A Fennel Orange Salad

from my Cookbook

'Naturally Vegetarian'

How to make Country Bread: A Basic Guide to Bread Making

Making your own bread is probably going to be one of the most interesting, time consuming and rewarding things you will ever do inside your kitchen. Unfortunately, good results when making bread are heavily influenced by so many factors that only trial and error will eventually lead to a perfect loaf of bread, and maybe not every time. My family of farmers even believed – and, as I was able to prove, for good reason, that rising activities were influenced by lunar motions, and that the best results were to be obtained during the periods of crescent moon.
In this guide I am going to collect all the instructions and tips I found to be effective during my bread making experience. I hope I can answer some questions and provide a valid resource to obtain a nice, satisfying first loaf of bread.



Knowing your flour is key when making bread. For more thorough information, I suggest you read my guide about flours and my guide to the various gluten and gluten free flours for baking. After all, bread is only water, yeast and flour, so try and spend the time to gather as much information as you can about these ingredients. After some experimenting, you’ll figure out the kinds of flours that work best with your environment, water, and tools.

  • The Role of Gluten

As explained in the guide, Gluten develops when two aminoacids called Gliadin and Glutenin combine, and together create a ‘web’ structure, which makes the dough very stretchy and pliable. This makes it possible for the dough to trap the air bubbles caused by the fermentation of the yeast, to expand and get the nice bubbly structure you find in bakery breads. This is why it is important to find high gluten flours for your bread. The best flour to use is strong flour, or Canadian flour, which has the highest gluten content on the market. Bread flour is great too, as long as it has a strength value of more than 300W.
If you are planning to integrate low gluten flours or gluten free flours into your bread, make sure the amounts are not higher than 30% of the total to get good results.  Even when making whole wheat bread, it is best to use at least 30% of strong flour, at least at the beginning. If your bread turns out cakey or too compact, the flour you used probably didn’t have enough gluten, or something went awry during the leavening process.

  • Water Absorption

Each flour absorbs water differently. This is why you might always need to adjust the amount of water indicated in a recipe, and this is one of the reasons why making bread according to a recipe is so difficult. Read carefully the part of this guide about hydration, and after two or three tries you’ll be able to figure things out.
Make sure you never use old flours, and that all of your flours are stored properly to maintain freshness.

  • Where to buy the best flour?

It is important to choose flours in their purest forms – meaning, flours that do not have a list of ingredients. No self raising agents, no enrichments, no extras of any sort. Even a good all purpose flour with no enrichments and a high protein/gluten content might be good for bread making.
If you can, try and buy locally produced flour from a mill if you have one nearby. Chances are that even if you live in big cities, there is one right outside of town. Flour you buy from a mill is likely to be less expensive, less processed and of better quality and taste. Nowadays, wheat is awfully exploited and overly manipulated, thus causing a good part of the human population to develop gluten allergies and intolerances. Sourcing good wheat is important for your health and for the planet’s, as well.



Yeast is made up of thousands of microorganisms that feed on the sugars released by the combination of water and flour, thus creating gasses that get trapped by the web of gluten and inflate the dough (kind of like an air balloon, so to speak).
Using the yeast properly and in the right amounts is key to getting good bread. The best kind of leavening for this purpose is a long one, that either includes a sourdough starter or a poolish. The less yeast you use, the longer the fermentation will take, getting you a nice, soft, easily digestible product.
It is important to prevent any direct contact between the yeast and salt, as it inhibits fermentation. On the other hand, sugars perform the opposite action, helping your yeast to come back to life.

  •  Active Dry Yeast

Active Dry Yeast is yeast in its lyophilized form. Even though fresh yeast produces better results and is also less harsh on digestion, This is the most commonly used as it is easy to find. For normal (fast) rising, you’d need about 7g of ADY for 500g of flour (or, 1g of ADY corresponds to 3g of fresh yeast). It can be added directly to the flour, as long as it doesn’t come in direct contact with salt. It is good practice to dissolve it in liquid ingredients along with sugar or a sweet agent.

  • Fresh yeast

Fresh yeast comes in the form of a little block of a very light brown color. As it is alive and active but in a sort of dormant state, it needs to be ‘awakened’ by stirring it in lukewarm water. Even better, this yeast can be activated by adding some sugar or other sweet agent to it, and by waiting for it to produce some bubbles. At that point, liquid can be added and it can be dissolved.
Like ADY, make sure it never comes in direct contact with salt. The proportion used for short raising times is of 25 grams of fresh yeast per 500 grams of flour.

  • Sourdough Starter

Sourdough starter is almost a work of love. It takes 15 days to make, and, if well cared for, it can last indefinitely in the fridge. It is not activated by fresh or chemical yeast, but by the addition of some ingredients that already has a bacterial base, or that can create an environment in which bacteria can thrive and develop – like yogurt, or tomato juice. The starter is great for those who make bread often, as it must be regularly ‘fed’, or kneaded again with water and flour – about every 2 days. Amongst all the raising agents, this is the one that will grant you the best results, with incredibly tasty, bubbly doughs. Because bacteria are constantly at work, slowly feeding on the sugars in the dough, it is kind of like the dough has been pre-digested, and this is why this bread is also incredibly easy on the stomach and intestine.

