gluten free bruschetta bread

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 GF bruschetta bread!

a beautiful gluten-free loaf of bread!

 

This has been very difficult. And slow. And sometime a little discouraging. It often happens with gluten free cooking, you probably already know it.

I have started to experiment with gluten-free flours about 3 years ago and to try to make GF bread about one year ago. Last September, I got the first bread that looked like something I would actually want to eat. It has taken me another 7 months to perfect it.

Of course I don’t bake bread everyday. In addition, I am a small eater so each loaf lasts me several days as I am the only GF person in the house. But still, I must have made at least 20 different recipes to get to this point.

You will probably say: “what’s the big deal? the internet is full of GF bread recipes, why don’t you make one of those? “. I know, I have obsessively read hundreds of gluten-free bread recipes. However, I was looking for a specific result, let me explain please, it’s going to be a bit long.

bruschetta, the real one, no-frills

a slice of rustic bread made with wheat flour

1) I wanted  bruschetta bread, meaning an Umbrian style white loaf with a neutral taste, a crunchy crust and a relatively light and dry crumble. This type of bread is ideal not only to make bruschetta or crostini, but is a perfect accompaniment to and Umbrian style appetizer of cured meats (like prosciutto or salami) and pecorino or rubbed with garlic and doused with olive oil on top of a soup.

2) I wanted to make bread that works with different gluten-free flour mixes. Often recipes of GF mixes call for ingredients I can’t buy locally. Besides, if my mix has ingredients not available to you – who are probably living on the other side of the planet -  you will not be able to reproduce it.

3) I wanted to make bread without eggs, nut flours and soy as they are allergenic. I use butter in this recipe but you can easily substitute it with vegetable shortening if you are intolerant or vegan. I wanted bread that could be modified according to people’s allergies. No corn? Use millet.

4) last but not least, I have been absolutely appalled by the incredible high amounts of yeast used in many recipes. GF dough needs a little more yeast than a wheat based dough, but anyone who knows anything about bread making will tell you that over-yeasting is never a good idea. The bread is less digestible and definitely less palatable than the one made with small amounts of yeast and allowed to raise slowly at relatively low temperature.

Based on the above requirements, here is what I found out so far:

a) IT’S ALL IN THE METHOD. All commercial GF flour mixes are based on variable amounts of cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca and potato starch. A mix is generally added with one or more thickening agents like xanthan, pectin, guar, psyllium or cellulose. After so many experiments, I think that with a bit of patience and method any gluten-free flour mix based on starches and seed flours can be used to make a reasonable bread. I think small amounts of bean flours might also work but I haven’t tested it.

I have made this bread with 4 different commercial gluten-free flour mixes. GF bread flour in Italy is added with guar and cellulose not with xanthan. Some mixes have milk some don’t but I don’t think this has an influence on the final result. I find that every mix has a different aftertaste so you might need to try a few to see which one you like better.

I also find that every flour absorbs a different amount of water so you might need to adjust the final amount. If your dough is too dry the bread will not raise. If it’s too wet you will not be able to give it a shape.

b) A pre-ferment also named poolish or Italian sponge is essential for a light bread.

c) Adding steam to the oven while baking bread is the key to a high loaf with a crunchy crust. Cooking it in a pan will invariably produce a less crispy crust than a shaped loaf.

d) butter in the dough helps achieving the desired texture, olive oil not so much.

Recipe

With gluten-free bread you need to weight your ingredients. Please also weight the water or convert accurately

  • 1/2 kg (18 oz) of your favorite gluten-free flour mix for bread
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) tapioca or cornstarch
  • 50 gr (2 oz) very fine corn meal or polenta flour*
  • 4 gr (1 teaspoon) dry yeast
  • 25 gr (1 oz) butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt

*the corn meal is used to flavor the mix. I use a type of Italian cornmeal called “fumetto” wich is as fine as wheat flour. You can substitute it with any flour you like, e.g. buckwheat, chestnut, quinoa, sorghum, teff or simply more rice flour provided that it is very finely ground to avoid grittiness.

