Category Archives: Country Food Project

Tuscan Bread

So here’s something you should know about bread. You cannot be distracted when you make it. You cannot start to make bread and then take a nap, for example. Nor should you be corrupted by friends for a glass of wine (which turns into two bottles). It will mess with your bread. There. I’ve said it. You can’t say I didn’t tell you.

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I started a starter (I love that), on Thursday evening because the instructions said it needed 24 hours before you could turn it into bread. Great, I thought. I can make bread on Friday afternoon. All will be well. That was before the nap and the wine.

It turns out, and I’d been told this before but sort of regarded it as pastry/baker folklore, that you can over-proof bread. I’ve never done it, even though I’ve left breads to proof for hours at a time but on Friday evening I obviously pushed this luck a bit far. I turned the starter into a bread and proofed it in the oven (off, obviously). Then I knocked it back and shaped it and left it to proof whilst I had a nap. First mistake. When I got up, just in time to go to dinner, the loaf was ready to go in the oven and I thought, it’ll survive half an hour whilst I eat. So I went to dinner. Then friends invited me to join them for drinks. Just one drink I thought. Three hours later I returned home to a loaf that had proofed up and then started to sink back into itself. A sure sign of over proofing. Whoops. I baked it anyway. I wasn’t about to throw out all that flour and I guess a small part of me thought I could still get away with the bread neglect. I was wrong. The bread was super crunchy and tasted stale. So I admitted my mistake and started again, with another starter.

Seeing how much bread the recipe made, I halved it and made the loaf yesterday morning. It turned out wonderfully. It’s not life-changing bread but good, solid, white loaf, that works excellently with marmalade at breakfast time. I spent most of yesterday afternoon slicing it and eating it with vast quantities of butter and marmite. You’re supposed to cook it on a stone, to get a good crust and baker-oven effect but I don’t have one so mine only had a good crust for the first hour. I don’t really mind though.

Tuscan Bread

Adapted from Bringing Italy Home

For the starter:

5g active dry yeast

125ml warm water

50g white bread flour

50g 00 flour

For the bread:

125ml warm water

generous pinch of salt

125g white bread flour

125g 00 flour

olive oil for covering

To make the starter, combine the yeast and water in a large bowl and stir. Leave, uncovered, for 15 minutes, until the yeast is foamy. Stir in the flour and combine until the mixture is smooth. Sprinkle over some extra bread flour and cover with a tea towel. Leave, undisturbed, for 24 hours.

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To make the bread, stir the warm water into the starter and add in the salt. Add in the flour in four goes, starting out with a wooden spoon to combine but then kneading with your hands. Both times I made this I had to add in a little extra water (about two tablespoons) to get the last of the flour to combine with the dough. Don’t be afraid to add extra water if your dough is dry.

Knead the dough lightly for about five minutes, then place in a clean, oiled, bowl, turning the dough around in the bowl so it is covered in olive oil. Cover with clingfilm and place in a warm, dry place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).

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Knock back the dough and shape it into a loaf.

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I suspect you can bake this in a loaf tin if you desire although this will make it look less rustic. Place the shaped loaf on a lined baking tray and proof again for 45 minutes, until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 220C. Slash the dough lightly with a bread knife.

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Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when tapped.

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Allow to cool before eating.

Braised Artichokes with Peas

I made dinner last night from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. I roasted a chicken leg and thigh with garlic, olive oil and fresh rosemary (I have a mini herb garden growing nicely on my window-sill at the moment), and to accompany it, I made these artichokes. I chose artichokes because I’ve never really cooked artichokes before. My friend Sarah and I tried the last time I was home but we were superbly unsuccessful – we couldn’t work out how to cook them or how to eat them. They have always puzzled me – these spiky green (or purple) vegetables, most of which you have to remove in order to eat. Mystery I tell you.

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Well, they’re less of a mystery now, although I’m still kind of sceptical about them. I followed Marcella’s comprehensive instructions (and illustrations) to trim the artichokes down and remove the choke. I kept questioning how much I was taking off and where the leaves were breaking from (should they really be breaking off this much? Why does the picture look like they just snap off easily whereas I’m using scissors? It was a serious half hour of self doubt.) But eventually I had something that sort of resembled the pictures –  I say sort of, because I later discovered (at the eating point), that, in fact, I should have taken more of the outer leaves off and I had to extract some of the more chewy pieces.

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The actual recipe for braising is pretty simple. Once you’ve cleaned and peeled the artichoke, and removed the choke, you remove the stalks (peeling them of the hard, green exterior). You then slice the artichokes into wedges and rub everything with lemon to keep it from going brown. You then sauté some shallots (I used two) in olive oil until tender before adding in half a garlic clove. Fry this until the garlic turns slightly golden before adding in the artichoke and six tablespoons of water. Reduce the heat so the pan is simmering and put a lid on. Cook the artichokes for about 15 minutes, until they’re tender to a fork at the thickest point. Add in half a small cup of frozen peas (which you’ve thawed), salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of freshly chopped flat leaf parsley. You can put in some more water if the pan is threatening dryness. Replace the lid and cook for a further five minutes. The artichokes should be tender.

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I served this with my roasted chicken but I suspect it’s a good accompaniment to many dishes (this serves two as a side). It felt almost like a spring dish, with all the green elements and the artichokes have a wonderful earthy taste whilst the parsley just lifts things slightly. I originally ordered two artichokes (online grocery shopping is my new favourite thing) but I only used one for this recipe. So I’ll be cleaning another artichoke sometime this week.