  • Pasta di Riporto

Pasta di riporto roughly translates as ‘second-time-around dough’, and it is nothing more than a piece of leftover dough from a preceding batch of bread that has already fermented. It acts as a sort of sourdough starter and needs a long fermentation time. This method can be used pretty much indefinitely, and it is the most used amongst pizza makers in Naples.

  • Poolish

The poolish method is the one we are going to use, and it is an easy way to produce a long fermentation without recurring to sourdough starter. It is simply made by mixing water, flour and a pinch of yeast and by letting it sit for several hours, until active and bubbly. It is usually assembled the evening before the day you are planning to bake your loaf.
Poolish is usually a rather liquid, runny preparation. Another kind of starter exists in Italy, called Biga, which uses more flour and less water (the solid sister of poolish, so to speak). Since poolish is more likely to give good results to the inexperienced baker, it is the one we are going to stick to for the time being.

As with all other ingredients, using yeast that has not been sitting on your fridge or shelf for too long is key for good results (unless we are talking about sourdough starter, of course). Make sure your yeast is not old, or it might lose its full power.


          3. THE SALT

Salt is important for adding depth of flavor to your breads, but there are several kinds of Italian bread that do not use salt at all, like Tuscan bread. These breads were originally meant to be eaten with very savory preparations, like Tuscan Soups or stews, making the presence of salt in the dough quite unnecessary.
As said before, salt inhibits the activity of the yeast, so always mix it thoroughly with flour before adding yeasted water.

  • Salts to use (to add and to top)

Kosher salt is probably the best kind of salt to add to your dough. Sea salt is good as well. If making something like focaccia, or some other bread that requires seasoning on top, you can go fancier with salt, coarse salt being the best kind. Gorgeous as a topping are Pink Himalayan salt, Red salt from Hawaii, Smoked salts, or any kind of quality natural salts you like that would add character to your product.


It is always a good idea to let the yeast ‘reactivate’ by putting it in direct contact with some sugary agent, or dilute them both in a bit of water. Combine everything, and wait for them to become bubbly. At that point, the yeast will be fully active and ready to use.
Though any kind of sugar or malt is perfect for this purpose, I had the best results with barley malt. Not only it aids leavening wonderfully, it also adds incredibly to the final flavor of the bread.



  • How hydration works

The amount of liquid you use to bake your bread will affect the final texture of your crumb, and will help you predict what your finished product will feel like once it’s baked.

Hydration is usually calculated by percentages. For example, you’ll know that a bread with a hydration level of 50%, like bagels, will be quite stiff and dense. On the other hand, breads like focaccia or pizza, which have a hydration level of 80%, will be looser, fluffier and will tend to spread out more.
Note that, depending on what kind of flour you use, the hydration level of the same bread might be different depending on how your flour absorbs water.
Also note that by ‘liquid’, I mean things like milk, alcohol, eggs, and everything that contributes to the general moisture of your dough.

  • Calculating hydration level

There is a very simple formula for calculating the hydration of your bread:

Water weight / Flour Weight = result x 100

So, in the case of my bread, the formula will be as follows:
(note that, if using poolish, you should also include the weight of the flour and water you used for it)

290 / 500 x 100 = 58%

Our campagne bread will develop a nice crust with a firm, chewy crumb.
Once you start examining hydration levels in various breads and associate each number to a texture, you will also be able to understand whether a recipe makes sense or not. For example, a good Neapolitan style pizza with an airy crust will hardly have an hydration level lower than 75-80%.
Whenever you want to make a specific kind of bread, try and spend 5 minutes sourcing the water content it should have and do the math.

For a full list of the hydration levels of various kinds of breads, I encourage you to visit this page.



Fermentation is the term used to refer to the moments in which the bacteria in the yeast develop and inflate the dough. Proofing is the final fermentation before your product goes in the oven.

  • What happens during proofing?

As I already said, Fermentation occurs when the bacteria present in the yeast start to feed on the sugars developed by the mix of water and flour. This process creates carbon dioxide bubbles, which inflate the dough and create the nice holes we all want to see in our bread. Fermentation is a very delicate process, which is influenced by many factors.

Here is a list of things to do and avoid when leaving your dough to rise:

– Keep it well covered: Put your dough in a bowl much larger than your piece of dough, as it may rise a lot, and cover it well with plastic wrap and a tea towel.

– Keep it in a safe environment: For optimal fermentation, you need a place that is absolutely free of any currents and with a constant temperature, possibly at 25C˚ / 77F˚. Air currents are likely to deflate the dough. If your environment is too cold the dough might take way too long to rise, while if it’s too hot it could over-rise and deflate. Anywhere from 20C˚ to 30C˚ will do.

– Do not move it around too much: Once you covered it and tucked it in, leave it be. Don’t move it, or you might destroy the bubbles.

Proofing is usually done right on the tray where you’ll be baking your dough. In this case, though, we will use a floured bowl (or a banneton). Lightly oil or flour your bowls during each fermentation, and turn the dough very carefully over the tray or stone you will be using. The less you handle it, the better it is.

