The weekend is almost upon us, so I thought I would reach down into the Italian Chef archives and recommend something for a nice traditional Italian Sunday dinner. The weather forecast here in the Northeast this week is pretty miserable, with snow and ice predicted for the next few days, so I find myself thinking about good old fashioned comfort food. The classic combination of Ossoboco with Risotto Milanese from the Lombardy region of Italy fits the bill perfectly.
I started baking bread about 10 years ago using Carol Field’s The Italian Baker as my reference. That is where I learned about using a starter or biga to improve the flavor of my bread. The next important book in my bread baking education was The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. An essential volume for anybody serious about baking bread, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, taught me much more about the science of bread baking and introduced me to different types of starters and other pre-fermenting methods that help extract maximum flavor from the combination of flour, water and yeast.
Bread baking can be a time consuming task. Mixing, rising, shaping, and baking bread can take hours depending on the type of bread. In recent years an answer to this problem for home bakers has appeared in the person of no-knead bread recipes, like the techniques in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. These recipes cut down on the active time required to bake bread, the principle being that you make a large batch of very wet dough with minimal kneading, place it in the refrigerator to ferment, take the dough out the day you want to bake, shape, proof for forty minutes or so and bake. While the results can be very good, especially considering the amount of time and effort put in, I find the breads are not quite as good as the ones I make when I use Reinhart and Field’s formulas.
In his latest book, Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day, America’s bread guru comes through with a solution. In this book Reinhart takes the basic principles behind no-knead bread and applies them to his own formulas and techniques. The result is a sort of hybrid that, while a bit more involved than other no-knead recipes, still cuts down on active time, and results in some of the best breads you will ever make.
The book starts off with some science, talking about streamlining the baking process by replacing pre-ferments with overnight fermentation. After that the author talks about tools and ingredients then goes into some of the basic techniques that are used throughout the book such as the stretch and fold technique.
The recipes follow, starting with classic French bread, then moving to a Pain a l’Ancienne Rustic dough than can be used to make ciabatta and focaccia. I have tried many ciabatta recipes at home with varying levels of success and this is definitely my new go to recipe, my results have been consistently awesome every time. A nice open crumb, slightly sour flavor and crisp crust. There are also several pizza dough recipes, including a great Neo-Neopolitan Pizza dough that is so easy to make, you will never need to buy pre-made dough again.
The recipes I have mentioned just scratch the surface. Formulas for everything from bagels to whole wheat sourdough to chocolate croissants should be able to satisfy just about every baker’s tastes. Peter Reinhart has done it again giving us yet another indispensible resource for making excellent breads at home.
Neo-Neopolitan Pizza Dough
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is a classic Roman pasta dish, that has become a standard on menus in Italian restaurants around the world. As with any dish that becomes this ubiquitous, many variations tend to crop up, with people adding different ingredients along the way. One addition that pops up frequently is cream. While I am not typically a staunch traditionalist, and our recipe even demonstrates this with ingredients that some may argue with, I do believe strongly, as all Romans would agree, that cream has no place in a real carbonara sauce.
The ingredients that most agree are contained in a traditional carbonara sauce are guanciale(cured pork jowel), eggs, Pecorino Romano cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. Since, guanciale is an ingredient that is not that easy to get your hands on, pancetta is often substituted. This recipe is how my father served carbonara in his restaurant for years, and it includes shallots, white wine and chicken broth. Those ingredients may not be considered traditional, but they really do work in this dish because they enhance the dish by subtly complementing rather than taking away from the main ingredients.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe
Prep time: | Cook time: | Total time:
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, chopped fine
8 ounces pancetta, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 pound spaghetti
4 large egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large sautè pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and pancetta and cook until the shallots are softened and translucent and the pancetta is lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the wine, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half, 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from heat while you cook the pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the spaghetti. Cook uncovered over high heat until al dente. Drain and add the pasta to the sautè pan and place it back over medium-high heat.
- Add the egg yolks, Pecorino Romano cheese, and black pepper, and cook, stirring vigorously until pasta is well coated and creamy. Transfer to individual pasta dishes and serve with extra Pecorino Romano cheese on the side.