A Passionate Life and Breaking Bread with the FamilyPosted: 03/31/2011
Life does work in mysterious ways. In my twenties, my parents, college teachers and random older people told me to pursue those things in life I was “passionate” about. At that time in my life, that word had no meaning to me, or it was just something I never gave any thought to. It seemed I just didn’t have the luxury to feel passionate about anything. After college, I scrambled just to find any job that would support a roof over my head and some food on my table. When I look back on those years in the job force, they were totally devoid of any passion. It was merely what I had to do to get by.
By my thirties, I was married with a young family to raise, and for the next twenty years they were my focus and priority. Today, my sons are young men and ready to venture out into the world on their own. Though my job as a mother and life advisor is not over, I’m just not needed on a “24-7″ basis any more. Interestingly, it’s actually given me time to pursue some things that I feel a great deal of passion for. Now, at this point in my life, I understand that word and the concept.
I never saw it coming, but my passion as it turns out, appears to be baking and cooking. That’s how I would identify those feelings I experience when I embark on a new cooking project. This blog has given me a vehicle and a platform to express my new found passion. I wonder though, how would my life have turned out if I had discovered this “passion” in my youth? Could I have made a career out of it, and where would I be today if I had spent my life pursuing this passion?
Tonight however, I’m enjoying both of my “passions” at once. My family is getting ready to sit down and have dinner TOGETHER! It’s a rare occurrence these days. My older son, the chef, works so much we rarely see him. My high school son seems to have a million activities and never sits down long enough to eat dinner. But tonight I’ve made a pasta Bolognese, Caesar salad, and this incredible Italian bread called Stecca.
The Stecca has a crisp and crunchy exterior and a soft, airy interior. The recipe makes 4 “bread sticks” (Stecca means stick in Italian), one is dotted with salty, green olives and the other with cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh thyme and sea salt. It’s an absolutely hearty and rustic bread. And yes, I’m very “passionate” about it!
From My Bread by Jim Lahey
3 cups bread flour
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon instant or active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
additional flour for dusting
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1. You will sift together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast into a medium sized bowl. Add the water, and using a wooden spoon, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about one minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 12 to 18 hours until it doubles in size. You will see that the surface of the dough will be dotted with bubbles.
2. When the first rise is complete, dust a work surface with flour. Scoop the dough out in one piece using a bowl scraper or rubber spatula. Fold the dough over itself several times and form it into a ball. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
3. Place a cotton or linen towel (not terrycloth) on your work surface and dust it with wheat bran (is what I used), cornmeal, or flour. Place the dough, seam side down, gently on the towel. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm spot to rise for 1 1/2 hours.
4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 500 degrees F, with the rack in the center of the oven. Oil two, 13 x 18 inch baking sheets.
5. Using a bench scraper or serrated knife, cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece into a stick shape about the length of the pan. Place two loaves on each pan leaving enough space in between as they will expand as they bake. In two loaves, push cherry tomato halves into the dough, cut side up. Top each tomato half with a thin slice of garlic and a few leaves of fresh thyme. With a pastry brush, gently brush the loaf with olive oil and then sprinkle with the sea salt. In the other two loaves, gently push olive halves into the dough and then brush with olive oil. Do not salt the olive loaves as the olives are salty enough.
6. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes (mine took 18 minutes) until the crust is golden brown. I found that after about 5 minutes of baking the tomatoes and olives started to pop out of the bread as it expanded. With the back of a wooden spoon, I pushed them back into the dough. Cool the loaves on the pan for 5 minutes, then remove to metal rack. I did not serve mine immediately and just popped them back in a 350 degree oven for about 8 minutes and they came out crispy and perfect!