For more information, Wikipedia has some comprehensive scientific specs to share.
breadmaking proofing


Kneading the dough is important for developing the web of gluten and making your dough suppler. Some breads need to be kneaded for a long time, especially if they will go through a total fermentation time of three hours or less, like in the case of brioche. The rustic bread I’m making here only needs to be kneaded for some 5 minutes or until well mixed, as the total fermentation time can go from 13 to 20 hours. Fermentation develops gluten as well, along with the stretching and folding process, therefore, the longer the fermentation time, the less need for kneading there will be.

Stretching and folding is a French technique in which, during a long fermentation time, the dough is deflated and stretched and folded over itself. Not only this technique is easy and makes the dough accessible to all – as you won’t need any fancy robots for kneading, but it develops gluten amazingly with very little effort. Do not skip this step, and perform the first stretching and folding about 40 minutes after you put your dough to rise.

I found some valuable information in this site.

breadmaking stretch fold

This is the motion performed to stretch and fold.



Breads made by bakeries are baked at a temperature that is usually higher than the one reached by the ovens we have at home, But good results can be obtained with a home oven, even without a stone.
The trick to developing a good crust is to create humidity in a very hot environment. To do so, add some water to a vessel that can withstand the highest temperature in the oven and put it in the bottom of the oven, then turn it on full whack (270C˚ ~ 250C˚ / 520F˚ ~ 480F˚). Wait for it to heat up properly, about 15-20 minutes, before adding your bread. 5 minutes after you added the bread, turn it down to 240C˚, then down to 230C˚ after 5 more minutes. Then, halfway through the cooking, remove the water. This process in needed to help sugar caramelization and develop the crunchy, golden crust we all love.
Since the bottom of our bread might not bake as gorgeously as the top if we’re not using a stone, I found a good alternative in a well oiled, black baking tray. The oil helps with crispness, while the black colored trays heat up more than regular metal ones, helping a lot with crust development. Try baking any bread in a black oiled tray and in a regular, metal-colored oiled tray, and see the difference yourself.

Baking bread proofing



  • Ciabatta

A flat, square-ish shaped loaf, well known for its slightly chewy consistency and big bubbles. Ciabatta means ‘slipper’ in Italian, probably to recall the shape. Perfect for sandwiches. Its preparation is quite simple and peculiar, and I will probably cover it at some point in the future.

  • Pugliese

A very famous, crusty loaf with a chewy interior, made out of durum wheat and born in the Puglia region. Brilliant for bruschetta and for eating plain with olive oil.

  • Toscano

A kind of rustic bread made without salt, originally used for dipping in savory stews and broths. Gorgeous when made out of whole wheat flours, which was commonly used amongst farmers.

  • Pane all’Acqua

A kind of bread made with no salt and a higher hydration than usual (hence the name, ‘water bread’). It is very light and airy, quite easy to make at home.

  • Pane all’Olio

A kind of bread kneaded with olive oil, usually made into smaller loaves. It develops a very light and airy crumb and a flaky crust. It is loved by kids and used to stuff small rolls for their school snacks.

  • Pane al Latte

A kind of bread kneaded with milk instead of water, which remains very soft and fluffy, with barely any crust at all. It is the quintessential breakfast and snack of most Italian kids, spread with butter and jam or other spreads.

  • Focaccia

A well known and loved kind of flat yet soft bread, most common in the Puglia, Liguria and Lazio regions, which reaches its levels of softness with a heavy enrichment of olive oil. Some bakeries and food shops even knead it with lard, for a richer texture.

  • Enriched Breads

Some common breads in Italy are enriched with walnuts, rosemary or olives. The recipe below is perfect for such enrichments, maybe by adding a tablespoon of oil to the dough, as well.

  • Other Kinds of Bread

Each region has their own bread: Ferrara has the Croce Ferrarese (Ferrara cross); Romagna has Piadina, a flatbread kneaded with milk and lard; Torino has Grissini or breadsticks, and so on. Many other kinds exist all throughout the country. Even Italian markets abroad probably bake some of these wonderful, unique breads.

The recipe I am giving here is for a very classic country loaf, or ‘campagne’ bread. It is the whole wheat version of Pugliese bread, and it is the only bread I really, really like. It is perfect for most uses, and, even though I believe it to be best in the form of one big loaf, it can be made into smaller shapes

Now, after all this talking, on to the recipe!

Breads Country Campagne Loaf

(Makes a loaf weighing about 800 grams)

For the Poolish
150g Strong bread or Manitoba flour
130 to 140ml Water
A pinch of Active Dry yeast, or 1 gram of fresh yeast

Assemble the poolish the evening before the day you want to bake your bread. Stir all the ingredients in a bowl. If 130ml of water make your dough quite loose and wobbly, perfect. If it looks too much like a kneadable piece of dough, add more water. Cover well with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 10 hours and up to 18, in a place with a room temperature anywhere from 20C˚ to 28C˚. It must look bubbly and become quite sticky.
For the Bread
The Poolish
350g Flours of choice, of which 30% strong bread or Manitoba flour, and no more of 30% gluten free flour, if using*
130 to 140ml Water
A pinch of Active Dry Yeast
1 tbsp Barley malt (or sugar)
1 abundant teaspoon of salt

*For my mix of flours, I used: 100g Strong flour, 100g Whole wheat flour, 100g Spelt flour, 50g Rye flour.

