broad beans (fava beans) (also freshly podded if you can find them)
large handful of grated pecorino or Parmesan (I prefer pecorino)
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper

In a pestle and mortar or a food processor, smash up the mint, peas and broad beans until they look like mushy peas.  Add a large handful of freshly grated pecorino, then loosen with the extra virgin olive oil.  At this point, see how loose the mixture is and add the lemon juice.  You may need to add a bit more of both, but add your salt and pepper and then adjust the flavor.  Most importantly, taste as you go and add more lemon juice, olive oil  or cheese needed.  

Smear over hot crostini, finish with some grated pecorino a few sprigs of mint.  


The brat stop

It's been a busy week. Apart from trying to survive near monsoon conditions rolling through Chicago, I made a trip up to Milwaukee with my boss. The only glimmer of hope I had for a long day on the road was the possibility of stopping at The Brat Stop in Kenosha on my way home. I'd never even been to Wisconsin, but everyone knows it's famous two things: cheese and bratwurst. I'm not afraid to admit that I'm a fan of all types of sausage - anything from hot dogs to Toulouse sausages. As I turned off of the highway, I was pleased to find the sign out front did not disappoint.

The huge restaurant was packed with the lunch crowd- regulars or those just passing through. We both ordered the traditional pork bratwurst from the "Wurst Menu" and I chose the German potato salad and a side of sauerkraut. It was warm and had a vinegary, yet sweet sauce, and I remember a similar version from my childhood. The American potato salad was deliciously creamy and packed with fresh chives. When I slid into the booth, I had to brush an enormous amount of crumbs off of the seat which I thought was clearly the work of a small child. Not so. The warm, crusty, home made buns were extremely flaky and neither my seat or my lap escaped the mess.

Condiments are always extremely key. The waiter brought tubs of essential chopped onion and relish. Best of all, the horseradish mustard was spicy and the perfect topping. We dug in with a baseball game and day-time soaps blaring in the background. As we left to get back on the road, we made a quick tour of the little shop selling all kinds of cheeses, including the infamous cheese curds, summer sausage and Wisconsin paraphernalia. I know I'll be heading back to Milwaukee soon and it's nice to know I have a great place to stop.

Later in the week, when the weather warmed up, we put some of our own brats on the grill. This time, I served them with my Mom's cucumber salad and some sweet potato fries. I don't always make sides to go with a barbecue- especially if it's a week night. A can of baked beans, freshly sliced tomatoes, and I'm ashamed to say, mac n' cheese, are all typical accompaniments to a barbecue at my house. I just bought Ina Garten's new book and have been cooking a lot from it lately. The sweet potato fries are fantastic and are the most vibrant orange and make normal potato fries look dull.

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten

3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus extra for sprinkling
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp cumin

Preheat the oven to 450F. Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise and cut each half into 3-4 long spears. Place them on a sheet pan and toss with the olive oil. Spread the potatoes in one layer. Combine the brown sugar, salt, pepper and cumin and sprinkle on the potatoes. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn with a spatula. Bake for another 5 - 10 minutes until lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.

Summer Cucumber Salad
Serves 4

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced thin
1 sweet onion, halved and sliced thin
1 cup of greek yogurt
1/2 cup of sour cream
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper (season to taste once combined)

A note about the cucumber salad. Some people prefer hot house cucumbers (which are all I ever knew in the UK) because the normal cucumbers we get here in the US can taste bitter, but I like their flavor. Either kind of cucumber will do.


Dreams of self sufficiency

If there's one thing I thought I wouldn't miss when I left London was the obsession with weather. It's either too warm or too cold... too much rain or even more complaints when a water ban is put in place. I learned to be at ease with the London weather, eventually. Chicago has had it's share of bitterly cold weather this year and I find myself glued to local weather man, Tom Skilling, with wide eyes as he's just mentioned temperatures in the eighties for next week.

Yesterday, I started the day with a cup of coffee on the patio, shockingly without a woollen sweater. I topped half an English muffin with some of the lemon curd I picked up in Michigan at American Spoon and several plump blackberries. The sweet and tangy curd with the ripe berries was a delicious start.

As the sun continued to shine, we raced to the beach with the dog before the forecasted clouds could spoil our mood. But the warmth continued and I headed straight to the garden center, determined to put some vibrant flowers in the window boxes and start sprucing up the roof deck. I never dreamed of a day when I would trade in my gorgeous little urban garden in London. Complete with a dizzying fragrant jasmine awning over a tiny wooden bench and my favorite hydrangeas, it was a quiet oasis in Hackney.

