our dinner at Ancora. In yesterday’s blog, I said that our evening was not yet over. Today, we will tell you why. But first,....
Let me introduce you to Chuck’s mother, Caroline. Like my mother, she was an old-fashioned Midwest cook. Meat was cooked well done. Vegetables were boiled long enough to insure that any taste and nutrition was in the cooking water. But, boy, could Caroline bake. She could bake anything, but her specialty was sweet rolls. So well-known was she for her rolls that the crowds would gather at the church’s bake sales well in advance knowing that Caroline would be bringing her sweet rolls. And every time she came to visit us, Chuck would procure all of the necessary ingredients, so that he and Caroline could spend time in the kitchen.
Did we feel guilty about putting her to work? No. She loved it. After three days of non-stop baking, Chuck and Caroline came in one morning to visit me at work. She looked at the clock and exclaimed: “It’s only 10:30 a.m. We still have time to go home and make more rolls!” To which Chuck replied: “Mom, I’m tired. I need a day off.” But they baked. And when she left, we had a freezer full of rolls that we enjoyed for weeks thereafter.
So I believe that Chuck, who very much wants to bake bread, is channeling Caroline’s spirit. In a conversation with Jeff about how much we enjoyed his bread, Chuck mentioned that one thing he wanted to do in retirement was to learn how to bake bread. So when Jeff Talbot, co-owner and head chef at Ancora, offered to one evening show Chuck how he--Jeff--makes his bread, Chuck jumped at the chance.
This was that “one evening,” so back to the kitchen we went.
Now I am going to tell you up front that I am not a baker. Baking entails precision and adherence to rules. I view a recipe as a “gentle suggestion” and one that can be ignored at will. So, I’m now turning over the writing to my favorite traveling companion.
What an opportunity--and one for which I felt very unprepared. My hope was to follow directions successfully and ask intelligent questions.
Jeff began by chilling the water with ice cubes.
Crucial to baking is weighing. Jeff weighs the water,
he weighs the flour,
he weighs the starter (left and below) that he has "fed" and maintained for about six years.
He weighs so often that his scales need regular and frequent replacement. I think he would actually like to do more baking, but the process is very time-consuming given that he is running an excellent restaurant and, I think, would find it hard to devote time to this endeavor without adversely affecting the restaurant.
After a brief rest, a portion of the starter was combined with some of the water. Jeff demonstra-ted the next step in which small pieces of the starter were separated from the mass and gently rubbed with the water in order to mix them.
I then had the opportunity to complete the step. This was a relatively slow, delicate process. It would not be rushed by using a beater.
With most of the starter dissolved in the bowl of water, the other ingredients were combined. The mixing was done by hand, but the mixing was not "completed" in the usual meaning of the term.
The completion of this step was a "raggy-looking" mass. Then came a period of rest.
I was expecting to be kneading the dough, so I was prepared to learn how to tell by touch when the kneading was complete. But no kneading.
After the rest, the ball had lost much of its raggy look. Jeff used a scraper to move the ball into the center of the bowl with a minimum amount of scraping. Then more rest.
Then followed an overnight in the refrigerator. The next morning another scraping, another rest, and then baking.
Kate that is. Jeff suggested that we stop by the following day to sample the bread that Chuck had helped to make. So we made a point to arrive during the lunch hour – this time for pizza and salad.
The lunch salad was arugula with a light olive oil dressing and topped with very thin shaved raw fennel and a shaving of asiago. Again, Chuck is no fan of licorice or anise so he was very happy that the fennel had been applied with a light hand.
For his pizza, Chuck stayed with the basic Margherita with a “sauce” of crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. As always, it was delicious.
I ventured forth in a new direction and chose the Puttensca Pizza. If you have eaten pasta with puttensca sauce, think of the sauce on a pizza and not on pasta. It contained all of the elements of a classic puttensca – tomato, garlic, anchovies, capers, and black olives. “Puttanesca translates as ‘in the style of the whore.’ The name derives from the Italian word puttana which means whore…. Now I’ll bet your wondering how this tasty dish became associated with such sordid content… (T)here are multiple explanations. The first interpretation is that the intense aroma…would lure men from the street into the local house of ill repute. Thus, the Napolese harlots were characterized as the sirens of the culinary world.
Three additional accounts all hinge on the fact that Puttanesca sauce is easy and quick to make. The first is that the prostitutes made it for themselves to keep the interruption of their business to a minimum. The second is that they made it for the men awaiting their turn at the brothel. And the final version is that it was a favorite of married women who wished to limit their time in the kitchen so that they may visit their paramour” (foodreference.com).
Then it was time for bread--in this case grilled bread topped with thin sliced speck which is described as “a delightful and nuanced merging of Northern European and Mediterranean traditions. Speck is much lighter in flavor than the heavily smoked hams found north of the Alps, but more robust than the delicate, Mediterranean-influenced prosciutto made in San Daniele, Parma, and points south” (seriouseats.com).
Before our New Orleans visit ends, Ancora will be offering a lunch menu of sandwiches on this terrific bread. We can’t wait.