  • Once your poolish is active, put it in a bowl, robot or bread machine. Prepare the same amount of water you used for the poolish, and warm it up a bit. Dissolve the malt and the yeast in it, and add it to the poolish. Add the flour as well, along with the salt. Knead everything until a uniform ball of dough forms. It should be quite sticky.
  •  Turn it in a glass bowl and cover well with plastic wrap, and leave it to proof in an environment free of currents, possibly at a temperature of 25C˚. The oven with just the light turned on creates a rather favorable environment. The dough will need to rise for a total of 2 and a half to 3 hours, during which we will need to perform the stretch&fold technique for 2 to 3 times.
  • 1st Fermentation and Stretch&Fold
    Stretch one end of the dough and fold it over itself, for something like 6-8 times. Pinch one edge of the ball of dough, stretch it by shaking it a little, and fold it over. Turn it, and do the same (as shown in the pictures).
    Do this every 40 minutes, or at least 2 times during the 3 hours of proofing.


  • 2nd Fermentation
    Take the tray where you’ll be baking your bread, and arrange a sheet of plastic wrap on top. Oil it lightly, and turn your dough over it. Gently press it down to flatten it a bit (as in the picture below), and cover it with another piece of plastic wrap. Leave it repaired by air or currents, as before, for 30 minutes.

breadmaking shaping loaf

  • 3rd Fermentation / Proofing
    Once ready, fold the 4 edges over themselves to make a ball again. Flour well a proofing basket, or a wooden or glass bowl, and put the ball of dough in it. Leave it be, well covered, for another hour.
  • Preparing for baking
    Prepare everything 30-25 minutes before the proofing time is over. Add water to an oven-proof vessel (about one cup) and put it in the bottom of the oven. Turn it on at the highest temperature.
    If you have a baking stone, just make sure it has all the time to get extremely hot. If not, prepare your tray.
  • Bake!
    Once the oven and dough are ready, turn it over the tray or stone you will use for cooking. Don’t over handle the dough. At this point you can make cuts in it: You can choose to keep a round shape and cut a cross on top, or, like I did, shape the bread into a longer loaf. I cut a long line in the middle (see picture below).
    Cook for 5 minutes at full whack. After that, bring the temperature down to 240C˚ / 465F˚. After 5 more minutes, bring it down to 230C˚ / 445F˚. After 5 more minutes, carefully remove the water, and finish baking. It should only take 10 more minutes. To check for doneness, control the color of the crust, which should be dark and brown, and knock on it to check its crustiness. It should be tough and crisp. Turn off the oven, and leave the bread there for a further 5 minutes. Then take it out and, if you can resist, cool before slicing.

breadmaking shaping bread
Slice your bread and enjoy until your senses die and go to heaven.

  • Storing
    This bread will keep for quite some time: It will be perfectly soft for two days, and the third day it will be just gorgeous toasted (provided it makes it to the third day). If you have leftovers after 4 or 5 days, use it for meatballs, more toast, or wait for it to get really hard and grate it to make breadcrumbs.
    To store it properly, wrap it well in a clean cotton tea towel, and put it in a current-free, dark place.

I love to slice this bread when it is still slightly warm. It is, of course, gorgeous for every kind of usage, but, amongst its many uses, you know what my favorite way to enjoy it is?
Just plain, with a simple glass of milk, possibly whole. It hardly ever happens, so it is a real treat for me. Possibly, even more than ice cream. Home made bread tastes so clean and genuine – with the addendum of the satisfaction of knowing that it was your hands that made it! Few treats are so precious. In the memories of my childhood, bread also had a thin layer of butter and jam. If I am feeling a bit nostalgic and up for a treat, nothing is better than biting into that piece of nutty, soft and crusty heaven, dripping with sweet milk.


I would love to know about all of your bread experiments, and about the breads of your childhood.


If you do have any questions, or if there are unclear points, please let me know by leaving a comment (or by pointing it out via Facebook) and I will oblige as soon as I can. This post will be probably updated in the future. You will be able to read about updates and changes on Hortus Cuisine’s Facebook Page.


Have fun in the kitchen!

Bread Country Campagne Loaf

Triangoli di Fillo alla Siciliana, e sul Cucinare senza Ricette

Raccolto di oggi: Broccoli, Spinaci, Bietole, Erbette di campo, Lattuga romana, Finocchio, Olive, Mandorle, Noci.

Ci sono due cose che posso dir per certo della cucina italiana: tutti amano mangiarla perché é buonissima, e tutti amano cucinarla perché é semplice.

Ho sempre trovato buffo come gli americani seguano qualunque ricetta in maniera maniacale. Quando da Whisk, un negozio di oggetti da cucina a New York, ho visto i misurini per ‘un pizzico’, ‘una spolverata’ e cose cosí, ho avuto quasi l’istinto di comprarli solo per farmi due risate con gli altri italiani a casa. Ma, alla fine, é solo un modo come un altro di cucinare, e spesso seguire le ricette alla lettera é fondamentale per ottenere buoni risultati.

La maggior parte degli italiani che conosco, vedendo che una ricetta ha per ingredienti pasta, pomodori, olio, aglio e sale, beh, semplicemente bolliranno della pasta, metteranno l’olio a occhio – cosí come il sale, perché, dai, a occhio si vede. Persino quelli che tra i miei conoscenti non sono grandi cuochi sanno ottenere risultati decenti a occhio. Ci hanno insegnato cosí.