Sunny days in London seemed few and far between, although I remember several summers that were just stunning and when the sun does shine there, I don't know if there is a more beautiful place on earth. Everyone becomes giddy. Men walk around shirtless, with pasty white skin flaunted outside pubs where the beer flows freely. You feel lucky to be alive, and those few stolen rays are never taken for granted.

Naive as I am, I've decided to grow some heirloom tomatoes on the roof deck that gets scorching hot and has very little, if any, shade. Secretly, I'm dreaming of serving bountiful plates of Aunt Ruby's German Greens and Black Krims seasoned liberally and sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil. I've also added a few pots of Serrano chilies to fuel my obsession with the spicy plant. My little green fingers will be the envy of all of my neighbors and I will feel a completeness within my soul that can only ever come from eating things you've grown yourself.

This dream is contingent on many things. Firstly, it's supposed to be damn cold again this Tuesday with rains threatening to wash my tiny seedlings away. Secondly, I am not very green fingered. I don't automatically kill plants, but they never seem to thrive under my attention. I either over water or under water. It's a very fine line. Lastly, I'm most nervous about the idea of removing the little shoots from their cow pots into real pots of soil. When I pried open the seed packets, my eyes met minuscule writing giving instructions for "staking" and a large sectioned label "Problems" where the disastrous results seemed unavoidable.

Enough of the worry. I'll haul water up to my deck in bucket loads if I have to. I'm even considering buying a water butt which seems very environmentally friendly and I'm sure will only add to the feeling of self-sufficiency that I'm hoping for.

It was one of those days where we're ambitious enough to have the season's first barbecue, sit outside and watch the Cubs fans walk past, drunk with a late win in the early season. I even roasted chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches to take to my sister's.

Chicken Salad Veronique
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home by Ina Garten

4 split (2 whole) free range chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good mayonnaise
1 1/2 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup small-diced celery (2 stalks)
1 cup green grapes, cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the chicken breasts, skin side up, on a sheet pan and rub with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Set aside until cool.

When chicken is cool, remove the meat from the bones and discard the skin and bones. Cut the chicken into 3/4 inch dice. In a bowl, combine the chicken, mayo, celery, tarragon 1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper and toss well.

I tend to add the grapes when I'm serving this as a salad and omit them when I put it on a sandwich.

Knowing that the clouds were rolling in, we pushed the window shutters wide and enjoyed the short-lived warm breeze as we sipped some Prosecco and watched the evening pass.


Roast and toast

I spent yesterday shopping in Petoskey with my mother-in-law and stocking up on some specialty foods at Symons General Store.  

Azure waters turned into frozen white chunks of ice as we drove into the city reminding us that spring hasn't sprung quite yet, especially this far north.  Martin spent the morning doing some late season snowboarding, dodging grass patches on his way down the slushy slopes.  Lunch at Roast and Toast was the usual deliciousness of sandwiches on the softest slices of whole wheat bread, home-made soup and great coffee. 

To finish off a near perfect weekend, Easter Sunday has arrived with another clear, pale blue sky.  Last night's stars were a sight to behold, rivaled only by French summer evenings spent lying in the cool grass watching shooting stars.  Too many to count.  We've passed our chocolate bunnies around and lined the treats up on the table for constant nibbling.  Even Kilwin's famous chocolate and peanut butter fudge takes a backseat to the cake batter I'm mixing on the stove top.  It's something special for my husband- Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Guinness Cake.  I can't think of a more perfect ingredient combination to satisfy his cravings. 

It seems odd to be preparing a cake batter with a large amount of stout, but the result is a subtle spiciness similar to gingerbread.  This ultra-moist cake is so damp and dense.  Like many of my favorite cakes, this is topped with a cream cheese frosting and the final outcome is a nod to the famous stout's frothy head.  I can't resist decorating it with Cadbury's Mini Eggs whose colors are the epitome of Easter.

Because everything is made in a sauce pan, this is an quick and easy cake to whip up.

Chocolate Guinness Cake

For the cake:
1 cup Guinness
2 sticks of unsalted butter, sliced
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp baking soda

For the icing:
8 oz cream cheese
1 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the over to 350F and line a 9 inch spring form tin with parchment paper.  Pour Guinness into a large, wide saucepan and add butter in slices.  Heat until melted and then whisk in cocoa powder and sugar.