Make the pre-ferment (poolish):

In a tupperware, mix the tapioca and corn meal with 150 ml water and 1 gr (1/4 teaspoon) yeast to make a thick batter. Add 1-2 tablespoon extra water if the mixture looks dry and clumpy. Cover, wrap in a tea towel and store overnight in a draft free place. I keep it in the microwave if I am not planning to use it. The poolish is ready when the surface is covered with small bubbles.

mix the poolish ingredients in a plastic box

mix the poolish ingredients in a plastic box

GF_bruschetta_bread02

to obtain a thick batter

when the poolish is ready it's covered by small air bubbles

when the poolish is ready it’s covered by small air bubbles

Make the dough:

The next day, using a stand mixer or food processor, mix the flour first with the softened butter then add all the poolish plus 3 gr (3/4 teaspoon ) of the dry yeast and salt. With the machine running at medium speed, start adding the water. GF flours absord incredible amounts of water. You will need 280-300 ml to obtain a really sticky dough. If the dough forms a ball, add more water as a ball it’s too dry to raise.

a very sticky thick batter

a very sticky thick batter

Using a spatula transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap then with a tea towel and put it in a draft free place to raise.

the dough before rasing

the dough before rasing

and after

and after

Form the bread:

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and flour it well. Using a spatula, place the dough on the paper, cut it  into 2 or 3 loaves and roll it very carefully in the flour to give them shape. Don’t knead the dough as it might deflate.

GF_bruschetta_bread11

Place the dough on floured parchment paper.

GF_bruschetta_bread12

cut the dough into 2-3 loaves and roll carefully away from each other

Bake the bread:

Preheat oven to 180 °C (360° F) and place a pizza stone in it. You want to start cooking the bread on a hot surface. If you don’t have a pizza stone use an empty metal cookie sheet or large metal pizza pan which is what I do.

GF_bruschetta_bread14

cover the dough with a towel supported by the handle of a pan so it does not touch the loaves

Cover with a tea towel as explained in the picture and let it rise again 45 minutes to one hour.

the loaves raising on top of the warm stove

with the oven on, I place the loaves raising on the stove so they keep nice and warm

If your dough is to wet, the loaves might spread out. If this happens, fold them in half along the length just before baking and roll them carefully in flour. Brush the surface with a mixture made with one teaspoon of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon milk or butter. A this point you can decorate it with sesame or other seeds if you like.

Slide the parchment paper with the loaves over the pizza stone or the hot pan that you have previously placed inside to heat up. Add a pan of hot water to steam the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes then remove the pan of water. Continue baking for additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until light golden all around.

Remove to a rack to cool. Don’t cover it until is completely cool otherwise the crust will become soft. Allow to cool completely before slicing or opening.

The bread keeps well for several days without crumbling or falling apart. I slice one loaf and freeze it and then revive it in the toaster when I need it.

In the video below by my favorite Italian GF bloggers you can see how thick is the dough how to form it on parchment paper and cook it on a hot surface. Note that they don’t use a poolish in this recipe nor steam the oven. Nevertheless the results are wonderful.

post submitted to Yeast Spotting

 

 

brown sugar steamed custard

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lovely light and easy to make custard cook it as you like, stovetop or baked

lovely light brown-sugar custard, cook it as you like, stove-top or baked

Cooking for me is all about sharing. I have never been alone as long as I have been able to share a meal. That’s in fact how I made most friends in my life, around the stove-top and around the table.

And so it is that after publishing more than 100 recipes I have taken the courage to share two ways.

It’s time to ask what you, my readers, like. Of course I can read the blog stats, but I am not interested in soulless numbers, I am interested in people. Would you please help me? I need suggestions.

You know when you are making a search on a website and you click on the “find more like this” button? Please “click” on “write more recipes like this“.

