Wednesday, June 15, 2011
THE BREAD BAR
I tend to be a little bit…extravagant; some might even say flamboyant. This extravagance and/ or possible alleged “flamboyance” usually serves me very well; however from time to time even I will admit I go overboard. I have gotten myself into trouble because I want food that is equally delicious and unforgettable in appearance. Going back to Sara Moulton’s constant reminder on her long-gone TV show “your eyes eat before your mouth”. It’s true. A seduction encompassing all five senses is what differentiates a meal from an experience. I believe that is why so many covet Italian cuisine and atmosphere. Italian gastronomy is one of the few that emphasizes the unique importance of each sense and yet ironically is one of the easiest to master. Unpretentious, beautifully rustic, and of course fabulous in taste, the understated elegance and beloved flavors of Italian cuisine lend themselves perfectly to summer entertaining. The truth of the matter is, no one is coming to your party just for the food. If you are in the kitchen stressed while guests are arriving, frantically arranging perfectly matched julienne strips of carrots and celery (into a herringbone pattern) on the hors’ oeuvre platter you were supposed to have out 15 minutes before the doorbell rang…it will show and make your guests feel uncomfortable. And I’m pretty sure whether you spend $50 or $500 you’ll have the same guest list/ That being said, it’ll still be a frosty day in hell before I serve cocktail wieners from a crock-pot. Unless Anthony Weiner is coming, then I think it might be funny.
The dilemma is how to create a truly show-stopping spread that doesn’t pose the possibility of a nervous breakdown. I scanned my mind for the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen, and then how far ahead I could make it. The winner seemed to be bread. Who doesn’t love bread? It’s cheap, beautiful, and can be made and frozen weeks even months before the party. In my mind I began to build the concept of a “bread bar”. A collection of beautiful breads with customizable accouterments. The Bread Bar took a decidedly Italian turn when I included staples of antipasto--marinated Sicilian olives, roasted sweet peppers, and young, spicy red wines. This created the experience that defines Italian countryside cooking. The smell of the freshly baked bread mixed with the sweet zest of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. The vista of a table packed to the gills with vivid color. The sounds of bread being torn and wine splashing into glasses. The crunch of the bread in juxtaposition to the smooth skin of an olive. And of course the one and only taste of homemade bread the perfect canvas for the slight sting of a young wine and the salty brine of an olive. It is this symphony that creates the lush characteristics of Italian dining. Best of all, once your guests arrive, your only responsibilities are to uncork more wine and slice more bread.
I have included the recipes for the bread and sun-dried tomato dipping oil. I prefer to make my own roasted peppers, the recipe is hereBASIC BREAD DOUGH (makes three loaves)
for interest and variety, I recommend one rectangular loaf of basic white bread, one baguette ,and one round loaf of herbed bread
6 cups all purpose flour +
2 cups water+
2 Tablespoons sugar (or honey)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt