Nothing to do on a slow afternoon? I recommend making a sandwich from scratch, a simple thing of bread and cheese with a little splash of color. It only takes a few hours and it makes you feel good inside, really deep down.
Gather your ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, dry yeast, milk, spinach, basil, olive oil. If you have them handy, walnuts, tomatoes, and charcuterie wouldn’t hurt either.
Step 1: Start the dough [20 minutes]
First, for the bread, sift together the flour, sugar, salt and yeast. Then add warm water and olive oil, stirring thoroughly for several and adding flour as needed to make a smooth dough. Knead for a few minutes and form into a ball. Place the dough in a greased bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, somewhere warm. I perched my bowl on the radiator by the window so I could watch the dough rise and watch the snow fall outside my apartment. Let the dough rise for one and a half or two hours.
Use this time to clean up any used bowls and utensils, then start on the fresh cheese. If you have milk and a lemon, you can make lightly sweetened ricotta. If you have a little more time to plan, a little citric acid and even less rennet will allow you to make mozzarella so fresh and creamy it’s stupid.
Step 2: While the dough rises, make the cheese [1 hour]
For the mozzarella, pour a gallon of milk into a stainless steel pot. (The closer your milk is to the cow’s udder in terms of flavor, treatment, and processing, the better – go for non-homogenized, low-temperature pasteurized local diary.) Add a little citric acid, then bring to 88degF while stirring over medium heat. Add a tiny amount of rennet, reduce the heat to low, and bring the liquid to 105degF while the curds separate from the whey. This should take about 15 minutes total. Remove the pan from heat and let sit for 10 minutes before scooping out the ball of curds. Let the curds drain for 10 minutes in a strainer until no longer dripping with whey. While the curds drain, salt the whey and transfer roughly one-third of the liquid to a bowl or container you will use to store your cheese.
Now the fun part – stretching and folding. Divide the curds into three pieces. Working one-third at a time, microwave the curds for 30 seconds until hot and sticky (wear latex gloves!) Let the curds stretch under their own weight, then fold it back together, repeating 2-6 times. Then shape into a small ball the size of your first and place in the bowl of reserved whey. Repeat with the remaining two-thirds. Allow the mozzarella to rest for 30 minutes, or however long it takes to finish baking the bread. Do not refrigerate.
This process takes a little bit less than an hour, so you should have some time before your dough is ready. I like to use this time to clean the kitchen, dry and put away anything I’ve already washed, then wash bowls and utensils used for cheese prep.
Step 3: Back to the bread – make loaves [15 minutes]
Gently punch down the dough to deflate, then divide in two. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a rectangle, then roll up the rectangle to form a loaf. Taper and pinch together the ends. Cut slashes into the top of the loaf. Repeat with the second half, placing loaves on a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal. Brush loaves with a little cold water, then allow to rest uncovered for another hour. While you’re thinking about bread, preheat the oven to 375.
Step 4: While the dough rises (again), make the pesto [10 minutes]
Combine in a food processor: torn baby spinach leaves, torn basil, a few chopped cloves of garlic, some walnuts if you’re into that kind of thing, a sprinkle of kosher salt, a generous splash of olive oil. Pulse until smooth. Adjust ratio of ingredients to taste, then scoop into a cute mason jar for serving and storing.
You’ll have time after the pesto is done and before the dough is ready for another round of washing and drying. This way, when all your ingredients come together, you won’t be distracted by a mess in the kitchen.
Step 5: Bake the bread [25 minutes]
Combine 1 egg white and a little water to make an egg wash and brush this over the loaves (which should have roughly doubled in size by now). Bake for 25 minutes or until the outside is brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when you knock on it. While the bread is baking, slice the mozzarella, tomatoes, and prosciutto if you have it.
Step 6: Mangiamo!
Let the bread cool slightly before enjoying with your mozzarella and pesto. Try to finish the mozzarella within a few hours. The mozzarella gods frown upon refrigeration, but look kindly on sharing.
Step 7: Clean – no, wait, you already did that! [Muwahaha]
For me, the best part of working in the kitchen, or in the office, or in the gym, is finding my own flow. I like cleaning while I cook so I don’t have to worry about it later, but I hope you will do what works best for you. As long as we can spend a little less time chowing down on pre-packaged meals and a little more time enjoying food prepared at home with care and attention, it’s all good –xoxo, A
Full recipes can be found here:
French Bread (I subbed olive oil for the vegetable oil)
Pesto (Pesto is so easy that I just wing it, and I’m really not a “winging it” kind of girl)