Here is how to do it:

Please go to my recipe list, open your favorite or browse and find one that you intend to prepare. Please post in the comments which one you like and how you would like another similar one.

For example would you like more pasta sauces with vegetables? More simple puddings? More techniques? Why is one of my recipes a favorite of yours?

Please help, I will treasure your suggestions and try to work on recipes that I know you can use and enjoy for special occasion and – even better – for your everyday life.

Today’s recipe is for my friend Sandra who presently lives in a place that does not have an oven. As a consequence she can’t bake cakes. This is compensated by living at walking distance to the Colosseum, poor girl.

This is a delicious pudding that can be cooked on the stove-top in 20 minutes. It’s not only suitable to those who pursue their dreams in small city apartments but to various other occasions.

For example you can prepare it when your oven is full with other dishes or when it’s so hot that you don’t want to heat up the kitchen any further. Or you wish to save energy because you’re cooking for two.

However the recipe can be as easily baked in  the oven in which case you can double it or triple it for a crowd.

Recipe

Pudding

  • 300 ml heavy cream
  • 100 gr dark brown sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sauce

  • 2 organic oranges
  • 3 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brandy

If baking, pre-heat the oven to 150°C / 300°F. If cooking on the stove-top prepare a shallow saucepan that can hold the pudding in its containers, e.g. individual ramekins.

individual custards cooked au bain marie

how to arrange the individual custards in a pan

In a small pan, warm the cream, brown sugar and salt over a medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. I actually microwave the cream/sugar mixture until warm enough to desolve the sugar.
In a mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and slowly whisk in the hot cream mixture. Get read of the foam which has formed by straining it into a jug. This improves the custard’s structure.
Pour into 4 x 120ml (1/2 cup) ramekins or heavy custard cups. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.
Transfer in a shallow pan lined with a kitchen towel as in the picture above. Fill the pan with boiling water until it comes to about a half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with a lid and simmer over low heat for 20-25 min. The custards will just set but still wobble slightly in the middle (they will set further on cooling). Remove from the pan.
If baking, transfer the ramekins into a deep roasting tin. Fill the tin with boiling water until it comes to about a half  way up the sides of the ramekins. Put it in the oven for 20 min. Remove and let it cool.
Chill for at least 3 hours before serving.
Sauce
You can make the sauce in advance as well as at the last minute but make sure to add it to the custards just before serving. If you add it too early its acidity will melt the surface of pudding in a quite unsightly way (I have done it :) ).
Halve the oranges and slice thin, less than 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick. Arrange in one or two layers in a shallow pan, sprinkle with brown sugar and with a few tablespoon to cover. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the slices are soft. Add brandy. Serve at room temperature or heat up slightly before serving.
you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

you can also make una single pudding and serve it with the soft orange slices on top

In the first picture I have chopped the orange slices before piling it on the custards. Then I have topped them with one piece of my homemade candied peel and curls of dark chocolate.

Serves 4

how to cook artisan polenta (with sausages)

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creamy and comforting, stone ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

creamy and comforting, stone-ground polenta with a pork sausage ragu

Quick? Did I say quick?

No, I didn’t.

I do however say divine, comforting, luscious, creamy, heart warming.

Making a good polenta is a bit like making love. Slow and careful is generally better than plasticky and prepackaged. Tubes are for losers. I mean, polenta tubes. I hate them, they taste like soap.

I do occasionally use instant polenta as an emergency gluten-free meal. However, once you try the rustic, custardy flavor of organic stone-ground polenta there’s hardly a way back.

You will say:  it takes at least 40 minutes! I have lost count of the times I have heard “I don’t make real polenta because I have to stand forever by the stove “.

The truth is that with a bit of planning you can have a life and get two dinners out of it. I always cook twice as much so I can make baked polenta with the leftovers. It’s delicious and freezes well.

