Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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If yesterday’s post on how to bake authentic country bread at home wasn’t your “cup of tea” due to the many steps in the recipe, below is a recipe for the quick way to get a crusty country loaf of bread in a short amount of time. While you won’t have the crumb or flavor of Pugliese or Pagnotta bread, you will have a great crusty bread to dip in olive oil or use for sandwiches.  

You will need special equipment: a Cloche Clay Baking Pan. The cloche natural clay stoneware baking dish with domed lid will simulate a hearth oven in your kitchen.

The moist dough within the cloche creates the steam needed to produce a delicious bread with a crackly, golden crust and light crumb. It eliminates the need to spritz your bread or pour water in a hot pan to get the nice crust you are after.

Most cloches are sensitive to thermal shock, so you should never put a cold cloche in a hot oven. You should also avoid putting a hot cloche on a cold counter, as it may crack. Cloches should not be spritzed with water, either, as the sudden release of steam can cause the cloche to crack. To wash a bread cloche, wait for it to cool to room temperature and rinse it with water.

CRUSTY COUNTRY LOAF 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (100-110 degrees)
  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Place the warm water in an electric mixing bowl. Add yeast and honey. Mix until yeast is dissolved.

Add the 4 cups of flour and sprinkle the salt on top of the flour

Using the dough hook on number 2 speed, mix the dough until a dough forms that holds together and cleans the sides of the bowl.

Continue kneading  for 7-8 minutes minutes, until dough is soft, but supple. 

Shape dough into a ball. Spray the mixer bowl with olive oil cooking spray and place the ball of dough back into the bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double about 30-40 minutes.

Some bakers skip this step and place the dough directly into the bottom of the cloche pan for one rising.  I think the bread has a better crumb with two risings and the time for each rising is relatively short – 30 minutes or so.  This is a quick rising dough. It is your call, though. 

Do not grease or spray a cloche pan. 

Sprinkle the bottom of the cloche pan with cornmeal and turn the dough out onto the pan bottom.  Gently shape the dough into a round, if it becomes lopsided.

 

Cover with  greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel.  Allow the dough to rise in a warm place until doubled, about 30 minutes or more. See image below for how the dough should look after rising.

Put the lid of the cloche pan in the oven on the bottom rack and preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Remove the other racks since the cloche pan is quite tall. Once the oven temperature reaches 500 degrees F. heat the cloche and oven for 15 minutes more. 

With a sharp knife or blade, make a cross slash in the top of the risen loaf, place the dish in the oven and put the Cloche lid over the dough.   

USE A THICK POT HOLDER BECAUSE THE LID IS VERY HOT!

 

Bake for 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees F and remove the cloche lid. 

Bake 15 minutes minutes, or until bread is crusty and brown. Remove the loaf when done and place on a wire cooling rack.

Look at the sides of the bread. If the edges of the bread have pulled away from the pan, then your bread is done, especially if you have a dry-looking top along with the pulled-away edges. Once you have removed the bread from the oven, remove it from the pan and tap the bottom of the loaf to see if it sounds hollow. If there is no hollow sound or if the bottom of the bread is still soft, place it back in the oven and continue baking for a few minutes longer.

Stick an instant-read thermometer into the bread. If the temperature reads between 190 degrees and 210 degrees, then the bread is done. Instant-read thermometers can be purchased at any major grocery store or wherever kitchen utensils and appliances are sold.

What is Instant Yeast?

Instant yeast is an active strain of yeast that is similar to active dry yeast, but has smaller granules with substantially higher percentages of live cells. Instant yeast generally has a small amount of ascorbic acid added as a preservative.”

What is the difference between Instant Yeast and Active Dry Yeast?

Instant yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients in this bread recipe. It does not need to be dissolved first, making it especially easy to use.  SAF Instant Yeast is a high potency, fast acting yeast that can be added directly to your dry ingredients without it having to be activated in water first. SAF Instant Yeast is more than twice as active as regular compressed yeast.

Active dry yeast requires that it be mixed in a bit of warm water to activate it, then it is added to the remaining ingredients. Unfortunately, using active dry yeast leaves room for error as the water temperature has to be just right in order to work. If the water temperature is too hot, the yeast will die. If the water is too cool, the active dry yeast fails to activate. Both scenarios often result in a bread dough that doesn’t rise very much.