Credo che una parte fondamentale del cucinare all’italiana sia imparare ad annusare, gustare e regolarsi lungo il percorso. Non é una roba da scienziati (a meno che non entri in gioco il forno), e trovo ridicolo che ci si lamenti di un sugo troppo salato quando buona norma vuole che se ne aggiunga solo parte, e si assaggi alla fine per aggiustare. e questi triangolini sono un ottimo esempio di questo modo di cucinare italiano. Con la ricetta di oggi vorrei approfondire qualche aspetto del cucinare senza ricette.

Prima di arrivare alla ricetta, ecco qualche idea che, per mia esperienza, mi hanno aiutata a migliorarmi un po’:

Conosci un cuoco bravo? Guarda quello che fa! Fai domande e osserva cosa intendono loro per ‘pizzico’ e ‘manciata’.

Annusa: Sempre. Annusare sempre! REGOLA D’ORO! Ho imparato questa cosa da una brava cuoca e certo aveva ragione. All’inizio ci si sentirá idioti che annusano cose che non hanno molto senso, ma poi si inizia a capire. Se si é vicini a cuochi esperti, annusare le loro preparazioni é davvero importante, per confrontarle con le proprie.

Assaggia: E’ sempre una buona idea partire con un po’ meno condimento e aggiungerne altro man mano che il piatto si sviluppa. Dopo un po’ certamente si inizierá ad assaggiare sempre meno e a capire piú che altro a naso. Controllare il sale alla fine: non si puó mai essere certi del contenuto di sale fino a che il tutto non si é completamente cotto/ridotto. Non scottarsi la lingua! Si potrebbe avere una percezione distorta della salatura.

Consistenze: La ricetta dice di cuocere per 10 minuti, ma non sembra pronto? Beh, basta cuocerlo di piú. La ricetta dice che la torta sará pronta in 40 minuti, ma dopo 30 sembra giá sul punto di stracuocere? Spegnamo il forno. Il sugo é troppo liquido? basta aggiungere piú addensante o cuocerla di piú. Fidiamoci di noi stessi. Ogni cucina é diversa e le ricette non sono legge assoluta. Ecco perché é sempre  meglio conoscere la scienza dietro le ricette, piuttosto che seguirle alla cieca.

Chiedersi il perché: Cosa fa sí che una torta cresca in forno? Cosa fa sí che lo zucchero caramelli? Facciamoci domande e cerchiamo risposte. Conoscere la regola di fondo prepara il campo per la personalizzazione.

Posso sostituirlo? Questa cosa é giá piú complicata, ma é possibile che se l’ingrediente da sostituire ha una consistenza e profonditá di sapore simili, lo scambio funzionerá. Si puó sostituire lo yogurt greco per il formaggio spalmabile? Non vedo perché no, dal momento che che sia sapore che consistenza si scambiano bene. Si puó sostituire il burro con l’olio di cocco? Sí, la consistenza é la stessa. Il sapore cambierá, ma il risultato non sará compromesso. Se invece mi si chiede di sostituire i gamberi alla carne in dei ravioli che andranno conditi con funghi e tartufo, non so se funzionerebbe. Pensiamo per logica. Non dobbiamo avere paura.

Niente paura di fallire! Questa é una regola di vita in generale. L’errore piú comune dei cuochi inesperti é l’essere troppo timidi di ingredienti e condimento. Se si sbaglia, chissenefrega: la prossima volta andrá meglio. Sicuramente.

La ricetta di oggi si avvantaggia del raccolto strepitoso di quesi giorni. I nostri broccoli sono i piú buoni che abbia mai mangiato. Purtroppo non si puó dire lo stesso delle mandorle e delle olive: di mandorle se ne sono raccolte pochissime, e le olive hanno quasi tutte i vermi. L’olio sará acido. Beh, le gioie e dolori dell’agricoltura biologica.
Questi triangolini d’ispirazione siciliana sono nati semplicemente tirando fuori dei barattoli dal frigo, e sono una cosa che chiunque riuscirebbe ad assemblare senza una ricetta. Ho usto i nostri splendidi broccoli come base, e poi ho costruito da lí. I broccoli stanno benissimo col pomodoro e sono presenti in molte ricette siciliane, cosí ho aggiunto olive, pomodori secchi e capperi per incentivare l’ ‘umami’ del tutto.

Un’altra cosa che moltissimi italiani non considerano sono le spezie, il che é un vero peccato. La Sicilia, grazie all’influenza del Marocco, ha sempre sfruttato le spezie il loro aroma é cosí inebriante! Mi fanno pensare a colori brillanti, terre nude e quegli spazi selvaggi cosí a sud da sembrare quasi un altro mondo.
Qui utilizzo un mix di spezie che é poco noto persino a molti italiani: la Saporita. Questo mix di spezie non é facilmente reperibile, e io stessa l’ho trovata per puro caso nello splendido negozio di spezie in cui mi rifornisco. Ho incluso la lista degli ingredienti cosí che si possa provare a riprodurla in casa. Questo mix é solitamente usato in alcuni dolci Sardi, nei ragú alla Marchigiana e in altre preparazioni tradizionali.

triangoli pasta fillo broccoli pesto sicilianitriangoli pasta fillo broccoli pesto siciliani ingredienti

Questa ricetta é vegan e abbastanza salutare: l’olio d’oliva, si sa, é pieno di nutrienti – ammesso che non lo si scaldi troppo. Le spezie sono piene di vitamine, minerali e  antiossidanti, e dovrebbero davvero essere incluse costantemente nella nostra dieta. Se i broccoli vengono cotti al vapore e saltati molto rapidamente, non dovrebbero perdere troppe delle loro proprietá benefiche. In ultimo, la pasta fillo é tra le migliori per non stracaricare di calorie le varie preparazioni a cui si presta, potendo persino diminuire l’olio e aumentare l’acqua nel liquido per spennellare. Verranno solo un po’ meno croccanti.

