Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Variations on a Ciabatta

What a gift! January 9, 2011--Atlanta gets dumped on. There were at least 5 inches of snow on my car. I got the calling post from school on Sunday evening. Snow day Monday! I scuttled out to my porch to take in the wintry scene. My rosemary plant was giving me that look. Can we bake tomorrow?

Of course; what better to do with a day off? Thus begins the adventure of two fresh rosemary ciabatta loaves. I worked from baker Daniel Leader's ciabatta recipe in Local Breads. One turned into a pizza along the way. Who knew?

We'll start this recipe using a month-old starter that has been hanging out happily in my fridge, cultivating wild yeast particular to the Atlanta region.

Mix some of the starter, unbleached all-purpose flour, and lukewarm water. Leave overnight to talk amongst itself.

In the morning, make the dough! A note on flour: I mixed two types of flour for the ciabatta: unbleached, all-purpose flour and bread flour. Bread flour contains more protein than all-purpose, and that means it forms a better gluten structure.

Add flour and salt to the starter gradually until a very moist dough forms. Knead the dough until it is smooth and stretchy. You should be able to stretch a small piece so thin that you can see through it before it breaks. If you can't do this, keep kneading. Then, place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and leave it to rise, about 3-4 hours.

While you're waiting, set up your workspace. Put baker's parchment on two cookie sheets. Drizzle with ample amounts of flour. Flour a kitchen surface, like a breadboard or countertop. Then, take a romp in the snow. Wear those fancy boots you haven't worn yet this year and enjoy a cinnamon roll with the neighbors.

Done! Elapsed time: four hours.

In one fell swoop, separate the dough from the edge of the bowl with a rubber spatula or baker's helper and pour it onto your well-floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal pieces.

Stretch the dough across the well-floured baking sheet. Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingertips.

Set the dough aside for about 40 minutes to rise again. Bubbles should appear beneath the surface. Meanwhile, prep your ciabatta base. I blended fresh rosemary, olive oil, melted butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and dried oregano. We'll brush this over the top of the bread before baking.

Then, slice your toppings. I chose red pepper, green pepper, onion, tomato, and sausage. Hm...this is beginning to resemble a pizza. (A side note: the sausage I am using is an all-natural chicken sausage that contains no artificial preservatives and meat from chickens that were raised without hormones. These can be some expensive packages of sausage, so I grabbed a couple during a bogo sale and froze them.)

Brush rosemary mixture over ciabatta. Then, strew ingredients evenly over dough and press down with fingers to secure.

Bake at 475 for about 25 minutes, or until the ciabatta turns golden brown. (Hint: for a crispier crust, place a pan of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven while preheating. This creates steam and mimicks a bakery oven.)

Meanwhile, crumble about 3/4c goat cheese or a similar cheese of your choice.

Watch as the crust turns golden brown. About five minutes before removing from the oven, drizzle the goat cheese over the ciabatta. (Note:In retrospect, I think I would've added the goat cheese about 10 minutes earlier. It doesn't look quite cooked.)

Take this baby out of the oven, transfer to a cooling rack and let cool before cutting.

Done! Enjoy with a glass of red zinfandel and a side of snowed in.

As for the other ciabatta, I thought I oughta keep this one simple. I brushed the top with the rosemary mixture and baked it for about 22 minutes at 450.

Yum, check out that crumb structure! This is made possible by keeping the dough very wet (I think). Ciabatta keeps for about two days and should be reheated gently before serving. It'd go great with a minestrone soup, marinara, or dipped in some olive oil and spices.

Pomegranates: Worth Your Time

This is a pomegranate. Pomegranates are delicious.

A few years ago, a pomegranate juice craze began. You may have tasted the sweet, spunky dark red liquid, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamins C and K, potassium, iron, and folate. The juice is nutritious, but sugar-and calorie-dense.

Eating a pomegranate in its natural state--that is, crunching on the seeds encased by juice--offers some benefits beyond the nutrients in the juice. One pomegranate contains about 230 calories, 11g fiber, and 5g protein. It also contains 40g sugar, which is why pomegranate seeds are great to sweeten and season, but might make you crash when eaten in large quantities.

Pomegranates are a wintertime fruit, and I always associate their presence in grocery stores with Christmas. Now is a great time to buy the last batch of pomegranates because they are probably on sale. The best price I've found for pomegranates around Atlanta is 3 for $5. When you see pomegranates on sale, stock up--they last up to two months in the fridge.

Today we are going to cut into a pomegranate and harvest the seeds.

See that goofy top part? The part that looks like it belongs on the mouth of a muppet? That's called the "crown." You'll want to cut off the top of the pomegranate about half an inch below the crown.

Pomegranate murder! Just kidding. But the bright red juices of these ruby bombshells stain everything, so be careful! Cutting into the pomegranate reveals the juicy seeds, called arils.

Gently work the rind and membrane away from the fruit. You'll discover the pomegranate is separated into sections, kind of like a citrus fruit. If you're having trouble, you could try cutting along the membrane.

The arils are loose and will separate from the membrane with gentle prodding.

Gently "thumb" arils into a tupperware container. If you're having a hard time keeping the membrane from falling into the container too, you can put the arils in a deep bowl, then fill it with water and shake gently. The membrane will rise to the top and you can skim it off, then drain the arils.

Keep working...you should have a nice-sized pile of rinds by now.

It should be easier to separate the pomegranate as you near the end...

Done! Refrigerate arils in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

A serving suggestion: Drizzle pomegranate seeds over leafy greens and goat cheese.

A note on the arils: some people enjoy pomegranate juice but don't like eating the arils because of the crunchy seeds. I'd encourage you to give the seeds a shot. Their crunch is satisfying. I eat them out of the bowl like cereal. They're also great stirred into yogurt. Pomegranates are often paired with meat for an exotic dinner dish. Click here for a recipe from Rachel Ray.

Think I'm an amateur when it comes to pomegranates? You're right. Check out the experts at pomwonderful.com for nutritional information, handling tips, and recipes. You can watch a video of someone opening a pomegranate at pomwonderful.com/fresh.

1. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/2038/2
Wonderful Inside. POM Wonderful. 2010.