To minimize the chance of polenta sticking to the pan and therefore the continuous stirring, you need a tall pan with a heavy bottom. You also need to cook it over the lowest possible heat. Use a heat diffuser if your stove is too hot.

This way you need to stir it every 5-10 min which allows you to clean the kitchen, do laundry, make phone calls, play with FB, anything which would keep you home on a rainy evening. Even better, make a party of it. Polenta is ideal to feed a crowd and even your most clumsy non-cooking friend can take care of it.

Polenta with sausages

From top left: soffritto, sautee sasages, deglaze, add tomato and herbs, add salt and water to polenta, simmer, polenta before cooking (watery) and after (creamy)

 

Recipe

  • 400 gr (approx 1 lb) coarse polenta cornmeal, organic and stone-ground if possible.
  • 10-12 sausages (Umbrian sausages are flavored with garlic and black pepper, but the classic Italian style fennel sausages would be acceptable)
  • 1 each of the following: onion, carrot, celery stick, fresh bay leaf, sprig of rosemary, clove
  • 1/2 cup red or white wine
  • 3 lb canned peeled or crushed tomato
  • grated pecorino or Parmesan to taste
  • good quality, fresh and peppery olive oil

Make the sauce:

Using a pan which can accommodate the sausages in a single layer, saute onion, celery, carrot and sausages in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. When the sausages start to brown, deglaze with wine.

I generally use white wine but in the picture above you can see that I have used a generous amount of red wine. This is simply because today I had a bottle which had been open for a couple of days and needed to be finished.

Note that red wine makes your sauce more acidic so you might need to correct it with 1-2 teaspoon sugar. This is generally not necessary if you use white wine. Just taste your sauce before serving to make sure.

Once the wine is evaporated add tomato, bay leaf, clove and a sprig of rosemary bound with kitchen string. Simmer over very low heat for at least 1 hour or until thick and velvety.

Make the polenta:

You need approx 1 lt (1 quart) water per 100 gr (3.5 oz) polenta. Mix the polenta meal with 2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 lt ( 2 cups) water at room temperature. This will soften the polenta and will avoid lumps.

Bring to the boil the rest of the water (3.5 lt / 14 cups) in a large pot then reserve 2-3 cups of it in another container. Different brands of polenta will absorb different amounts of water so you might not need it all. Pour the softened polenta in the boiling water, lower the heat to minimum and cook for 40-50 min. Stir as explained above, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. If the polenta becomes too thick before 40 min add the reserved warm water by the cupful so it will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

The polenta is ready when it comes easily off the sides of the pan. This might not be clear the first few times you make it, so please taste it which will also help you to decide if you need more salt.

Serve:

Ladle the polenta into deep bowls, cover with a generous layer of sauce, one or two sausages, a drizzle of a fruity/peppery extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan or Pecorino.

Leftovers:

Keep the polenta covered while you have dinner. If it becomes too cold it will be difficult to remove it from the pan. Transfer the leftover polenta in an oiled baking dish. Top with leftover sauce, sliced sausages and sliced mild cheese as mozzarella or caciotta. You can also add sautee mushrooms or a few handfuls of cooked, chopped spinach. Sprinkle with more grated cheese and put away or freeze for another dinner. When needed, bake at 200 °C/390°F for 30 min or until lightly golden on top. Defrost before baking.

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Baked leftover polenta a great dinner made with no efforts!

Serves 8 or makes 2 dinners for 4.

classic white pasta bake with peas and ham

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Baked fusilli with Parmesan, peas and ham

baked fusilli with Parmesan, peas and ham

Pasta al forno (baked pasta) is to Italy what macaroni and cheese is to the rest of the world. In the good, homemade, festive way, not – heaven forbid – in the Kraft dinner way. I was amazed to discover that the recipe was originally  imported to the US by no less than President Thomas Jefferson in 1802. He even had Parmesan and pasta imported from Italy as he was not satisfied with locally produced ingredients. Note: pasta and Parmesan, no Cheddar. Sadly the upper class appeal of pasta baked with cheese and butter disappeared already in the middle 1880s. My  guess is that it kept in a free fall until today’s microwavable abominations.

