Tuesday, July 13, 2010

From Sharon's Kitchen

Hello!!  Summer is in full swing here in the Bronx and boy is it hot hot hot!  I was lucky enough to be traveling for work during the heat wave last week.  I spent some time in Chicago and since I was staying at a hotel, I got to enjoy the luxury of air conditioning!  I'm back in New York and it is slightly cooler than last week, but not by much.  When I was in O'Hare airport catching up with my Mom, she was telling me about some pesto bread she had made that weekend.  We both decided it would be great to have the recipe on the blog, so here she is--my first guest blogger!  Straight from Sharon's kitchen:
A Taste of Summer
Nothing speaks "Summer"to me like the scent of basil.  Whether it's pinching a leaf as I weed my herb garden and enjoying its strong scent lingering on my hands, or chopping cups of basil leaves with garlic cloves and olive oil to make homemade pesto, basil "fumes" wafting through my kitchen means summer truly has arrived.
Each year  a few basil plants find a home in the garden, but last year I realized you can never have too much basil!  Pesto takes A LOT of basil; and if you want some leaves to dry as well at the end of the growing season, it's a good idea to plant at least a row.   I planted two rows this spring, and voila! I am happily overrun with basil.
What to do with all of this abundance?  I made pesto and froze it (after enjoying it on whole-grain crackers with thin slices of sharp cheddar).  Then I happened to rediscover a book on herbs my husband gave me for my 39th birthday (eeek - that was 20 years ago!), and found a recipe for pesto bread.
From start to finish, this baking project was a joy.  I love baking bread anyway, and combining the pleasure of kneading the yeasty dough with spreading the heady scented pesto, then shaping the loaves knowing there was a hidden surprise inside and smelling them as they baked was a lot of fun - just what summer is supposed to be!  And of course, slicing that first warm piece fresh from the oven - well, if you're a bread baker you know what I mean... Here's the recipe I followed for both pesto and bread.  Enjoy!  And I wish all of you a wonderful summer!
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup parsley leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Puree the basil, parsley, oil, garlic and salt in a blender or processor.  Stir in the cheese.
Pesto Bread (2 loaves)
1 and 1/2 packages active dry yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
1 and 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
6 to 7 cups all-purpose flour
cornmeal for the baking sheet
Dissolve yeast in the warm water in a large bowl and add the salt and sugar.  Stir (I use a whisk).  Set aside for a few minutes until foamy.  Using a wooden spoon, beat in the flour one cup at a time (I found 6 cups to be plenty), until a smooth dough forms.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured board or counter and let it rest for a few minutes.  Knead until the dough is elastic.  Place in a lightly oiled bowl (I just scrape out the large bowl I already used and oil it), cover it with a towel and set in a warm place until doubled (about 1 and 1/2 hours).
Now turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, punch it down (that's one of the fun parts!), and knead it again.  Divide the dough in half.  Pat out 2 rectangles, each about 10 by 12 inches, and spread a thin layer of PESTO over each, leaving about a 1-inch border all around.  Starting with the long side, slowly, roll each rectangle into a cylinder and shape into a loaf.  Let the loaves sit on the board to rise for another 5 minutes.
Sprinkle a baking sheet (I use a large pizza stone, which yields nice hollow loaves) with cornmeal and place the loaves on it.  Brush each loaf with cold water and place in a COLD oven.  Place a pan of boiling water (a cake pan will do) in the bottom of the oven and turn the oven to 400 degrees.  Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the loaves are browned and sound hollow when rapped on the bottom (my oven runs hot and the loaves were done in under 30 minutes, so be sure to check them before 35 minutes is up).  Place the bread on a rack to cool slightly, serve warm for the most intense flavor.  Try to have just one piece!
What do you think of my guest blogger?  I can't wait to try this recipe...I guess I better get to my garden soon and pick some basil!

1 comment:

  1. What a glorious idea...why have I never heard of this? I too find myself "happily overrun with basil" and have every intention to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing Mrs. Johnson! More guest posts please :)