’ve always thought that good recipes do more for improving the quality of life than most other human inventions.
For me, a good recipe is one that’s intuitive to follow, brings together ingredients to solve a problem, and results in a dish that has a distinctive and memorable flavor. I am constantly testing out new recipes but I rarely find any I want to repeat. It’s worth the wait when I do because I know I’ll be returning to it for years to come.
I don’t even try following recipes I don’t understand. Fashionable chefs tend to publish aesthetic concoctions with a list of ingredients that stand out mostly because putting them all together is complicated. Seriously though, who makes a dessert with raspberries cooked in 11 different ways? (The answer is Hans Beck at his new Dubai restaurant, “The Social.”) Fancy chefs have a team of slaves ready to polish each berry. All I have is Google the Dog to polish the leftovers.
Then there’s troubleshooting. If you suffer from food intolerance — I can’t eat wheat — you know every kitchen day will be an alpine slalom. You have to weigh your own digestive problems against family needs and preferences.
I’ve been losing that race for years, mostly opting to make comforting and familiar family meals, whether a melt-in-your-mouth pizza or a saucy pasta. Me? I ended up chewing on rice crackers because the gluten-free dishes I came up with were inedible. Worse still, the intolerance forced me to abandon foods that were part of my Italian memories and traditions.
But there’s always light at the end of a culinary tunnel. Over time, the hellish gluten free ingredients began to grow familiar. I began controlling the ingredients instead of having them constantly defeat me. The result was food to which I could look forward.
This cheese bread recipe is a gluten-free version of traditional Easter Umbrian torta al formaggio, which I adored throughout my pre-intolerance life. This recipe is so good it defeats my modesty. I can easily serve it to gluten eaters and most wouldn’t know the difference. That, to me, is the definition of cooking delight.
Gluten-free Umbrian cheese bread
- 500 g (1 lb.) gluten free flour mix for bread. (Preferably, use a gluten free flour mix without xanthan or guar gum. Italian GF bread flour uses CMC or other cellulose as binding ingredient.)
- 2 tablespoon pysllium husks.
- 200 g (7 oz) grated cheese (1/2 Parmesan, 1/2 aged pecorino).
- 100 g (3.5) oz diced young Pecorino.
- 6 eggs.
- 60 g (2 oz) butter or lard.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil.
- 400 ml milk (1 1/4 cup).
- 4 g (1 teaspoon) dry active yeast.
— Make the bread dough with the GF flour: a quarter teaspoon of yeast, the pysllium husks and the milk. Cover it first in cellophane, then with a thick towel, and keep it in a draft-free place overnight or until doubled in size.
— The next day, crack open the eggs in a bowl, add olive oil, grated cheese, softened butter and 3/4 teaspoon yeast. Stir and add the mixture to the bread dough kneading only until incorporated. Cover and proof 3 hours or until doubled in size.
— Transfer into 2 well-buttered 1.2 lt. (5 cups) loaf pans, taking care not to fill them more than half way. Place the diced cheese on top and push it lightly into the dough with oiled hands. Cover and place in a draft-free environment until the dough fills the pan.
— Preheat oven at 200C (390F). Bring to a small pan half-full of water to a boil and use it to steam the oven. Bake the loaves for 20 minutes and then remove the pan with water. Bake for further 40 minutes or until golden and dry inside.
— When cooked, remove from the oven, let it cool a little and retreat from the mold. Slice only when completely at room temperature. Slice and freeze what you don’t eat in 2-3 days.
Serve with capocollo or salami and no raspberries.
— Perugia-born Letizia Mattiacci recently published an English-language cookbook “A Kitchen With a View,” Francesco Tozzuolo Editore.