How to store Instant Yeast ?                      

Instant yeast has no special storage needs, and can be kept on the cupboard shelf unopened until the expiration date, or up to 6 months. The yeast will stay fresh longer if stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or freezer, or up to one year.                                                                                                                                

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What is Italian country bread?

Italian country bread is known for its very chewy, coarse texture. The texture of this bread makes it ideal for dipping and sandwich making, because it holds moisture very well without becoming soggy. Italian country bread is also referred to as pan bigio, or “gray bread,” in a reference to the unrefined flour which is traditionally used to make it. Many Italian bakeries offer this bread, and it can also be made at home.
By tradition, pan bigio is made from minimally processed flour. Typically, this means that the flour is whole wheat that gives a very rich, nutty flavor to the finished bread. Some bakers prefer to use a mixture of lightly processed white flour and whole wheat flour so that the bread is not as heavy, creating a bread with a flecked texture and a slightly more open crumb. Cornmeal may be added as well to make the texture even more coarse.
Italian country bread is made with a biga, a traditional Italian starter. Breads made with bigas tend to be chewier and they have more complex, savory flavors as a result of the slow fermentation of the yeasts.

A starter usually consists of a simple mixture of flour, water, and a leavening agent (typically yeast). After mixing, it is allowed to ferment for a period of time, and then is added to bread dough as a substitute for, or in addition to, more yeast. So pre-ferments are critical for best tasting bread.

The primary difference, between making bread with a starter and making bread with the direct yeast method, is that starter breads require much more time to prepare, but the flavor and texture of the bread is almost impossible to achieve with other leavening methods. Bread made with starters (biga) also tend to keep better, compared to bread made without a biga. You will not find this type of great tasting bread in your local supermarket.

The bread recipes below are “Old World”, but I have updated them to make use of modern ingredients, techniques and equipment.

Puglia, Italy
“The Breadbasket Of Italy”

Puglia, or Apulia as it is also known, is in Italy’s boot heel in its south eastern most region off the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Puglia produces one-tenth of the wine drunk in Europe and its olive oil is well regarded. Puglia is also the breadbasket of Italy and home to the wonderful hearth breads, now gaining recognition in the rest of Italy and throughout the world. Today you can find these breads in bakeries and supermarkets throughout Italy.

The region is noted for its population density, mostly concentrated in populous centers, while the countryside is occupied by flourishing cultivation. Agriculture, which was very difficult in the past due to the dryness of the land, is now supported by the Aqueduct, so now, the region is among the largest Italian producers of tomatoes, salad, carrots, olives, eggplant, artichokes, almonds and citrus fruit. Also highly developed is sheep raising in the Tavoliere plain and fishing in the Gulf of Taranto. Tourism in the summer is another great resource, thanks to the beautiful beaches along the coast, and the many tourist villages and campsites.

Pugliese Bread

Oval Shape

Round Shape

The Pugliese bread is characterized by a moist dough which results in large holes in a well structured crumb, and a well-developed, crunchy crust. Heavier than a Ciabatta, and made with a higher gluten flour,  Pugliese bread is typically shaped as a Batard (oval) slashed with a single cut running lengthwise and, sometimes, is shaped as a round loaf with a dimpled top.

Yield : A 6 ½ -by-3-inch-high loaf

Dough Starter (Biga) Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup plus 1/2 tablespoon bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour 
  • 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 liquid cup water, at room temperature (70°F to 90°F)                                                                                                                                                                                                King Arthur Extra Fancy Durum Flour - 3 lb.

Bread Dough Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup durum flour, (durum flour is finely milled and marketed as “extra-fancy” pasta flour or “farina grade). (Semolina flour is a much coarser grind and will not work for this bread.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup water, at room temperature (70°F to 90°F)
  • biga from above

Biga Directions:

Six hours or up to 3 days ahead, make the starter (biga). In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients for the biga and stir the mixture until it is very smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. The biga should still be sticky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. Cover the bowl tightly with oiled plastic wrap and set aside until tripled and filled with bubbles. At room temperature, this will take about 6 hours. Stir it down and use it, or refrigerate it for up to 3 days before baking. For the best flavor development allow the biga to ferment in a cool area (55°F to 65°F) for 12 to 24 hours.