Beat sour cream with eggs and vanilla.  Pour into the Guinness mix and give a final whisk with the flour and baking soda.

Pour mixture into the tin and back for 45 minutes to 1 hour.  After 45 minutes, take the cake out and test with a toothpick to see if any of the cake sticks.  If it does, continue cooking in 5 minute increments.  I found that mine took 50 minutes.

Let the cake cool completely.  Because it is so moist, it really does need to be completely cold before icing or removing from the tin and bottom liner.  

While the cake cools, whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar and beat together.  Add the cream and beat again.  Ice it and decorate with chocolate mini eggs if desired or leave them out if it's not Easter.  This cake is perfect for any occasion.

As it's Easter Sunday, I'm not just baking.  My mother in-law is visiting from England and it's only right to roast something.  After a brisk bike ride into Charlevoix and back, I can warm up and relax with a beer whilst watching the Masters.  

I was completely taken with the Herb-Roasted Pork Loin in this month's Gourmet magazine with it's shallot, mustard crust.  The herbal bed that it roasts on is so aromatic it will fill the house and tempt anyone within sniffing distance.  

The silky vermouth and mustard sauce should be liberally poured over the pork and perfectly mirrors the crust.  I love spring lamb or a typical Easter ham, but this seems like a celebratory roast.  I'm serving it with early spring's roasted asparagus and rosemary red skin potatoes.  

If the temperature holds, we'll finish the day with a bonfire, although many layers will be needed!


Say it with fish

I've been coming up to northern Michigan since I was about eight years old. We would escape the humidity of Indiana summers and arrive on the lakefront with a cool breeze to greet us. This place holds many memories for me. My Grandparents originally bought it when I was a child and we've spent so much time with family here that it's the one constant place in my life that I love to retreat to. Most importantly, it was my Mother's favorite place on earth and her ashes are scattered on the rock we used to swim out to. Winters here are brutal, but there are a few small ski resorts around to keep us entertained with nights by a blazing fire to warm us through.

Easter weekend is a kind of in-between the seasons time to visit, but it's the first trip of the year and I'm sitting here with a steaming cup of coffee watching the water as it laps onto the shore. Every season here seems to have it's very own charm. It's a gorgeous day, with a crisp wind blowing and the sun shining through clear blue skies.

First on the agenda, once I can tear myself away from the comfy sofa and take my slippers off, is a trip into Charlevoix to John Cross Fisheries for tonight's fish supper.

This family owned fishery specializes in the local delicacy, whitefish, which they pull out of Lake Michigan on a daily basis.

As soon as you step out of the car near the docks, the tempting aroma of the smokehouse hits your nose.

Three generations of the Cross family are working behind the counter. Megan, Sue Cross' granddaughter, served us and I had to buy one of their t-shirts that says "Say It With Fish" on the back. Now that I think about it, you can say many things with fish, especially the fresh stuff.

I picked out three huge fillets, two pots of scrumptious whitefish pate and some of the smoked trout. I've learned it's always best to follow the owner's suggestion of baking the fish with a little butter, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Bake it at 425F until the fish becomes opaque and then finish it off under the broiler.

While we're waiting for the fish to cook, it's only appropriate to mix a cocktail, perhaps Grandpa's favorite- a Manhattan, and snack on the pate and smoked trout.

As it comes out of the oven, it's luscious lemon and butter sauce can be dripped over the flaky white flesh. I serve it with red skin potatoes or rice flavored with garlic, parsley and butter. Most importantly, any whitefish dinner should be accompanied with coleslaw. Ina Garten does a fabulous blue cheese coleslaw that's great with the unpretentious fish.

We finished the day with another stunning sunset and a glass of Frank Family Chardonnay donated by my Dad's collection.

Does life get any better than this?


Wednesday is hump day

Mid-week suppers can be such a bore, which is why I like to maintain a strict regime of going to our local pub for dinner one night a week.  It took a short period of adjustment when we first moved to Chicago to admit that our new local was up to our high standards.  It felt as if we were cheating on The Shakespeare back in London.  

Most people have a favorite bar for a list of reasons that you, and you alone, can decide.  Once you find a good local, all others must measure up to your list of criteria.  We came up with a simple list in London that included stumbling distance to home, the quality of beer on tap, quality of tunes on the juke box, a decent quiz night, friendly bar staff that recognize you and your favorite beverage, and the all-important possibility of getting a lock-in after 11pm closing time.  Sipping a pint after the closing bell has tolled and the curtains have been drawn seemed like sweet stolen sips of rebelliousness.

