lisa is cooking: sesame rolls

Inviting, home cooking is what we all need right now. The new book by Joey Campanaro from Little Owl in New York, Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food, delivers exactly that. I recently received a review copy. He writes in the introduction: “There is nothing fragile or careful about these recipes. You’re not a kiss on the cheek. They’re a warm hug.” How timely is that? I was fascinated to see that Calvin Trillin had written the foreword. After owning the book for ages, I finally read his The Belly Trilogy earlier this year. Little Owl opened half a block from Trilin’s Greenwich Village home in 2006 and it was a dream come true for him. He praises the meatballs with gravy and how, despite Campanaro’s experience in fine dining, he decided to put this dish, which his grandmother served him in South Philly, on the menu. His mother and grandmother are two sources of inspiration for the Little Owl menu and for the recipes in this book. Chapters include brunch, soups and salads, pasta, meat and poultry, seafood, Sunday lunch and desserts. And it’s not all exclusively Italian-American food. You’ll find cinnamon-sugar fritters, green sesame beans, and citrus and palm heart salads, among other select dishes. Campanaro didn’t want to limit the restaurant to exclusively Italian-American fare, and the company’s name leaves room for a broader offering. The baked ricotta crespelle caught my eye as soon as I opened the book. Can’t wait to make and fill the crepes. Next, I made the quick and easy Monday Baked Ziti, but since I didn’t have sauce on hand for Sunday, I made a simple marinara for the sauce. And the sesame buns looked irresistible. I had to try them next.

Another book I want to mention today is Dangerous Bounty: The Looming Collapse of American Agriculture and How We Can Avoid It by Tom Philpott, whom I had the privilege of meeting here in Austin. I also received a review copy of this book. This is a critical look at American agriculture and how dependent we are on California’s Central Valley and Midwest. The vast majority of our vegetables, fruits, and nuts come from California, where water sources and weather in general face a frighteningly uncertain future. The Midwest today consists of monocultures of corn and soybeans with a myriad of problems related to soil, seed procurement, chemicals, federal policy, and demand for these crops. Much of the crops from Midwestern fields are fed to factory-raised cattle and hogs, and the meat industry brings with it a plethora of problems of its own. The book presents some grim realities, but also ideas for positive changes in agricultural processes in both regions. And a very viable way forward is to rely more heavily on other regions of the country for food supplies whenever possible. Buying local and regional farms and ranches relieves these congested areas of the country. I’m always happy to support our local food system in any way I can. For example, for these breadsticks, I used locally ground flour from Texas wheat farmers.

A few pages before this recipe in the book is a recipe for the Meatball Sliders. For this bread dough, roasted garlic is crushed and mixed in. I loved this idea and added it to the breadsticks recipe. Mixing the dough and letting it rise is a simple process. Then the dough was rolled into a large rectangle and transferred to a baking sheet. The breadsticks were cut out of the rectangle and moved apart. The baking sheet was very full, and I think next time I might split the dough in half and use two sheets to have more room to separate them. Before baking, they were brushed with egg yolk and sprinkled with sesame seeds. And they were as tasty as expected. We couldn’t stop eating them. I look forward to cooking a lot more comforting foods this holiday season. I wish you all happy holidays!

Sesame Breadsticks

The place to go for Sunday bread in South Philly was Sarcone’s Bakery on South Ninth Street – a fifth-generation Italian bakery that’s as great today as it was when I was a kid. Our family’s Sunday dinner table wasn’t complete without the sesame bread that my grandmother would pick up and carry home in a paper bag. When I was with her, the bread never came home intact—it was just too good not to eat off the heel (or more) before we got to the door. My mother would have some things to say about it that I cannot repeat. Slider roll recipe makes great Sarcone’s Bakery inspired breadsticks, just remove the garlic and second rise.

Makes 18 breadsticks

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp molasses

1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast

2 1/4 cups [315 g] all purpose flour

1 tsp kosher salt

1 egg white, beaten

1/4 cup [35 g] toasted sesame

Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Brush the inside of a medium mixing bowl with olive oil and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 1 cup [240 ml] warm water, olive oil, molasses and yeast. Mix on low speed to incorporate. Slowly add the flour and salt, mixing on low speed first so the flour doesn’t fly all over the place, then increase to medium speed and mix until a sticky batter mixture forms, 2 minutes. Transfer the ball of dough to the prepared bowl and double wrap like a tight package (enough to pop a quarter off the top) and set in a warm place or at room temperature until the dough has doubled in size and becomes soft and elastic, about 1 hour.

In the middle of the 1 hour rise, preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C]. Lightly flour a work surface and turn out the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to ¼ inch [6 mm] thick rectangle or oblong shape, about 9 x 13 inches [23 cm by 33 cm] in size. The nice thing about an elongated shape is that the chopsticks at the end are shorter than those in the middle – something for everyone.

Place on the prepared baking sheet and use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into about 18 breadsticks, about the width of your index finger (estimate the width as best you can so they bake evenly). Be sure to separate the chopsticks slightly so they don’t stick together as they expand in the oven. Use a pastry brush or flat rubber spatula to lightly brush the tops of the breadsticks with the egg milk and sprinkle the sesame seeds on top to completely coat them. Bake for 15 minutes until golden and crispy. Before serving, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

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