Biga the next day.

Mix the dough:

In the electric mixer bowl, whisk together the bread flour, durum flour, and yeast. Then whisk in the salt (this keeps the salt from coming into direct contact with the yeast, which would kill it). Add the water and the biga.
Using the electric mixer paddle attachment, mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough.

Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium, and beat for 5 minutes to form a smooth, sticky dough. If the dough does not pull away from the bowl after 5 minutes, beat in more flour 1 teaspoon at a time. The dough should still stick to the bottom of the bowl and cling to your fingers. If it is not sticky, spray it with a little water and knead it in.

Let the dough rise.

Sprinkle durum flour generously onto a counter in a 6-inch square. Using a wet or oiled spatula or dough scraper, turn the dough onto the flour, and dust the top of it with more flour. (The flour will be absorbed into the wet dough.) Allow it to rest for 2 minutes.

With floured hands, pull out two opposite sides of the dough to stretch it to double its length, and give it a business letter turn. Dust it again with flour, cover it with plastic wrap, and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.

Stretching and turning the dough.

Repeat the stretching, folding, and flouring a second time, and again allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.
Repeat the stretching, folding, and flouring a third time, then round the edges of the dough.

Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, transfer the dough to a 2-quart bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Cover the container with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75°F to 80°F) until tripled, about 2 hours.

Shape the dough and let it rise.

Dust a counter well with durum flour. With floured hands or a floured dough scraper, gently transfer the dough to the counter. Handling the dough very gently; round it into a ball.

Begin by gently pressing down the dough into a round patty, dimpling the dough with your fingertips to deflate any large bubbles. Draw up the edges to the center. Pinch them together and turn the dough over so that the pinched part is at the bottom. With cupped hands, stretch the dough down on all sides to form a tight skin, and pinch it again at the bottom.
Transfer the round ball of dough to an un-floured part of the counter and, with your hands on either side of the dough, push it back and forth while rotating it clockwise. You will feel the dough tighten and take on a rounder shape, with taut skin.

Set dough in a towel lined basket.

Dough ready for the oven.

Gently set the dough seam side up in a colander lined with a floured towel for a round shape or a long bread basket with a floured towel for the oval shape. Pinch together the seam, if necessary. Sprinkle the top lightly with flour, and cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap.

Allow the dough to rise until it has increased by about 1 ½ times, about 1 ½ hours. 

Inside crumb of baked bread.

Bake the bread.

Preheat the oven to 500°F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place an oven stone on it and a broiler pan on the floor of the oven, before preheating.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the plastic wrap covering the colander or basket, invert the lined baking sheet on top of the colander, and invert the dough onto the sheet.
Quickly but gently set the sheet on the baking stone. Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes onto the pan beneath and immediately shut the door. Bake for 5 minutes. Lower the temperature to 450°F and continue baking for 15 to 25 minutes or until the bread is deep golden brown (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read about 205°F).

Halfway through baking, with a heavy pancake turner, lift the bread from the pan, remove the pan with the parchment on it and set it directly on the stone, turning it around for even baking. Remove the bread when done from the oven and transfer it to a wire rack to cool completely.

               Rustic Whole Grain Italian-Style Pagnotta

Pagnotta is typically found throughout central Italy, a rustic peasant loaf with a hard, deep brown crust and a soft center. In northern Italy, this bread is made into small round rolls. These make ideal soup bowls. This bread can also be used to hold dips and spreads. The dough is oten used to make pizza crusts or focaccia. This is a three day process but the steps on the first two days are minimal.  

Starter Dough (BigaIngredients:

  • 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • generous 1/4 cup room temperature water plus an extra 2 teaspoons
  • 1 1/4 cup bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

Starter Dough Directions:

On the night before you are going to make bread, in a small bowl, mix the yeast in the warm water and leave covered on the kitchen counter.

The next morning stir together the yeasted water, room temperature water and bread flour in the electric mixer bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon; be sure all the flour is incorporated.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let the Starter Dough rise in a cool room for 6 to 8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Bread Dough Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • all of Starter Dough
  • 2 1/2 cups room temperature water
  • scant 2 cups whole wheat (white whole wheat or regular whole wheat) flour
  • 3 3/4 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Bread Dough Directions:

If the Starter Dough has been refrigerated, allow it to sit at room temperature for about an hour before starting.