We'd argue with friends trying to decide whose local was the best, measuring and comparing the vital requirements.  Food was always contentious.  Technically, a decent boozer shouldn't really serve food, or else, God forbid, it would turn into a gastropub.  Seeing that food and booze are obvious partners in my book, that never put me off.  I was lucky to witness the birth and boom of the gastropub in London and the food I sampled at many of them shaped how I cook today.  Many young, talented chefs have been able to showcase their skills cooking simple dishes with their own modern twists in many of the most beautiful pubs in England.  Needless to say, The Shakespeare's food list did not extend beyond bags of crisps and pork scratchings, pickled eggs (which never tempted me) and small jars of pickled clams which I adored.

Without much effort, we have truly made our new local, The Four Moons Tavern, a second home.  I've fallen in love with the friendly staff, weekly beer specials, the damn fine juke box and the best grilled cheese and meatloaf sandwiches in town.  Wednesday is hump day and the thought of whipping up a tasty dinner straight from work makes a night at the pub an simple choice. I have to admit, I love cooking most nights.  Putting some tunes on, cracking a bottle of wine and making even a simple, quick meal means that I get to unwind and feed the two of us something that isn't out of the microwave.  

I just found this Black Bean Burger recipe in Gourmet magazine and used it to adapt my standard veggie burger routine.  I normally have all the ingredients in the pantry and if I don't, I improvise.  It turns a few cans of beans into something I'd gladly order at the pub with a bottle of cold lager.

You can mix anything you want into these burgers.  I used one can of black beans and one can of pinto beans.  I added Tobasco and scallions to the burger mix.  I slathered the bun with mashed avocado, salsa and sour cream and topped it with a beautiful slice of well seasoned red tomato, boston lettuce and a crispy pickle.

This week I'm looking forward to heading up to my family's holiday home in norther Michigan for a long weekend.  It's one of my favorite places on earth any time of the year. I'll be food shopping and cooking with some wonderful local ingredients.  As it's also Easter, I'll definitely be roasting something and eating lots of chocolate.  I'll keep you posted! 


J'adore les oeufs

I've rambled on about omelets previously, and I'm sure this won't be the last time that the incredible, edible egg makes an appearance.  If I had to choose to eat eggs one way for the rest of my life, I'm pretty sure some sort of soft boiled egg would be it.  They must be served with toast, buttered liberally and cut into soldier men.  The addition of marmite is debatable, and my husband makes me use a separate knife if I'm using it.  He called these chucky eggs as a child, and they are a beautiful thing to behold.  Just 4 minutes in boiling water and then it's sitting quietly in its perfect blue and white egg cup.  I lob off the top of the shell and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  I then scoop out the top of the egg white to reveal the glowing liquid yolk.  It's a magical thing.  

I've recently started making Oeufs En Cocotte and I'm not sure if I've found anything I enjoy more for a Saturday breakfast.  These baked eggs come out with a golden runny yolk, just like the simple soft boiled egg, but you can add lots of different things to them to fancy them up.  They may be a fancier version, but no one will tell you off if you still want to dip soldiers into them.

One of my all-time favorite food writers, Nigella Lawson, does a quick, easy recipe that I've used many times from Nigella Express.  The thing that I love most about this recipe is the luxurious addition of cream and truffle oil.  I was given the teeniest bottle of the stuff for Christmas a few years back by my friend Claire and it lasts forever.  Just a drop or two does the job.  Nigella suggests, quite rightly, that you can add a little chopped ham, diced cooked mushrooms, a few herbs, or some sliced artichoke heart as flavor additions.

1080 Recipes by Simone and Ines Ortega also has a wonderful section on Eggs en cocotte, or Huevos En Cazuelitas,  that explores different varieties such as kidneys in sherry, cheese and ham, tomato sauce and bacon, and mushrooms.  

My Auntie Michelle recently gave me these lovely vintage Royal Worcester egg coddlers and I've adapted the baked eggs recipe to cook them in these.  They are gorgeous at the breakfast table served on a plate with toast at their side. 

Oeufs En Cocotte
Adapted from Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson

Serves 6

Butter for greasing
6 organic, free range eggs
1 1/2 tbsp of sea salt
6 tbsp heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp white truffle oil
6 ramekins

Preheat oven to 190C/375F and put a full kettle of water on to boil.  

