Greeks and Italians


I’ve been home for almost two weeks now from a work trip to Greece, and I have to admit that while I loved the people (charming!), the beaches (pristine!) and the architecture (quaint!), the one thing that left me uninspired was the food. Of course, this isn’t a fair assessment. I only spent 40 hours in Athens (and had only one real meal, where I chose a salad) before heading off to a small mining town. There were three restaurants in the town, which generally consisted of plastic tables and chairs in the front yards of houses owned by mine employees. It was more reminiscent of something between a dinner party and a picnic where attendees pitched in money for the food. I had a camping stove, a bar fridge and a frying pan in my hotel room, but the two grocery stores were more like convenience stores, with a small selection of battered produce, alcohol and cheese.

The most excited I got about food was when the environmental engineer I’d been working with in Greece told me that he and his cousin own a plot of land where they grow olive trees, and they harvest the olives to make their own olive oil. He asked if I wanted to take some home with me (yes! ohmygosh yes!). Sadly, not having a very large or very travel-safe container, I only got a small sample to take home with me. Even more sadly, I left Greece three days before he was heading back for the weekend to harvest the olive trees – something that sounds to me like a wonderful hippie farming adventure, although it’s probably closer to a long day of sunburns and sore backs. And yet so satisfying.

Anyway, I made it home with this small bottle of oil, and I wasn’t sure what to use it for. I didn’t want to hide it in a recipe where I wouldn’t taste it, but I’ve had enough oil-drenched Greek salad in the past couple weeks to last me until next summer. I decided on fresh baked Italian bread, perfect dipped in aged balsamic vinegar and homemade olive oil.


Italian Bread

Adapted from The Food Network
Makes one reasonable-sized loaf

Ingredients

One cup warm water (I generally aim for a similar temperature to a baby’s bottle)
One tablespoon quick yeast
Half tablespoon brown sugar
Scant three cups bread flour
One tablespoon olive oil
Half tablespoon salt
Extra olive oil
Coarse salt


Directions

Put the water and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let it sit there until it blooms (about five to ten minutes).
Add the sugar and flour, and mix on low using the dough hook attachment until combined. Drizzle in the olive oil and salt, and mix on medium for ten minutes.
Form into a ball, spray with a layer of olive oil, put back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about an hour and a half to two hours.
Punch down the dough, shape into a loaf and score the top. Place on a lined baking sheet, spray with olive oil and sprinkle coarse salt on top. Let rise until doubled again, about another half an hour.
In the meantime, preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. When you’re ready, spray the dough again, and bake for three minutes. Take it out, spray it again, and bake for another three minutes. Wash, rinse, repeat (well, take it out, spray it, and put it back in). This time leave it in for another 35 to 40 minutes until the crust looks golden, or until whacking the bottom of the loaf with a wooden spoon results in a “dull thud.” I’m not sure I achieved a dull thud sound, but I had fun trying anyway. Let cool for a few minutes before serving – if you’re lucky, with balsamic vinegar and homemade olive oil!

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