In a small bowl, mix the yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water and wait until it bubbles (about 10 minutes).

Add the yeast mixture and the room temperature water to the Starter Doughl and mix well  with the mixer paddle attachment. Add all the whole wheat flour and all but 1/2 cup of the bread flour to the mixer bowl.

Beat vigorously until there are no dry bits of flour left and you have created a rough dough. Cover with plastic and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

Switch to the dough hook and sprinkle the salt over the dough which will be rather slack. (It should look a bit like porridge.)

Knead the dough with the dough hook adding in the remaining flour a little at a time. The dough should be quite moist. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the bowl.

Place dough in a clean dry lightly floured mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise on the counter for 20 minutes. Lightly sprinkle a board with flour and gently turn the dough out, trying not to disturb any bubbles. 

Fold the left side into the center, then the top, then the right side, then the bottom. Turn the dough over and fold in half once more. Place it back in the bowl smooth side up. Cover with plastic. Let it ferment at room temperature for 20 minutes again. 

Repeat this step twice. (This step is done at 20 minutes, 40 minutes, 60 minutes after the first kneading.) After the final step, let the dough rise undisturbed on the counter until doubled – about 1 to 2 hours depending on the room temperature.

When dough has doubled, gently turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Flatten it gently (try not to disturb the bubbles); fold the outer edges to the middle. 

Repeat the folding 4 or 5 times until you have formed a tight round loaf. Place on a parchment covered baking sheet – or peel if you have one. Sprinkle flour liberally over the loaf. Cover with plastic and allow to rise for about 1 hour until almost doubled. 

To test, flour your finger and press gently on the edge – it should very slowly spring back. 

Half an hour before you will be baking the bread, place a baking stone on the second shelf from the bottom of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Put water into a broiling pan and place it on the bottom rack of the oven.

If you don’t have a baking stone, it’s still a good idea to preheat the oven for a substantial amount of time.  Just before baking, spray the top of the loaf with water.

Slide the bread onto the baking stone using the parchment paper to get the bread in place on the stone. You can also leave the bread on the baking sheet and place the baking sheet on the stone, but the bread will not be as crisp as baking directly on the stone.

Immediately turn the oven down to 450 degrees F; bake the loaf for 45-50 minutes until hollow sounding on the bottom. Turn off the oven and leave with the door ajar for 10 minutes.  Remove to cool on cooling rack.


Although no one really knows when the first bread was baked, bread has been around for thousands of years, as evidenced by the stone tools and ovens found in archaeological sites of men long ago. In ancient Rome, for instance, bakers were highly regarded. Baking was not only important, but also a ritual. Ovens were even built in temples. Romans were the first bakers to produce the flour to bake what is known today as “white bread”.  Romans were also responsible for tweaking the wheat’s milling techniques. Around 100 BC, it is believed that Rome contained more than 200 commercial shops that baked and sold bread. They also established a school of baking around 100 AD.

The roots of bread in Italy go far back in time. The average Italian will consume half a pound of bread a day. All Italian bread is not the same, however. This is a common misconception – that Italian bread is only one type of bread. If you travel to various cities in Italy, you’ll discover that each area has its own distinct recipe for making bread.  The vast popularity of brick ovens throughout the years has contributed a great deal to the abundance of bread in Italy. Round ovens built from brick or local stone have been around in Italy for a very long time. Unlike other nations, where individuals rarely owned full rights to use an oven, ovens in Italy were typically owned by families and were smaller in size.

Italians have high standards for their bread. They are known to allow the yeast to fully rise over the course of several hours, leaving a thin crust. Italians value the size of their loaves of bread and prefer their bread to have a soft and moist interior, which is ideal for absorbing olive oil, vinegar, tomatoes, and other select toppings.