Dip a pastry brush in some softened butter and grease the inside of the ramekins and put them into an ovenproof tin or dish as you go.  If you're adding extras, put them into the ramekins now. 

Crack an egg into each ramekin, making sure not to break the yolk.  You may want to do this in a small bowl first to ensure that you don't get any shell in it and then just slip the egg into the ramekin.  

Add 1/4 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp of cream and 1/4 tsp of white truffle oil to each.

our boiling water into the tin or dish to come about halfway up each ramekin.  Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.  Serve immediately.

If you're going to use coddlers, do all of the above the same, but without the oven.  Put a pan of water on the stove top to boil.  The water should come up just below the lids of the coddlers.

Repeat all of the steps above and place into the boiling water for about 7 minutes to set the egg white and keep the yolk nice and runny.  


The knead for change

Thanks to my sister's sister-in-law, Alethea, my blog is already looking better.  For those of you who saw it before, I did love that little champagne mango, but alas, some people thought it looked like a potato.  

The header also took up half the page and I wasn't technically savvy enough to change it.  I'm sure over the course of time, this blog's look may change, but I want the feeling of it to stay consistent.

The new header picture makes me want to eat home-made flatbread sandwiches for lunch every day for the rest of my life.  My friend, Henrietta, recently sent me the recipe.  I first cooked these with her at my friend Liz's hen weekend at a country home we rented on the south coast of England. The two of them had done a cooking class at Divertimenti in London and she brought this recipe along.  We spent an entire morning drinking coffee and kneading dough, watching it rise under the tea towel, rolling them out and then cooking them on top of the huge Aga.  I am determined to own an Aga someday, which would require another move, but it might just be worth it.  The warmth it brings to any kitchen is extremely inviting.

I recently went through my photographs of that weekend and we did make some wonderful food and ate at a very grand dining room table.  I also distinctly remember it pouring rain, Liz's beautiful blue dress, a very shady night club, and staying up all night with my friend Claire drinking Cava and singing along to our favorite tunes.

Henri just recently sent me the recipe and I can't believe it's taken me so long to ask for it.

Torta Al Testo- Bread of the Tile
Adapted from Flavours of Italy: Discovering Umbria by Ursula Ferrigno

The flat crusty appearance of this age-old peasant bread inspired its name, testo, which means Italian.  Torta al Testo is found exclusively in its native Umbria and usually in a casa- the home.

Makes 8 rounds

For the flatbread:
1 1/3 cups of hand hot water
15g or 1/2 ounce of fresh or dried yeast
4 1/2 cups of bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil

For the filling:
2 handfuls of grated fontina cheese
2 handfuls of arugula or any other leaf you like
prosciutto or salami, about two slices for each round
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Dissolve the yeast in some of the water.  Leave for 5 minutes and stir to dissolve.  Mix the flour and salt together in a large bowl.  Make a well in the center and add the yeasted water and the oil.  Mix with a wooden spoon and stir in the reserved water as needed to form a firm, moist dough.

Here's the fun part.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, shiny and elastic: about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a large, clean bowl (big enough for the dough to rise) and cover with a tea towel.  Leave to rise until doubled in size: about 30 minutes.  Don't keep peaking under the towel, but check after 30 minutes.  

Here's another stage that I enjoy- knock the dough back back punching it once and leave it again to rest for about 10 minutes.  You can leave it for an hour if you add a bit of olive oil to the bowl.

Do a stretch test at this point.  If you stretch out a small piece of dough and it stretches without ripping, it's ready to go.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and on a lightly floured surface, roll out each piece of dough to form a round 8 inch across and 2 inches thick.  Don't roll these too thin.  Once cooked, you'll need to run a knife through them and if they're too thin it's becomes a bit difficult.

Preheat your oven to 400F/200C.

Heat a heavy frying pan or griddle over a medium/low heat until very hot- about 10 minutes.

Place one of the dough rounds in a hot pan and prick all over with a a fork to prevent air bubbles.  Cook until golden on both sides, flipping it over frequently to avoid scorching and to aid even cooking.  Repeat with the remaining dough.

As you're cooking each flatbread, stack the cooked ones on top of each other and cover with a tea towel to keep soft.  When cool (and it's important to let them cool a bit), use a sharp, serrated knife to cut around the edge of each bread and separate into two halves.  Top one half with your choice of fillings and salt & pepper.  Place the other half of the bread on top and place the stuffed breads on two baking sheets.  

Bake at 400F/ 200C until hot and the cheese has melted.  Cut into wedges and serve warm.