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Baking Schiacciata Toscana
This morning I sit in bed amongst two down comforters, a handmade quilt from West Virginia and eight pillows. I have my coffee with cream and have just finished a luscious piece of French toast with strawberry jam. It was a frozen French toast, heated twice in the toaster, but still luscious. It is my morning that I do not have to get up at five and go to work at the hospital. I swore last night, like I always do, that I will sleep in until at least eight. I will try to get the sleep that continually evades me. Naturally, I wake early, force myself to lie in bed until 6:30, then rise to make coffee. But I return to my nest amongst the comforters to read. If sleep is gone, I still am due the comfort of my bed, my coffee and French toast, and my book. My cat has been kicked out for acting too much like a dog this morning.
The book is A Thousand Days in Tuscany by Marlena De Blasi. It is her sequel to A Thousand Days in Venice. Billed as a ‘travel’ book it is really a memoir that is a romance with person, place and food. No part of her adventure moving to live in a renovated stable in Tuscany is spared description that makes your mouth water and your person long for the sensate pleasures of food, cloth, soil and company. Marlena’s book is like several others that are amongst my favorites when it comes to literature that combines narrative with recipes. Although there are some that I will never cook (“The Holy Ghost’s Cherries” for example), there are others that I will.
This is not my first reading of this book, and this morning, I am in search of something in particular: her recipe for Tuscan Flatbread or Schiacciata Toscana. I believe I must have been born with pasta in one hand, and bread in the other, as I love carbs. When the whole no-carb diet swing was on, I was hanging off the other end of the pendulum with a tummy gassy with yeast. I am glad to see that much of that has passed and people are returning to a sensible diet that involves sensible portions of pasta and bread. At some point in time, I will attempt to make bread per the Julia Child school of bread making, but until then, I’m going to try my hand at this less labor intensive form of the staff of life.
A short shopping trip, and walk (rosemary from my neighbor’s bush) later, I am forearm deep in dough that has been mixed from flour, salt, yeast, cornmeal, and of course, olive oil. After a brief period of kneading I place it in a lightly oiled bowl to rise for an hour. I have covered it with the suggested cloth, so no peeking allowed. Even though I have taken chemistry, I am still amazed an hour later to find that my bread has risen, I too am allowed into that coveted club of bread makers. I divide it into two amounts and spread them on baking plates. One I drizzle with olive oil, then scatter rosemary and garlic upon it. The other, I press thin slices of tomato into and then sprinkle it with additional cornmeal and olive oil. Into the oven for twenty minutes.
The loveliness of making bread is that even if it turns out awful, you have already had the pleasure of kneading, the imagining of your wonderful loaves, and the incredible scent of hot yeast , rosemary and garlic as it wafts through your house. It would be enough. To my immense satisfaction, it turned out great. I ate it hot from the oven. I sliced it and toasted it and ate it with softly scrambled eggs.
I have baked bread.