I never expected Italian wine to lead me into the kitchen, a place I’ve never felt comfortable or adept. But two women chefs and the local, organic flour mill, Mulino di Val D’Orcia, have inspired me. To my surprise, I’m finding out that it’s much easier to make focaccia and pasta than I thought.
Having lived for five years in the region of Liguria, where focaccia was invented and is practically a religion, it never occurred to me that I could make it. One day when visiting the Castello di Potentino for lunch on the Monte Amiata in Tuscany, the chef, Christina Dale, served fresh, hot focaccia bread. She claimed that it wasn’t hard and invited me to come back with a bag of pasta from The Mulino di Val D’Orcia for a lesson.
When I returned, she explained that one of the secrets to baking with old wheat varieties, which have less gluten for making the bread rise, is to add pasta madre along with yeast. The pasta madre is natural leavened dough “starter”. She had made her own by putting a small bit of dough out in her kitchen in warm weather and waiting for natural yeasts in the kitchen to get it fermenting.
That day, she gave me a ball of it that I keep it in the fridge and every week, remove half for baking and “feed” the rest with 100 grams of flour and 75 ml of water. (How to Make Your Own Starter)
Here’s how Christina taught me to make focaccia…
500 grams of organic flour. (about 4 cups–Grams are more accurate than cups and easy on a digital kitchen scale–many choices from $12 and up).
15 grams of salt (about 3 tsp–ditto above),
20 ml of olive oil (4 tsp)
350 ml of warm water (1.5 cups) with 2 packets of yeast
(or one fresh cake of yeast mixed in with the dry ingredients)
PLUS a heaping tablespoon of the starter.
This should make a wet, sticky dough. If it looks dry after everything is mixed together, add more water. It should be too sticky to knead with your hands. Use a plastic pastry scraper to turn and mix it.
Cover with a cloth and leave to rise for an hour. Then, cover the bottom of a baking tin with parchment paper, coat it with organic olive oil, and stretch the dough out on it. It takes a little patience because the dough will not want to stay stretched out.
Leave the dough for half an hour, then, press down with your fingers to make the focaccia holes. Repeat twice more. (If you leave for longer, it will rise more, making fluffier focaccia.)
After the third time, before baking, douse with oil and sprinkle with salt.
Cook for 30-45 mins at 425 degrees until golden brown.
Serve with soup, pasta, steak on the grill, etc. and a glass of wine. On this evening, I served Foradori Teroldego Morei IGT.
I made pasta for the first time this summer when I went to Raffaella Cove’s house in Montalcino for a cooking lesson (read post) There are many fancy kinds of pasta machines, but Raffaella Cove taught me on the chitarra (literally, guitar). (Order a Chitarra)
The recipe is super simple:
100 grams of flour and 1 egg
Make a little pile with the flour, then, carve out a hole. Drop the egg into the hole.
Mix the egg with the flour until it becomes dough.
Place on the chitarra. Roll the pin over the stretched wires until the spaghetti drops down.
And there it is.
Raffaella taught me how to make a simple sauce with zucchini fresh from her garden, garlic and saffron.
We paired the pasta with a light bodied red: Collemattoni Rosso di Montalcino from a small, organic family winery.
The next step for me is to learn how to make naturally leavened loaves of bread with the pasta madre and to learn how to make filled pasta like tortellini and ravioli. Please write Eleanor at email@example.com if you’re interested in planning a trip to Tuscany to learn more about making bread and pasta…to pair with wines you love.