And so begins March. Gosh. Can the year slow down slightly? I’m starting to get dizzy. March marks the almost half-way point of my PhD. It’s 19 months until my hand-in date. To celebrate, and to prevent me from losing my mind, I’ve decided to start up a new project here on Philosophy and Madeleines. Every month, for the next 19 months, I’m going to be cooking and baking and dessert-making from a different country somewhere on the planet. And to clarify, that doesn’t mean I will be in the actual country (sadly!), merely that I will be making dishes from it’s cuisine in my tiny kitchen here in Nottingham. I feel I’ve been getting complacent in my cooking and baking skills. I tend to do the same dishes over and over again, which is nice and easy and relaxing, but I think I need to push my boundaries a bit more and this is the best way I can think of to do it.

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The challenge will be not only to cook from one place but to also not buy any more cookbooks whilst completing this mission. There. I admit defeat to the cookbook gods. My addiction to cookbooks is getting out of hand and something needs to be done to stop it. So, this is it. I’ll need you all to remind me I can’t buy anything new from time to time, I think. Instead of buying books I’m going to be using my local library. (This part makes the challenge more challenging, I think.) I’ve already scoped out the library’s cookbooks and I think I’ll be okay for a while. I’m going to borrow various books on the country of the month, including memoirs/travel writing/food writing/recipe books, and will be using them to cook/bake from for the month. I’ll also be using any relevant books I happen to have on my shelves. So that’s it. That is the challenge. I do hope you’ll join me on this new adventure.

And so to begin. This first month I am cooking and baking from Italy. Italy seemed the logical choice to begin a challenge like this one – I like pasta and pizza and risotto and olive oil as much as the next person and finding out about the various regions and their different dishes seems like a fun idea. The cuisine is also as old as they come and there is loads to read about it.

So to Italy we go.

I’ve borrowed the following books from the library (and my own bookshelf) and shall be using them to cook from this month. I might add a few more as the month goes on, I’m not sure yet. (Which is part of the adventure I guess!)

The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Bringing Italy Home by Ursula Ferrigno

The Food of Italy: Region by Region by Claudia Roden

A Year in the Village of Eternity by Tracey Lawson

Delizia! by John Dickie

I’ve also borrowed a copy of Jamie does… Spain Italy Sweden Morocco Greece France, mainly for a quick reference point and fast recipes. We all need a little Jamie in our lives after all.

I thought I’d start with dessert today. It’s Friday and something quick and easy is often necessary on a Friday, especially if it’s been a rough week. Tiramisù is a classic Italian dessert which Claudia Roden writes is fairly new – she was writing in 1989 but I guess she means new in comparison to dishes which have been around since the 1100’s or before. Now, I don’t think you can mention Italy without someone mentioning tiramisù. The other books I’ve got don’t reference tiramisù at all so I read Jamie’s version in Jamie does just to see about method. He makes his the same way as Claudia, but uses more ingredients and flavours. I wanted to keep things simple and fast so I’ve followed Claudia’s recipe but I made my own sponge fingers. The resulting dessert is rich and satisfying. The rum is incorporated into the flavours so it doesn’t taste alcoholic (I left out the brandy in the recipe because I don’t have any at the moment) and the dark chocolate adds a bitterness which cuts the richness and keeps the dessert from being too overwhelming. I remember making this at cooking school and thinking it was amazing but when I consulted that recipe this morning I worked out why I hadn’t made it since – a list of ingredients, including gelatine, and a method which was convoluted and long. This is simple, quick and satisfying. You’re supposed to leave it overnight (according to Claudia) but I felt it was okay to eat after a few hours of chilling. She also makes it in one big dish but I quite like it in individual moulds – it’s up to you how to serve it really.

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Adapted from The Food of Italy: Region by Region

2 tbsp rum

1/4 cup strong black coffee

8 sponge fingers

250g mascarpone

1 egg

2 1/2 tbsp golden icing sugar

50g dark chocolate

Makes 4

Mix 1 tablespoon of rum with the coffee and allow to cool slightly. Meanwhile, separate the egg and whisk the yolk with the icing sugar and mascarpone. Once the mixture is smooth, add in the other tablespoon of rum.

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Dip the sponge fingers into the coffee mixture and lay them in the bottom of four ramekins, if necessary, break them to fit. Brush any leftover coffee mixture over the sponge fingers.

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Whisk the egg white until stiff and fold into the mascarpone. Spoon this onto the sponge fingers.

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Put the chocolate into a blender and blend until finely powdered (Claudia calls this pulverising). Sprinkle over the desserts and refrigerate for at least four hours if not overnight.

Lady’s Fingers

We had to make these at cookery school and I haven’t had cause to make them since. You can cheat by buying Boudoir biscuits (or the equivalent if they’re not available). Just break them to the size you need when using.

50g golden caster sugar

2 eggs

pinch of salt

50g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 160C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Separate the eggs and whisk the egg yolks with half the sugar (25g) until pale and at ribbon stage.

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Whisk the egg whites until foamy and then add in the salt. Whisk to soft peak and then add in the other half of the sugar in three goes, forming a soft, glossy meringue.

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Sift half the flour over the yolk mixture and fold in, followed by half the meringue. Repeat.

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Fill a piping bag and pipe strips onto your baking sheet.

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Bake for about 15 minutes, until the fingers are golden along the edges, and slightly coloured on top. Remove from the oven and slide the baking paper onto a cooling rack so they stop cooking and don’t dry out. Cool and use as needed.

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