We wanted a good, solid sandwich bread recipe that could be done in two hours, start to finish, including baking time. We found that sandwich bread improved markedly when kneaded with a standing mixer or food processor, which helped us resist the temptation to add extra flour. We also were surprised to find that we preferred rapid-rise yeast over active dry yeast for our sandwich bread recipe. Not only did it greatly reduce rising times, but it also made for better-tasting bread.
For an authentic tasting Thai coconut soup recipe made with readily available ingredients, we developed an acceptably rich base by using equal parts chicken broth and coconut. Our "magic bullet" substitution: jarred red curry paste, which includes all the exotic ingredients we were missing. Just adding a dollop at the very end of cooking and whisking it with pungent fish sauce and tart lime juice allowed all the classic flavors of the best Thai chicken soup recipe to come through loud and clear.
Attend a festival in Le Marche, and you may sample one of the greatest snacks you’ll ever have: olive all’ascolana. Crisp-coated, salty fried olives stuffed with a rich meat filling are a culinary marvel of taste and texture that originated in the town of Ascoli Piceno. We just had to try making these delightful bites, but we suspected it might be a challenge—after all, we’d have to figure out how to pit and stuff an olive! We tried starting with pitted olives as a short-cut, but found them lacking in color, texture, and overall olive flavor. Instead we used large, mild-flavored Cerignola olives, which are easy to find in delis and prepared food places. To remove the pits, we left the olive flesh in one piece, slicing down one side of the olive and cutting around the pit with a paring knife as if we were peeling an apple. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the process went quickly after we got used to pitting the first few. With these olives, the filling shares the spotlight, and we found a lot of impractical recipes calling for a menagerie of meat scraps or specialty cuts. We started with ground pork; while uninspiring by itself, additions of prosciutto, sautéed carrot, and shallot built beautiful layers of flavor. A little nutmeg provided the classic warm spice and aroma, while wine added brightness. One large yolk and Parmigiano gave the filling richness and a creamy texture. We prefer to use Cerignola olives, but other large brine-cured green olives will work, too. To allow for practice, the recipe calls for extra olives.
This soup of pasta and clams is a Sardinian classic that’s all about simplicity. It relies chiefly on the flavor inherent in the soup’s two main ingredients: chewy, toasty spherical fregula, and arselle, the small, briny, succulent hard-shell clams found along the coast.
In wintertime and early spring in Puglia, locals combine their winter stores of dried fava beans with peppery wild chicory into a satisfying, hearty dish. Dried fava beans are typically cooked until they can be mashed into a smooth puree and then topped with sautéed chicory dressed simply with olive oil and salt. Wild chicory isn’t commonplace in American markets, but we still embraced the dish’s humble roots by using more readily available escarole, which is a member of the chicory family: It's easy to find, quick cooking, and offers a similar pleasant bitterness. To amp up flavor and add brightness to the dish, we added chili flakes and lemon zest to the greens, which balanced out the bitter notes. With the greens settled, we turned our attention to creating a smooth, silky puree from the fava beans. Potato is a traditional addition to this dish, as it lends a smooth, unctuous texture; we found that adding just one potato to the pot with the beans was enough to achieve the consistency we were after. Rather than mash the cooked fava beans and potato with a potato masher, we passed them through a food mill or potato ricer to ensure a silky smooth texture. Finally, we finished the dish with shaved Pecorino for a salty bite that enhanced the complex, earthy flavors of the fava beans.
Hazelnuts from Piedmont are truly something special with their fine flavor and extremely crisp texture. Although they're beloved in many dishes, the flavor combination of hazelnuts and chocolate, called gianduia, is a Piedmontese favorite. Sometimes gianduia refers to a fudge-like confection that’s sold in bar form, sometimes to a spread (think: Nutella), and sometimes to the popular gelato flavor. But it’s also a favorite in cakes, and just about any cake from the region that features chocolate and hazelnuts might be called torta gianduia—some are dressed-up and multilayered, while others are low, lush, and glazed. We love the classic rustic version with a crackly, crisp top and a moist, dense interior that’s something like a nutty flourless chocolate cake. The taste and texture are dependent on a delicate balance of whipped eggs (for structure and lift), butter, sugar, bittersweet chocolate, and ground hazelnuts. The quantity of nuts was of particular import. We started with 6 ounces of chocolate and 1 cup of nuts, but found the chocolate overpowered the more delicate hazelnut flavor and the texture was actually too moist and fudgy. One and a third cups of nuts was better, but we still felt the cake could be lighter; we found that replacing a small amount of the nuts with regular flour—2 tablespoons—provided a rich, melt-in-the-mouth cake that wasn’t overly weighty. All this super-rich cake needed to finish was a dusting of powdered sugar for rustic charm. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Frico friabile is a one-ingredient wonder and a delightful antipasto—especially alongside a glass of chilled white wine from the region. Nothing more than grated cheese which is melted and then browned to create a light, airy, crisp, and impressively sized wafer, this simple snack highlights the intense flavor of the cheese. But despite their simplicity, these wafers can turn out bitter, and too salty, without the crispness we preferred. Some recipes cook the cheese in butter or olive oil, but using a 10-inch nonstick skillet eliminated the need for any fat. To flip the round without it tearing or stretching, we removed the pan from the heat for several seconds to cool; allowing a few moments for the cheese wafer to set up made it easy to flip. Cooking the cheese at high heat caused it to brown too fast and become bitter, but at low heat it took too long and dried out. A combination of medium and medium-high heat was best. Serve frico with drinks and other antipasti bites such as olives and tomatoes. Montasio cheese is worth tracking down; if you can't find it, substitute Asiago.
A classic Roman peasant meal, coda alla vaccinara is a lush braise originally prepared by slaughtermen (vaccinari) who were often paid with the undesirable parts of the animal. It’s from these parts, like oxtail, that they made delicious dishes and proved the underestimated worth of these inexpensive cuts.
For a turkey gravy that really tastes like the bird but doesn't require drippings, we began by making a full-flavored turkey stock that included not just the neck and giblets but also some excess skin and fat from the turkey—powerhouse sources of turkey flavor. We started our untraditional method for making turkey stock by simmering the neck, giblets, and trimmings in chicken broth in a Dutch oven (chosen instead of a saucepan for its greater surface area); doing so efficiently extracted flavor-packed juices and fat from the parts that browned and formed a rich fond once the liquid evaporated. We then sautéed chopped carrot, celery, and onion for aromatic depth; deglazed the pot with white wine; added more chicken broth; simmered the stock (covered to prevent evaporation) for about an hour; and strained out the solids. We didn't defat the stock, since the aromatic compounds in the bird's fat contributed a significant amount of turkey flavor. Then, to turn the stock into a gravy, we made a roux by toasting flour in melted butter and whisking the stock into the roux.
We prefer the flavor of butter made with pasteurized cream as opposed to ultrapasteurized cream. The ideal temperature range for churning butter is 55 to 60 degrees; colder and the fat is too firm and will stick to the sides of the food processor bowl; warmer and the fat is liquid instead of solid, leading to greasy butter. In step 2, chill the cream in the refrigerator or over an ice bath. For the most complex tangy flavor, we recommend aging the cream for a week. At that point the cream may smell quite pungent, but most of what you smell resides in the liquid that gets separated out, leaving the butter surprisingly mellow. This recipe requires cheesecloth.