If you live in North America, you probably know all the above. As for myself, I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of a neon-orange dry cheese-flavored sauce in a prepackaged pasta mixture. The only idea gives me brain fog.

Hopefully you are here because you want to know how to make an authentic baked pasta, one that you will find in many Italian houses, particularly when in need to feed a crowd, from a summery garden-party to Christmas or other holidays.

  1. use good quality pasta, possibly bronze drawn and cook it in plenty salted boiling water for half of the time indicated on the package to avoid overcooking. For example, if the pasta package indicates 10 min, cook it for 5 min. If it’s gluten-free pasta you might need to cook it  one minute less than half time.
  2. instead of peas, use seasonal vegetables, saute with garlic, roasted or lightly steamed so they keep crunch and color.
  3. use only one or two types of vegetable in a recipe. This gives a more refined and decisive taste. If I combine two vegetables I tend to use them of approx. the same color, e.g. asparagus and zucchini, mushrooms and squash.
  4. Don’t overload it with condiments. You want to attain a balance of texture and flavor not a gloppy blob of fat. Less is more.

It’s a great recipe because you can change it with the seasons and you can prepare it in advance which is always a bonus when you have guests. It actually improves if you bake it until warmed through, cool off and refrigerate. Just finish it the next day before serving.

As you see from the recipe I use a modest amount of meat as a flavor enhancer. Pork can be substituted with stewed game or a slow cooked beef ragu with no tomato.  You can also easily make it vegetarian by using some smoked or blue cheese or a little black truffle.

Recipe

  • 500 gr (16 oz) short pasta like ziti, fusilli or penne
  • 2 and 1/2 cups Béchamel sauce made with 1/2 lt ( 2 cups) milk, 30 gr (2 tablespoon) corn starch and 30 gr (2 oz) butter.
  • 500 gr (16 oz) petite green peas
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 150 gr (5 oz) cooked ham, chopped finely
  • 200 gr (7 oz) mild cheese such as caciotta or mozzarella, sliced thinly
  • 100 gr (3 oz) grated Parmesan or Pecorino
  • white wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste

Over low heat and covered, saute onion in a large pan until slightly golden. Increase the heat, uncover and deglaze with a few tablespoon of white wine.

Add peas and 1/2 cup water and boil quickly until they are cooked through but still bright green. Remove from heat and add the chopped ham.

Make a fairly thin Béchamel using my quick microwave method, see here.

Cook pasta in plenty salted boiling water until half of the cooking time. Drain and toss with half of the Béchamel, 2/3 of the grated cheese and all the peas and ham.

Line a ovenproof pan with oiled parchment paper. This pasta tends to stick even in non-stick pans. Make layers of the pasta mixture and the mild cheese ending with a layer of pasta, a layer of Béchamel and a generous sprinkle of grated cheese.

Bake at 200 °C ( 390 °F) until slightly golden on top.

Serves 6

A most festive dish, beloved by everyone

A most festive dish which will bring smiles all around the table

a gluten-free pasta dough which makes me happy

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thin and strong, home-made gluten free fettuccine

thin and strong, homemade gluten-free fettuccine

Pasta is my favorite food in the world.

Pasta is sublime and comforting in its many forms, colors and textures. For an Italian cook, making pasta represents the very essence of cooking. It’s not only a habit, a tradition, a requirement. It’s deeper than that. It’s art. It’s in our genes.

Changing from a cornucopia of variety and flavors to gluten-free foods has lead me on a path of many twists and turns. Especially so for pasta.

Store bought GF pasta has finally improved but lots of what I have tasted has gone into the bin. And it does not help that I live in rural Umbria where strange and “fashionable” products are slow to appear on the shelves.