Ho solo visto, annusato e vissuto la Sicilia attraverso i racconti di mio padre. Questo é il calore che ho immaginato mentre parlava, un interludio benvenuto nel freddo dell’autunno inoltrato.

Triangolini Siciliani ai Broccoli

Per 6 triangolini

6 striscie di pasta fillo, larghe 5 cm e lunghe 30
Una testa di broccoli di media grandezza
Una spolverata di Saporita – v. sotto
1 grammo di zafferano in polvere*
Aglio, Olio, sale, per spadellare i broccoli
Olio d’oliva, l’olio del barattolo dei pomodori secchi, e acqua, per spennellare.
Mandorle in lamelle

Per il Pesto**
3 pomodori secchi in olio
6-7 capperi sciacquati
una manciata di olive in barattolo.

Per la Saporita
(NOTA: Si possono anche ridurre in polvere le spezie intere, per ottenere un risultato ancora migliore. In questo caso, tostare prima ogni spezia separatamente in una padella a fuoco medio alto, preriscaldata. Pestarle poi in un mortaio, o in un macinacaffé)
Un cucchiaino di ognuna delle seguenti spezie in polvere:
Semi Carvi
Chiodi di garofano
Noce moscata
Anice stellato

* Capisco che lo zafferano sia molto costoso, quindi sipotrebbe sostituire con della Curcuma. Aggiungetene a piacere!
** I pomodori che ho usato io erano insaporiti con aglio ed erbe, quindi, se li prendete lisci, aggiungete uno spicchietto d’aglio al pesto.

Tagliare i broccoli a pezzetti e cuocerli al vapore, fino a che non sono teneri.

Nel frattempo, scaldare un buon giro di olio d’oliva con due spicchi d’aglio schiacciati (si possono anche aggingere tritati se piace un sapore piú marcato). Assicurarsi che l’aglio non colorisca troppo e l’olio non si scaldi troppo, poiché dovremo riusarlo. Aggiungere le olive e saltarle brevemente, solo per qualche secondo. Se le olive cuociono troppo, diventano amare.

Preparare il mix di spezie mescolando tutto insieme, ed il pesto: sciacquare i capperi e scolare i pomodori, poi tritare tutto molto finemente insieme alle olive. Mettere a bagno lo zafferano in polvere in un goccino d’acqua, se si usa.

Quando i broccoli sono pronti, riscaldare l’olio delle olive e aggiungervi i broccoli. Salare e aggiungere svariati pizzichi di Saporita, a piacere. Se si usa la curcuma, aggiungerla ora. Soffriggere fino a che i sapore sono ben amalgamati. Alla fine, i broccoli saranno molto morbidi. Se si usa lo zafferano, aggiungerlo ora, a fine cottura. Togliere l’aglio se si é usato schiacciato.

Preriscaldare il forno a 180 C˚.
Preparare lo spazio di lavoro: mischiare gli oli e l’acqua in una tazzina (tutti e tre in parti uguali, direi) e preparare le striscie di fillo su un tagliere. Se si ha spazio, é meglio bagnarne 2 o 3 alla volta. Spennelarle con il misto di olio, e aggiungere un cucchiaino di pesto, spargendolo nell’angolo in alto a destra, sormontato da una bella cucchiaiata di broccoli. Ripiegare a triangolo: questo video mostra il processo molto bene!
Alla fine, spennellare i triangoli chiusi da entrambi i lati e disporli su una teglia con carta da forno. Aggiungere ad ognuno delle mandorle a lamelle. Se le mandorle toccano una superficie bagnata, non bruceranno in forno.

Cuocere fino a che non diventano croccanti e dorati. A me ci sono voluti 15 minuti, ma potrebbe volerci piú o meno a seconda del forno. Buttateci un’occhio spesso. Se sembrano pronti, toccateli col dito per verificare la croccantezza.

Fatto! Si possono anche spolverizzare con altre spezie, o mangiarli con una minestra e un’insalata. Sono ottimi per i gruppi, dal momento che sono facilmente moltiplicabili. Trovo siano buonissimi anche freddi.

Altre paste oltre la fillo
Si potrebbe usare la pasta sfoglia, ma ha decisamente piú calorie e non é certo la devinizione di salute. Per altre opzioni ‘monnezza’, si potrebbe addirittura il ripieno con la sfoglia della pasta fresca, che poi si puó friggere (!) ma non so se é il caso. Della pasta da pane o da pizza tirata sottile, invece, offrirebbe un’ottima alternativa, per fare dei panzerotti.

