First: I am still definitely revising!! In fact, the bread making has been quite therapeutic. It feels like a long time since I thought about someone who hasn’t been dead for over 2,000 years. Emperors Tiberius, Gaius, Claudius, Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, (skipping over Nerva), Trajan and Hadrian. And Hellenistic dynasties, too: Seleucids, Attalids, Ptolemies, Antigonids and the coming of Rome. Greek poets, Latin poets, Latin poets in English translation, Latin poets in actual Latin; timeo Danai et dona ferentes. Cicero in Larinum, laying out before the judges the facinus Oppianici in lists of threes with a lot of sarcasm. The Roman Near East – distant client kingdoms of Commagene, Nabatea and Herod vying for Imperial recognition, being gradually annexed into the Roman Empire. Ancient Syrian elites aligning themselves with the Empire with Greek writing, architecture, fesvtials; ancient Syrian villages grinding olives and wine on stone rollers, eating sheep and goats. In short: my mind needed to take a break from Classical civilisations, and making bread was a brilliant way to do it!
Pumpkin seeds give a delicious extra crunch to the bread. If you have them finely sliced dried red chilies and sprigs of rosemary would be delicious alongside the seeds! Be careful whilst it’s in the oven though. Pumpkin seeds crisp very quickly, and you don’t want to risk a burnt top! Put the loaf in the middle of the oven, and watch it like a hawk (..or just check it doesn’t burn).
Heat the oven to 180 degrees.
Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, salt and sugar, and fold with a wooden spoon.
Create a well in the middle of the bowl by pushing the flour mixture to the sides. Pour in the hand-hot water, and drizzle in some olive oil. Stir well to combine. If the mixture is too runny, add a little more flour; if it needs more liquid, drizzle in a little more oil.
Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured side. Knead the dough – starting from the centre of the dough, push outwards with the heel of your hand. Then, fold the pushed out side of the dough back into the centre. Rotate the dough clockwise and repeat the process.
The kneading will be complete when the skin of the dough begins to have a slightly blistered appearance – this is the presence of the gluten network, which will make it rise and have a fluffy centre.
When the dough has been kneaded fully, place it in a clean bowl. Lightly oil some clingfilm; cover the bowl with the clingfilm, oil side facing the dough. Leave to rise – it should double in size. This can be done overnight at room temperature, or, if you’re short of time, leaving it in a warm place can speed up the process. It is important to not leave the dough in too warmer area, because this can kill the yeast and it will not rise!
When the dough has doubled in size, the air needs to be knocked out of it. You can do this by simply punching the dough in the bowl. This will cause the dough to return to its original pre-risen size.
Then, transfer the dough to a lightly greased loaf tin.
Cover the tin with the oiled clingfilm once more, and leave to rise again. This is called proving, and it will give the bread a better texture.
Once it has risen, remove the clingfilm. Lightly brush the top of the loaf with a little beaten egg. I used the back of a spoon to spread out the egg, to ensure the top of the loaf stayed smooth. Worked quite well! Then, scatter over the pumpkin seeds; they will stick to the egg yolk. Brush a tiny bit more egg over the seeds, to ensure they stay in place. Then, put in the oven and cook for 20 – 30 minutes. Pop the loaf out of its tin, and knock the bottom of the bread – it should make a hollow sound, and this will confirm it is cooked. Leave to cool, and serve in thin slices.
Before making this, I’d only ever had gnocchi once before, and I didn’t like it all that much. It was drenched in a sweet, brown sauce. The sauce was overpowering, and totally distracted you from the gnocchi and other components of the dish! You couldn’t get away from that sauce very easily. I was quite put off after that. But then I found out that gnocchi doesn’t necessarily need a heavy sauce – it goes just as well, and if not better, with Italian simplicity. I tried it another time, and completely changed my mind! It’s actually quite delicious.
Gnocchi is a sort of pasta, made with potato, flour and egg. If you’re in Rome, it’ll probably be made with semolina flour; usually supermarkets stock a variety from buckwheat flour. Gnocchi are tiny little dumplings, shaped into ovals. You can have a go at making them from scratch, but from a packet they are just as good! If you buy a dry-cupboard variety, they’ll last for months – and when you are ready to use them, they only take 2 minutes to boil. It’s incredibly versatile. It’s often used as a starter, scattered with breadcrumbs and cheese and baked in the oven. But like the recipe below, it can also be lightly tossed in pesto for a quick supper. It’s also a fantastic accompaniment – a replacement for ordinary pasta or potatoes to crisp pan-fried fish. They might be little, but they are tasty, and most definitely filling. A small pack usually says it “serves 3” – you might read in disbelief, but once you’ve eaten a few, you’ll realise you were wrong!
1 pack of gnocchi
2 dessert spoons of pesto
1 pack of pancetta
3 sprigs of asparagus per person, ends trimmed
A handful of pine nuts
Torn basil, to serve
Grated parmesan, to taste
Place a large frying pan over a medium heat, and add a little oil. Add the pancetta and asparagus, and sauté until the asparagus has softened slightly and the pancetta is beginning to brown.
In a large saucepan, bring water to the boil. Add the gnocchi, and boil for 2-3 minutes.
Add the pine nuts to the asparagus, and toast until lightly browned.
Drain the gnocchi, return to the pan, and stir through the pesto.
Plate up the gnocchi, arranging the asparagus, pancetta and pine nuts on top. Top with parmesan and the torn basil, and serve!
Happy Easter Weekend! The long weekend is only just beginning, with a well-deserved rest ahead of us all. Whether or not you gave up chocolate for Lent, Easter Sunday is around the corner: I won’t deny an opportunity for special food! What could better mark the occasion than homemade chocolate mousse? These little pots are a winner – just look at the air bubbles! Serve them in egg cups, for a cute Easter feel.
Give these a go on Sunday! You’ll be making them forever after.
100g plain cooking chocolate (or dark chocolate)
2 – 2 ½ tbsps Demerara brown sugar
2 eggs, separated into yolk and whites
50ml cold water and a splash of lemon juice
Place the water and chocolate into a saucepan. Melt the two together gently, stirring to combine. Do not allow to boil!
Remove the melted chocolate from the hob and mix well. Add the egg yolks to the chocolate and water mix one by one. Beat the yolks into the chocolate, ensuring they are totally broken up. This should give the chocolate a nice shiny appearance.
In a large, clean bowl, place the egg whites. Add the splash of lemon juice. Whisk to soft peaks – you can use either an electric or hand held whisk. Then, begin to gradually add the sugar. Continue to beat well until the sugar is combined and stiff peaks are formed. Be careful not to overbeat!
Then, add the egg whites to the chocolate mixture. Do this in stages – gently fold a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix, being careful to keep the mixture aerated. Repeat until the whites are totally combined with the chocolate. Give a final gentle stir, and then pour into egg cups for an Easter feel!