When I think of Italian bread, ciabatta comes to mind immediately, with its hard crust and soft interior filled with holes. It is not difficult to make, but you need to follow all the steps in the process to achieve that well know result. It is a two day baking process (but not all day) to the completion of the bread. Ciabatta, or “slipper bread” can be found throughout Italy. One way to create the best texture is to use a biga, or starter, made the day before, a long rising time, and maintaining a loose, moist dough through the mixing and shaping process. This is the secret to good, crusty bread filled with holes.
According to Peter Reinhart, (a baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University and author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice),  “This bread hails from an age-old tradition of rustic, slack dough breads, however, the name ciabatta was not applied to the loaf until the mid-twentieth century by an enterprising baker in the Lake Como region of northern Italy. He observed that the bread resembled a slipper worn by dancers of the region and thus dubbed his loaf ciabatta di Como (slipper bread of the Como).”

Ciabatta

For Sponge (Biga)

  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons water (105-115 F)
  • 1/3 cup room-temp water
  • 1 cup King Arthur bread flour

For Bread

  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk (105-115 F)
  • 2/3 cup room-temp water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups King Arthur bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Make sponge: Stir together, 2 tablespoons warm water and yeast.

Let stand 5 minutes, until creamy.

Add room temperature water and flour. Stir for 4 minutes.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 1 day.

Make bread:

Stir together yeast and milk in small bowl and let stand 5 minutes, until creamy.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer, with dough hook, blend together milk mixture, sponge, water, oil and flour at low speed until flour is moistened.

Because this dough is so soft, it’s virtually impossible to knead it by hand, so you will need an electric mixer to knead the dough.

Beat on medium for 3 minutes. Add salt and beat for 4 more minutes.

The dough will be VERY sticky and full of bubbles. Scrape dough into oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, until doubled- about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Lightly grease a half-sheet baking pan (18″ x 13″) or similar large baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal to prevent sticking.
Grease your hands, as well.

Very gently turn the dough out of the bowl onto your work surface; you don’t want to deflate it. It’ll lose a bit of volume, but don’t actively punch it down. Use a well-floured surface and a bowl scraper, bench knife, or your fingers to divide the dough in half. You should have two fat logs, each about 10″ long x 4″ wide.

Handling the dough gently, transfer each piece to the baking sheet, laying them down crosswise on the sheet. Position them about 2 1/2″ from the edge of the pan, leaving about 4″ between each log.

Dip your fingers in flour and dimple loaves and dust tops with flour.

Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap and let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until almost doubled.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

You’ll see that the dimples have filled in somewhat, but haven’t entirely disappeared. Spritz the risen loaves with lukewarm water and put the pan in the oven on a center rack. Before you close the oven door, spray water on the hot oven floor to make a nice crust on the bread. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For extra-crispy loaves: 

  • When they’re done baking, turn off the oven. Remove the loaves from the baking sheet, and place them on the oven rack, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder. Allow the loaves to cool completely in the oven. Remove to cooling racks.


I have read that Italian breakfasts are very light, usually consisting of coffee (espresso) or cappuccino and some kind of pastry or bread.  Biscotti are also favorites for an Italian breakfast. Biscotti are a, not too sweet cookie, that is baked, cut, then baked again to form slices of hard biscuits that are often dunked in coffee . Egg dishes, such as frittatas, are usually eaten at lunch or dinner, never for breakfast.

I can remember going to my grandparents’  home around breakfast time and my grandfather would be having a cup of coffee and eating the heel end from a loaf of Italian bread.  This was pretty much his usual breakfast.  I am not sure when Italian-Americans began eating specialty pastries from a bakery, but I can remember Italian bakeries were numerous where I grew up in New Jersey.  I think  the tradition of going to the Italian bakery came about when folks who had just come from church services wanted a special breakfast on Sunday.  I can remember long lines at the bakery counter, didn’t like standing there, but liked those pastries. My grandfather even got into the habit and would bring us pastries when he visited us on Sundays.  He continued the tradition when my children were little and brought us pastries up until the time that he died.  Some of those delicious pastries (just wanted to make you drool) are pictured below. Of course you know they are not a healthy choice.

Sfogliatelle feature luscious mandarin flavored ricotta filling encased in a crispy shell shaped pastry.