Un’opzione di ripieno non vegan
Un altro ripieno buonissimo si fa con erbe/spinaci/bietole soffritte in aglio, con la ricotta e la Saporita. E’ una di quelle cose che probabilmente piacerá a tutti!
Se si é in vena di formaggio, si puó sostituire il pesto con della scamorza o provola affumicati. Col broccolo stanno molto bene. In questo caso, peró, ridurrei la quantitá di spezie.

Altre forme della pasta fillo
Adoro questi cosini a triangolo, ma la pasta phyllo é versatilissima: si puó fare a mo’ di torta salata in una padella che va in forno, si puó fare a forma di sigaro – tipo involtino primavera, dei fagotti…di tutto! Sperimentiamo e, soprattutto, divertiamoci!

triangoli pasta fillo broccoli pesto siciliani

Sicilian Broccoli Triangles, and on Cooking without Recipes

Today’s harvest: Broccoli, Spinach, Chard, Wild Herbs, Romaine lettuce, Fennel, Olives, Almonds, Walnuts.

Two things I can surely say about italian cooking: People love to eat according to it because it’s good, and people love to cook according to it because it’s simple.

I always found it funny how Americans follow every recipe to a tee. When I went to Whisk and saw measuring spoons for ‘dash’, ‘pinch’ and things like that, I almost had the urge to buy it so that I could make some genuine fun of these tools with my Italian fellows. But at the end of the day it’s just another way of cooking (and, more often than not, you will need to follow a recipe strictly if you want to get some good results).

Most Italians know that if a recipe calls for pasta, tomatoes, garlic, oil and salt, then, well, they’ll boil some pasta, eye the quantity of oil in the pan, and pretty much guess how much salt they’d like. Even my friends who aren’t great cooks can produce satisfying results by just eyeing everything. That’s the way we were taught to cook.

So, a crucial part of cooking italian food is learning to smell, taste and guess right along the way. There’s really no rocket science here (unless you’re baking), and these triangles are a perfect example of this italian cooking principle.With today’s recipe, I’d like to give a little lesson on cooking without a recipe.

Let’s play this game: I will only indicate the quantities that you really can’t guess, and you’ll have to eye the rest. Play along and learn something!

Before getting to the actual recipe, here’s a few pointers for cooking without a recipe:

Know a very good cook? Look at what they’re doing! ask questions and look at what their ‘pinches’ and ‘dashes’ look like.

Smell: Constantly. Smell. That. Pot! GOLDEN RULE! I learned this from a chef and she couldn’t be more right. At first it will feel like you’re just some idiot smelling things that do not really make sense, but you’ll get used to it and things will change. If you are close to experienced cooks, smell their pots as well.

Taste: It is always a good idea to start with less flavorings and add more along the way if you’re not satisfied. After a bit of practice, Chances are you’ll be tasting much less often. Check for salt only at the end! You can never be sure of saltiness unless whatever you’re cooking is fully cooked/developed/reduced. Make sure you don’t burn your tongue, or you could have a distorted perception of saltiness.

Consistency: The recipe says to cook it for 10 minutes, but it doesn’t look like it’s done? Well, cook it more. The recipe says the cake will be ready in 40 minutes, but at 30 it looks like it’s already about to be overbaked? Turn off that oven. The sauce is too liquid? Add a tad more thickener, or cook it down more. Trust yourself. Each kitchen is different and recipes could work differently for different people. This is why it’s always best to know the science behind cooking rather than just sticking to a recipe.

Ask yourself: Why? What causes cakes to rise? What causes sugar to caramel? Ask yourself questions and go look for answers. Knowing the general rule will prepare you for customization.

Can I substitute this? This might be a tricky one, but chances are that if the ingredient you want to substitute has the same consistency and depth of flavor, well, go for it. Can you substitute greek yogurt for cream cheese? I don’t see why not, since they have the same consistency and work well flavor-wise. Can you substitute coconut oil for butter? Yes, because the consistency is the same. Flavor will change, but that won’t compromise the end result. Can you substitute shrimp for meat in the stuffing for mushroom truffle ravioli? well, I’m not so sure that would work well flavor wise. And so on. Don’t be scared to fail. Think logically.

Don’t be scared to fail! This is really a life rule in general. The most common mistakes inexperienced cooks do is being too shy with condiments or ingredients. If you get it wrong, whatever: next time it will be better. And it surely will.

Today’s recipe takes advantage of the amazing harvest we’re having these days. Our broccoli are the most gorgeous vegetables I have ever seen and tasted. Too bad I can’t say the same about almonds and olives: if almonds were scarce this year, olives are a complete disaster. Almost every single olive of every single trees in the area has worms in them. Alas, these are the negative sides of organic farming. This year’s oil will be slightly more acidic.
Harvest aside, these Sicilian inspired triangles were born by just pulling some random jars out of the fridge, and it’s something everybody would be able to put together with no recipe at all. I used our gorgeous broccoli as a base, then built up from there. Broccoli go wonderfully with tomatoes and they are present in many sicilian recipes, so I added olives, dried tomatoes and capers for some umami.

triangles olives capers Sicilian broccoli pesto phyllo triangles

triangles olives capers Sicilian broccoli pesto phyllo triangles

A thing many Italians don’t consider (and that’s very wrong) are spices. Sicily, thanks to the influences of Morocco and North Africa, always had access to many spices that have been used much less in the rest of Italy. The smell, the aroma of those spices! They make me think of bright walls, the beaten roads and barren earth of that land that is so down south that it almost feels like another world.
Here I use a mix of spices that not many italians know, but that it has been used in many traditional recipes from years ago: La Saporita. This mix is not easy to find, and I only stumbled on it by chance in the amazing spice shop I buy ingredients from. I included the list of ingredients so you can make your own. This mix is used in traditional Sardinian baked goods, in meat sauces from Marche, and more.

