Flour, Water, and Fire with a Splash of Wine

Pizza SquareAn Italian, anywhere in the world, you’ll recognize immediately, because he can’t sit down to eat without the presence of bread.

Bread accompanies every type of food in Italian cuisine.  I’ve seen people eat bread with spaghetti or even with slice of apple.  How many different kinds of bread are produced in Italy?  It is impossible to count them.  Some people say that every municipality (8092), has its own distinct typical variant.  Surely, each Italian region (20), has its own delicious recipes and typicality. Homemade bread, rustic bread, wholemeal bread, bread with milk, multigrain bread, bread with potatoes, bread with olive oil, ordinary bread, special bread, and many more.

Sifting Flour6,000 years ago, the Egyptians cultivated wheat for the production of bread, which was produced without leavening; so-called “Azzimo bread”.  Legend has it that about 3.000 years ago, an Egyptian slave accidentally dropped beer on a mixture of water and flour.   The bread made from that mixture was softer and tastier.

The Greeks were excellent bakers.  They added honey, milk, and olive oil to the mixture of water and flour.  In addition, they used to flavor bread with pepper and other spices.  The Romans claimed that bread was a staple food in their diet.  For its production they used spelt flour, millet, and barley.  From the Greeks, they acquired the method of using wheat and the rite of fermenting the dough.  The best bakers in Rome were Greek slaves.

Where does the wine come into this picture, besides the obvious pairing combinaiton?  The yeasts used were made of a mixture of wine and millet.

The charm of bread and its creation has always fascinated me.  Thus, during the Christmas holiday, I have baked bread and pizza.  The ingredients for the dough, are elementary: Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt.

Rolling DoughWhenever I think of homemade bread, my thoughts turn to my “Nonna Maria” (Grandmother Mary), who worked the dough “by eye”, never by measuring ingredients.  She felt the dough between her fingers, and knew perfectly well if she had to add more water to the dough or flour, depending on whether the mass was too dry or too runny.  Once, when I was young and spent a month at my grandmother’s country house during my summer holidays, I weighed all the ingredients of my Nonna Maria’s secret recipe.   I transcribed the measurements of the ingredients for this fragrant product into my copybook, which I still cherish and guard to this day.  To produce an excellent result, in addition to the basic ingredients measured in the right doses you have to add: warmthlove, and a lot of arm strength to make the dough soft and spongy.

To make my bread and my pizza, I meticulously followed all the steps of my Nonna Maria’s recipe.

Leavening 4 times in 18 hours:
FireI start to work at 15:00 in the afternoon and I finish at 10:30 in the morning of the next day.  Whenever I decide to bake bread, my whole body becomes electric.  The excitement I have, I pass on to all those who come near me.  I’m always afraid of forgetting something, to miss a step or to forget putting in Nonna Maria’s secret ingredient.  The “mother yeast”, the wheat flour type 00, the right amount of salt, the right amount of water.  During the 18 hours, I work the dough vigorously at multiple intervals, to encourage rising.  I put the dough in a container in a warm place to allow the yeast to ferment.  Meanwhile I prepare the oven.  I light the fire to dry the air of the refractory bricks and to prepare the oven for baking bread the next day.  With the heat of the oven, the wood burning inside and walls of the oven becoming white hot, my excitement grows and I can hardly fall asleep.

At 6:00 in the morning:
After the oven is turned on again, I proceed to the third stage of processing.  I add to the mix 5 pounds of flour, the right amount of water, salt, and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Oops!! I was forgetting to add the secret ingredient of Nonna Maria!  I work the dough for about 15 to 20 minutes, and then leave to rise for the third time, for another 2 hours, taking care to keep the temperature of the dough warm.  Meanwhile, I prepare all the ingredients for making the pizza and organize the oven, moving all the fire to one side.  After the 2 hours, I re-work the dough again.

I then form the dough into bread and pizza crust.  I let them sit in the “Madia”; it is the name of the wooden container where I knead the ingredients, and then proceed to the fourth rising.  Another 75 minutes of waiting!

Pizza in OvenIt is now the right time to proceed with the preparation of the pizzas.  Marinara, margherita, potatoes and mozzarella, tuna and tomato.  Such goodness!  Then wipe the oven. I remove the embers and remaining wood.  Once I get the oven temperature to around 220 degrees Celsius, I bake the bread, taking care to open the oven door after a few minutes, not to burn the upper part of the crust.

Still another 45 to 50 minutes before the bread is baked.  I observe the loaves of bread and watch their color grow while they bake.  Finally, they are ready.  How wonderful!

Cooked BreadI remove the bread from the oven and let it dry for 3 hours in the “Madia”, taking care to turn it from time to time.  The fragrance of my bread and pizza spread for hundreds of meters around my house.  It’s no wonder that my neighbors ring at my door.  Now is the time to enjoy my creation with some good wine and great friends.

One of them has two bottles of Red Gragnano wine in his hands.  Really good wine with pizza.  Ruby colored wine, sparkling and frothy.  A young wine with intense aromas of red fruit.   In the finale it leaves a scent of violet.  It is a DOC wine of the “Penisola of Sorrento”, unknown to many people, made with local grapes of Palombina, Jaculillo, Aglianico, Olivella, the Gelse, Tintore, Castagnara and Mangiaguerra.  Wine praised in antiquity by Plinio, Galeno, Columella and Stradone.  Excellent with the taste of my freshly baked pizza and bread still warm.

I’ll tell you the secret of my Nonna Maria next time, how good the pizza and the bread was, how perfect the combination was with the red wine of Gragnano, and how delicious it was to enjoy with the music of my guitar!

Buon appetito