Pasticiotti are tender pastry cups filled with either ricotta cheese, vanilla cream or chocolate cream

Frittatas

I recall that most of my breakfasts growing up were the usual cereal and scrambled eggs. Very American.  My mother, however, often made traditional Italian style egg dishes, such as potatoes and eggs, or peppers and eggs or spinach frittata and I will share those recipes with you.  My children weren’t so fond of fritattas when they were growing up, but they like them now as adults, so I like to make frittatas for breakfast when they visit.

A frittata is a healthy and economical dish that you can eat for any meal of the day. It is a dish similar to a French quiche,  an American omelette,  or a Spanish tortilla.  Frittatas generally consist of eggs,  vegetables, cheese, and herbs.

In my house, the contents of a frittata usually consist of whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator that day. Italians are frugal and know how to use leftovers creatively.

You will want to pick items that have a natural affinity for each other. Think of things that you might find on a plate together anyway, or on a pizza and cheese is a key ingredient in any frittata. Making this dish is very simple as long as you have an ovenproof skillet.  Sauté whatever veggies you are putting into the dish and heat through any cooked meat leftovers.

Here are some ideas:

  • 1 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauteed until soft, 2 diced plum tomatoes and 4 ounces of diced or shredded Fontina.
  • A bag of cleaned spinach cooked in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/4 pound sliced Prosciutto, some grated Parmesan cheese and some shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • I prefer to use reduced- fat shredded cheeses from Kraft or Sargento and substitute half of the eggs with egg substitute to save on calories.

General techniques include

  1. Turn on the broiler.  Place a non-stick skillet with an oven safe handle on the stove over medium heat.
  2. Heat the pan and add 1 tablespoons olive oil.  When the oil is hot add the frittata vegetables, stirring until warm, and then pour the eggs beaten with the egg substitute over the vegetables.
  3. Slowly cook the frittata until the edges start to firm up. When the frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way through, scatter the top with shredded cheese and move it to the heated broiler.
  4. Set the frittata about 6-inches below the broiler.
  5. When it is just golden brown and puffed up, remove the skillet to your stove top.
  6.  BE SURE TO PROTECT THE HOT HANDLE WITH A HOT PAD SO YOU DO NOT BURN YOUR HANDS!

Spinach Frittata

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

5 eggs and 1 1/4 cups egg substitute

8 ounces chopped raw spinach (or 1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oil  in a 10 or 12 inch skillet with a heat-resistant handle over medium heat.   Saute onion in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese. Whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions and spinach. Return to low heat and cook 8-10 minutes.  Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden brown and cut into wedges.

Some Traditional Italian Style Egg Dishes

Peppers and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute (such as, Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking Directions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden.
Add the peppers, cook 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
Cover skillet and cook 5 more minutes until they are tender.

Mix the eggs, oregano, salt and pepper together and por over the peppers in the skillet.
Stir fry the eggs and peppers to allow the uncooked portions to reach the bottom of the skillet.
Remove from heat when the eggs are done to your liking.

Potatoes and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Cooking Directions

Heat the oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the potatoes until tender and golden brown. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and onions. Stir fry the mixture turning the ingredients with a spatula over and under until the eggs look cooked to your liking.

Completing the Breakfast Menu

The best accompaniments to the egg dishes featured here are bread and fruit, such as, melon or berries. Certainly a loaf of  Italian bread would be good, but I like to serve Focaccia.

Focaccia  is a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion, cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough but is usually baked in a deep dish pan. The bread bakes up thicker than pizza and can be used for sandwiches.

In Ancient Rome, foccacia, was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house.  As the tradition spread, the diverse regions and the different local ingredients resulted in a large variety of breads.  The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine, a coastal region of north-western Italy.  In America, it is referred to as focaccia bread.

Here is a recipe I have adapted from King Arthur.

This bread is just about the easiest home-baked bread recipe that I have found because it can be made without kneading and is ready in under 2 hours.

No-Fuss Focaccia

1 1/2 cups warm water

3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling)

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast

Italian seasoning or other herbs of choice

Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Drizzle the bottom of a 9″x 13″ pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil.

Combine all of the ingredients and beat at high-speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds.

Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan.  If you spray a spatula (or your fingers) with cooking spray, the dough will be easier to smooth out.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger.  Drizzle it lightly 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated parmesan cheese.

Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Focaccia



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