Ever since I discovered being wheat/gluten intolerant, I have sorely missed homemade fresh pasta.

For quite a while, I have researched, I have made experiments, I have discarded failures until today’s noodles. They are the real thing. As real as gluten-free pasta can get.

They have a neutral taste, they cook without falling apart even though they are almost as thin as wheat noodles. You can sauce them as you would do any pasta and you can roll them with a fork and pull them up from the plate in one single string, not in miserable bits.

If you have never made fresh pasta, please check carefully my tutorials and video (here and here) to learn how to make and roll the dough and how to cook and sauce the pasta.

Gluten-free pasta dough is more difficult to handle as it breaks easily and – being not as flexible – is not as forgiving as gluten pasta. If you cook for others who eat gluten, I advice you to try to make regular pasta a few times to get the hang of the method. Then make gluten-free pasta for yourself.

Recipe

  • 35 gr millet flour *
  • 170 gr potato starch
  • 170 gr corn starch
  • 6 gr (2 teaspoon) xanthan
  • 1 teaspoon psyllium husks
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil

*you can also use rice, corn, buckwheat, basically any GF flour that you like to use to flavor the dough

Making the GF dough:

In a food processor blend all ingredients until the mixture begins to form thick crumbs. Meanwhile heat 1/2 cup water. Depending on the size of the eggs, you will need to add a variable amount of liquid in order to obtain a firm but pliable dough. With the blade running, add the hot water, one teaspoon at the time, until the dough forms a ball. You might need up to 3 tablespoon.

Getting the right consistency is crucial. Too wet and you will not be able to roll it through the pasta machine. Too dry and it will break making it impossible to shape it.

Now wrap the dough in clingfilm and let it rest at least 30 min. This resting period hydrates the dough and makes it easier to roll it.

Rolling the GF dough:

Set the smooth rollers of a pasta machine on widest setting. Cut the dough into golf-ball size pieces. Flatten one piece of dough into a rectangle with a rolling pin and feed it through the rollers.  To prevent sticking, dust with any fine gluten-free flour you have.

Roll the dough as thin as possible and as quickly as possible. Don’t fold it like you would do with wheat flour. Make sure to keep your pasta sheets relatively short, max 20 cm (8 inch) otherwise they will break in the middle. Minimal manipulation is key to success with this beast.

I  roll each piece of GF dough 3 times using the widest setting, an intermediate setting and one before the thinnest setting. The dough tends to shred if it’s too thin.

For example if the settings of your machine are numbered from 1 to 6, roll it at 1, 3 and 5 with 1 being the widest.

roll the pasta as thin as possible using only 3 settings of the pasta machine

roll the pasta as thin as possible using only 3 settings of the pasta machine

Place the pasta sheets on a wooden board or cotton towel to dry. Roll out the remaining dough in the same manner. The pasta should dry – at least 10 min. – before cutting so it will be more robust.  You should however prevent it from becoming brittle.

Feed the sheets through a fettuccine cutter and return your beautiful gluten-free noodles to the kitchen towels to dry until ready to cook.

Serves 4

my babies with a simple tomato sauce, a sprinkle of basil and a drizzle of newly pressed Alla Madonna del Piatto olive oil

my babies with a simple tomato sauce, a sprinkle of basil and
a drizzle of newly pressed Alla Madonna del Piatto olive oil

Notes:

  • This recipe is based on a variation of the GF flour mix used by Felix and Cappera and in turn derived from a recipe of Bette Hagman’s “More from the Gluten-Free Gourmet”.
  • If you are celiac make sure to use certified gluten-free ingredients to avoid gluten contamination
  • If you have allergies to some of the ingredients make sure to substitute by weight and type of ingredient (e.g. rice flour instead of millet flour, tapioca starch instead of potato starch)
  • xanthan and psyllium are used to substitute gluten, check online where to buy them as this is not the same in different countries
  • please check my recipe list for lots of suggestion of simple and seasonal pasta sauces