I’ve fallen pretty hard for Jim Lahey. I can’t stop telling people about him: family, coworkers, complete strangers. He’s the guy that developed the one-pot, no kneading bread method that yields rustic rounds reminiscent of the bread Jim discovered in small towns outside of Rome. His theory is that you work the dough less but let it rise longer and it develops a structure that’s just as strong as more arduous recipes. It’s as easy as mixing a few ingredients in a bowl, letting them rise for 14-18 hours, and baking the round in a Dutch oven. That’s it. Now bread is one of those things that, for the most part, I’ve stayed away from because I’ve heard how difficult and moody it is. Of course I did make those english muffins and the recent blackberry cornmeal muffins, but let’s just say I’ve steered clear from yeast. Until now. I think I may be an official bread-baking convert. Trust me on this–you will be, too.
First, a quick word on trust. I learned a little something about it this week. I was at my favorite yoga class and the teacher decided it’d be a great idea to end class with a full bridge pose from a standing position. For all of you non-yogis, a full bridge (or wheel) is when you’re lying on your back, bend your knees and have your feet flush to the ground, and push up into a half-moon shape. Now if you do the pose from a standing position, you essentially look back, lean back, arch back…all the way down until your hands hit the floor. Oh boy. My mind started racing for reasons I may need to leave class early. What sudden emergency could I feign? People started to partner up so they’d have a spotter. Then all of my fellow classmates starting going about the pose like it was as easy as tying their shoes. I started to panic a little and made up some excuses to my partner–then from across the room I hear my teacher saying “Stop thinking, Megan. Just go, go, go. Your body’s strong enough. Your mind’s holding you back.” I took a deep breath and I went, went, went. I stopped trying to picture myself going down towards the ground and stopped trying to envision my form or think about how much it’d hurt if I fell on my head. Truthfully, I did it at that point more because everyone in class was watching me than for any other reason–but sure enough, my hands hit the solid ground and I was in the pose. Kind of floating there, actually.
And so it is with this bread–don’t stress about it. Don’t think about it at all, actually. Just follow these steps and, like the beauty of a good recipe or the instructions of a powerful teacher, the result will come. Whether you’re dealing with a full standing bridge in yoga or a round of the most beautiful, rustic round of bread you’ve ever seen, sometimes it helps to just turn off your mind and go. Move forward. See what happens and trust that it will.
You can do this. Here’s how it’ll go: First you mix some water, yeast, flour, and salt together real quick-like, cover it and let it rise. This is the first rise. Then you’ll wrap it in a towel for a second rise:
A half hour later you take off the top, let it brown for 15-30 more minutes…and voila:
While you may want to cut right into the hot round of bread, Jim talks about the singing that occurs right when you take your loaf out of the oven. It’s a slight whistling noise that happens due to the difference in temperature, and it’s actually a critical part of the final stages of the bread cooking. So don’t cut it. Leave it to cool, but have some soft butter on hand so that when you do slice it, you’ll be ready for action. Maybe you’ll be smiling like a fool and call your mom to tell her how awesome the bread looks, tastes, feels–how much you love Jim Lahey. Maybe you’re an old-hat at this baking thing and this is no big deal for you. If that’s the case, I challenge you to a standing bridge pose.
Please note that the rising times for this bread aren’t indicated in the time breakdowns above – the first rise is almost a full half day, so plan ahead.
I played around with the flour ratios here, adding a bit more whole wheat flour than the recipe calls for and decreasing the amount of bread flour. I wanted to get as close to a true whole-wheat bread as possible. Jim encourages experimentation, so I took him up on his offer (although he does warn against using 100% whole wheat flour as it results in a gritty, tough bread). As far as specific notes, if you’re using a Le Creuset pan, the little black knob is not oven-safe up to 475F, so you must unscrew the black knob, place the screw back in (to cover up the hole) and proceed with the baking. This is simply to save the top of your Le Creuset. A cast-iron pan like Lodge wouldn’t have this issue.
Adapted from: Jim Lahey’s My Bread
Equipment: 4 1/2 - 5 1/2 quart- heavy pot
For the Bread:
In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using your hands or a wooden spoon, mix until you have a sticky, wet dough–about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is doted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 14-18 hours.
When the first rise is finished, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula or bowl scraper to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a spatula, lift the edges of the dough in twoards the center. Tuck in the edges to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust with flour. Place dough on towel, seam down and dust top lightly with flour. Fold ends of towel loosely over dough and place in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 2-3 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your ginger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 20 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 F with a rack positioned in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2 – 5 1/2 quart heavy pot in center of rack. Using pot holders, remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Be careful–the pot is hot! Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15-30 minutes further. Use a heat-proof spatula to carefully life out of pot and place on rack to cool completely.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.