This recipe is vegan and quite healthy: olive oil packs some amazing nutrients – just make sure you don’t heat it too much. Spices are full of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, and they should be a staple in our diet. If you steam the broccoli and stir fry it very quickly, like in a wok, they won’t lose too mmuch of their beneficial properties. Finally, phyllo dough is amongst the best pastries out there, as it is not too calorific and you could choose to use more water and less oil to brush it, to reduce calories a bit more.

I have only seen, smelled and lived Sicily through the eyes of my father, who has been there in his two years in the army.
This is the heat and brightness I imagined as he spoke, a welcomed interim in the cold of late autumn.

Sicilian Inspired Broccoli Triangles
Makes 6

6 strips of Phyllo pastry, cut into 2.5″ x 12″ strips
One medium head of broccoli
Several pinches of Saporita mix – recipe below
1 gram of Saffron powder*
Garlic, Olive oil, salt, for cooking the broccoli
Olive oil, the preserving oil of the tomatoes, and water, for brushing.
Almond slivers

For the Pesto**
3 dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil
6-7 capers, rinsed
A handful of brined Olives.

For the ‘Saporita’ mix
(NOTE: You can make this out of whole spices and grind them yourself. Toast them in a pan preheated over medium-high eat, until they release their aroma. It is better to toast each spice separately)
A teaspoon each of the following ground spices:
Star Anise

* I understand that Saffron is very expensive, so if you don’t want to use it here, I’d substitute Turmeric, to be added to taste. I’d use at least a teaspoon.
**Try to look for italian-style jarred goods, which are usually preserved in olive oil (this is very important) and sometimes flavored with garlic and herbs. If you get jars with no flavorings, add a clove of garlic to the mix.

Trim and cut the broccoli into florets, then steam them until tender.

In the meantime, heat a good glug of olive oil (don’t be too shy) in a pan with a couple of fat crushed garlic cloves. You can also mince them if you like more garlic flavor. Make sure the cloves don’t color and the oil doesn’t sizzle too much, because we’ll have to re-use it. Drain the olives and fry them until flavorful (remove the pits if they’re not pitted, of course). Give them just a very quick stir fry, or they’ll turn bitter. Less than a minute is all you need. Keep the pan with the oil.

Prepare the spice mix by mixing all the spices together. Prepare the pesto as well: rinse the capers and drain the tomatoes, then chop everything to a fine paste along with the olives. Soak the Saffron powder in a tiny bit of water, if using.

When the broccoli is done, reheat the oil in the pan add them to the pan where you fried the olives. Add salt and several pinches of Saporita mix, to taste. If using Turmeric, add it now. Stir fry until everything is flavorful and coated with oil and spices. At the end of the process, the broccoli should be quite mushy. If using Saffron, add it now. Check for flavor, and adjust the amount of spices and salt to taste. Discard the garlic cloves if you used them crushed.

Preheat the oven to 180 C˚ (350 F˚).
Prepare your workspace: add the two oils and water mixture (all three in equal parts, I’d say) to a small cup, and take out your phyllo strips. If you have space, work with three at a time. Brush them with the oil mixture and add a teaspoon of the pesto, spreading it in the upper right corner. Add an abundant tablespoon of the broccoli mixture, and start folding. This video explains the process very well.
At the end, brush the triangles closed with the mixture again and sprinkle with almonds. Note that the almonds, if touching a wet surface, won’t burn in the oven.

Arrange them on a baking tray lined with paper, and bake until crispy and slightly browned. For me it took about 15 minutes, but keep an eye on them constantly, as they might take more or less. If they look ready, lightly touch them with your finger to check for crispiness.

Done! You could even sprinkle more spices on top, or serve them as is with a light soup and salad for lunch. They are great party food, as you could double or triple the quantities and serve them at a buffet. I find them to be good cold, as well.

Other shells, aside phyllo
You could use puff pastry or something similar, though it’s much more calorific than phyllo and I wouldn’t classify it as healthy. For more unhealthy option, you could use this filling with fresh pasta sheets, make triangles or ravioli and deep-fry them (!) though I would not recommend it. You could use some thin rolled bread or pizza dough and make sort of empanadas, which would also be delicious.

A non-vegan filling option
Try making a different filling with stir fried chard, spinach or herbs in garlic, ricotta and the Saporita mix. It’s delicious, and another easy crowd pleaser!
If you are a cheese kind of person, substitute the pesto for some smoked cheese, like smoked Scamorza or Provola. It goes really well with broccoli! In this case, reduce or omit the amount of spices.

More shapes for the phyllo dough
I love these little triangles, but phyllo dough is really versatile: you could try a skillet pie, cigars, parcels, or everything else you might fancy. Experiment and, most of all, have fun!

Sicilian broccoli pesto triangles

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