Wednesday, November 26, 2008


So I decided to cook dinner the other night and invite a few friends. Inspired as always by my trips to the Mediterranean (did I tell you I love my job?) I decided to make some breadsticks. Most Americans think of breadsticks as tasteless pencil-thin sticks of toast wrapped in waxy envelopes served at red-and-white-checkered-tablecloth-straw-bottle-drippy-candle-cheesy-Italian-restaurants. You kind of chomp on these starvingly while you wait for the antipasto platter, taken pretty much from a can. Nope, not my breadsticks! When homemade breadsticks are flavored with Parmigiano, a good dose of coarsely cracked black peppercorns and cayenne, and served hot from the oven, trust me - it’s a whole different experience! I served them in a tall glass pitcher with a flood of olio nuovo, the new olive oil of the season, on the bottom. I used McEvoy extra virgin olive oil made right up the road in Marin County. The oil leaves a hint of pepper on the back of the throat, which matched perfectly with the breadsticks, but also that distinctive bitter finish just like in Tuscany. That was just the beginning of the meal but I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Did I tell you I was cooking for Michael Bauer? When he asked me what he could bring, I said was anything but a pad and pencil!

Parmigiano and Black Peppercorn Breadsticks

2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups (14 oz/400g) unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups (12 fl oz/350ml) lukewarm water, about 110°f (43°c)
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (4 oz/120g) finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup (2 oz/60g) semolina

In a bowl, stir together the yeast, 1/2 cup of the flour, and 1/2 cup warm water. Let stand until the mixture bubbles and rises slightly, 30 minutes. Add the remaining 3 cups flour, 1 cup warm water, the salt, pepper, cayenne, and olive oil, and stir together to form a ball. Knead on a lightly floured surface, kneading in the Parmigiano gradually, until smooth and elastic, 7 to 10 minutes. Alternately this can be made in an electric mixer on slow speed using the dough hook, kneading for 5 minutes.

Using your hands, shape the dough into an 15- x 5-inch rectangle. Brush with oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place, about 75°f, until doubled in volume, 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Sprinkle both sides of the dough with the semolina. Cut the dough into 10 equal 1/2-inch strips in the long direction. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 sections. This will make 50 pieces. Pick up each piece of dough and roll and stretch to fit the width of a baking sheet, about 8 to 10 inches long.
Place in a single layer, 1/2 inch apart, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake in the middle shelf of the oven until light golden, 8 to 12 minutes. Remove the breadsticks from the baking sheet and cool on a cooling rack.

Makes 50 breadsticks