Monday, January 21, 2008

I Bake Bread, Therefore I Am

When I start to feel like I'm getting lost in busyness, there is one thing that always calls to me--bread baking. There is something so elemental about bread, so connected to life, that it always brings me back to myself. Maybe it's the alchemy that causes such simple ingredients--yeast, flour, water, salt--to spring to life. Or the smell that promises something that has to be good. I don't know, but I know that I needed to bake bread this weekend. And I did. Specifically, I baked an epi. I never knew what that was until I was clicking through some blogs and found a great set of pictorial directions on KitchenMage. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to make it. I turned to Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, by Richard Bertinet, for a recipe and more directions. The recipe I used is just a simple baguette dough. I found Bertinet's directions less than clear, so I went back to KitchenMage. It worked like a charm; after your baguette is shaped and risen, you just use kitchen scissors held almost perpendicular to the loaf to cut almost through, then pull each leaf to alternating sides.

To get the crispest crust possible, I put a baking stone in the oven while the oven preheated. I turned a rimmed baking sheet upside down, covered it with a piece of parchment, and shaped the epi there. When the oven temp hit 475 degrees, I pulled out the rack with the baking stone, spritzed the entire oven with water, and slid the dough--parchment and all--onto the stone. Twelve minutes later, I had a beautiful, crusty, just-dense-enough loaf. Who needed anything else for dinner?

I went back to Jack Bishop for dinner again tonight, turning out Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Dried Cherries, Chard, and Walnuts. Another simple dish, this one starts with minced garlic sizzling in olive oil, followed by a huge bowlful of chopped chard that wilts down to nothing. Once the chard has had a few minutes to wilt, a handful of dried cherries is tossed into the pot, given a quick stir, then covered and taken off the heat. There is just enough moisture to allow the cherries to reconstitute without losing all of their intensity and chewiness. Meanwhile, the pasta is boiled, with a bit of the cooking water retained for finishing the dish. A few tosses with the tongs, and dinner is on the table. I will say that I thought this dish called out for crumbled feta or goat cheese; the tanginess of either would be a nice note to accompanies the sweet-tart cherries and earthy chard. For lots more great pasta ideas, don't forget to check out the Presto Pasta Night Roundup every Friday at Once Upon a Feast.

I also put together a huge pot of Pasta e Fagioli from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I doubled the recipe, which is both good and bad. It's good, because the soup is delicious, and I am working to fill the freezer for busy nights. It's bad, because some salt voodoo devil apparently came to my house and swam in my soup. It's like plucking petals off a daisy, saying, "He loves me, he loves me not." Except in this case, it's, "It's just right, it's too salty." You can eat ten bites of this soup and be in heaven, and suddenly get a bite that tastes like you ate a salt cube. I have NO idea what happened. I've added water, reheated, stirred...and laughed like crazy when the Husband literally spit a mouthful of soup into his hand halfway through a bowlful. So, I don't know if the whole bit is going to go into the garbage disposal, or if a night in the refrigerator might somehow dissipate the salt. I'll report back.


JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Yum! This whole meal sounds delicious. The bread is the star, but the pasta with cherries sounds great too! I love it! And I love the way you describe you feelings about bread and baking it.

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

Ricki said...

I am definitely going to have to suss out that Bishop book, as this is another delicious recipe I'd make in a minute. We do something very similar at home, with kamut soba noodles instead of spaghetti (I don't eat wheat), and chard with walnuts and a hit of ginger. But I love the idea of the cherries here as well.

Michelle said...

Thanks to both of you for stopping by the blog and making comments.

Jenn--it was a delightful meal. My life would be complete (or more so) if I had time to bake bread more often. :-)

Ricki--The Bishop cookbook is a very worthy one to take a look at. I'll be cooking out of it on and off for awhile yet, so hopeully you can find some inspiration here!

Ruth Daniels said...

I couldn't agree more with Jen and Ricki...perfect post, perfect meal and I must get the book!

Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

LisaRene said...

What an inventive and healthy meal. The bread is beautiful. I enjoy baking bread as well but mine never looks so artistic.

Found your blog via Presto Pasta Night and am eager to look around and see what else you have been cooking/baking up.

kitchenmage said...

You did a beautiful job on that epi!

Michelle said...

Kitchenmage--I just had really good directions. :-) It truly was simple, and I've linked several friends to your site. Thanks for visiting Cooking the Books!