Monday, April 24, 2006

Pancotto (Cooked Bread)

Rummaging through the freezer this morning, I came across a loaf of La Brea Bakery Roasted Garlic Bread which we found on the day-old rack at Stater Brothers the other day. I'd been wanting to try Mario Batali's recipe for pancotto, and this seemed like the right time. All that was needed from the store was a pound of fennel and mint. Well, no surprise, Albertson's had no mint, so I went ahead without it, and the end result was very fine.

Here's an excerpt from about pancotto.

The name means simply cooked bread, and like so many similar soups all over Italy the key ingredient is slightly stale bread. In Italian, the bread, once it's no longer fresh, is called pane raffermo, meaning bread that has firmed up - a nicer terminology than our "stale bread" with its negative connotation of bread that is no longer any good.
Ideally, pancotto should be flavored with lots of wild herbs and greens like borage, wild fennel, wild chicory, and rocket or arugula, but if you can't find these herbs, use a handful of fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, sage, arugula, and/or parsley, combined and chopped.
The vegetables can be varied with the season - add a handful of fresh fava beans in springtime, a few cauliflower florets in the fall, or bright cubes of butternut squash in winter.

The recipe is begun by sweating/sauteeing diced fennel, sliced garlic, raisins and two dried chili peppers, left whole. This took ten minutes or so on medium heat, watching carefully that the garlic didn't burn.

Next came the addition of chopped parsley, canned tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts; this was left to simmer for 25 minutes.

Six cups of the final leftover saffron chicken broth was added. At this point, I just took it off the burner and held it until dinner time. When we were ready to eat, I returned the pot to the burner and brought it to a boil and added two handfuls of the cubed roasted garlic bread. The bread thickened the soup and was ready to serve up. The only thing needed was a drizzle of olive oil.

As if that wasn't enough bread, we toasted some thick slices of the bread and topped it lots of great things: goat cheese and homemade pickled beets and onions; goat cheese and leftover roasted bell peppers; butter and thinly sliced tomatoes.

To go with all of this we had a nice cabernet-merlot from Eola Hills Oregon vineyards, best served slightly cooler than room themperature. Go here for Wine Spectator Online. It's a great site with lots of cool stuff about wine.

Review of the recipe: This was a keeper because it was extremely easy to prepare, it was economical, it's make-ahead, and there's a huge flavor payoff. Lots of flavors going on at the same time: the sweet fennel, the tomatoes, the sweet from the raisins and the bread. This also had a nice heat kick from the peppers. Definitely will make this again.

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