Sicilian Savory Swiss Chard Tart

Swiss chard torta

Hello darlings! We are in Italy, which you probably - if you follow me on Instagram - already know. The boys and I arrived a week ago. It has been filthy hot and we have been doing the usual things: going to the beach, attempting to play badminton in the shade without collapsing from heat stroke, buying our weight in tomatoes and peaches from the market. Yesterday afternoon, while we were visiting a friend's baby rabbits and talking about the fox that stole her rooster a few weeks ago, a cold front finally came in. Last night we were able to sleep under coverlets again and not wake up with damply sweating skin. The air is clear and crisp today and I feel like gulping it in like a puppy dog.

This year, the boys are in day camp for the first time. They ride horses and play Italian games and eat two-course lunches every other day (there are sandwiches and French fries on the alternating days). Max arrives tomorrow and then it will really feel like we are on vacation. After having skipped the annual tradition of coming here last year, I am especially alert to all of the beauty and wonder of this place. Am I really here, I keep thinking. Is this really real?

When we are here, I share cooking responsibilities with my mother. This is lovely. She'll make things like lentil and calamari stew, or baked guinea fowl with peppers and potatoes. I end up relying heavily on the Sicilian cookbook that she mail-ordered from a newspaper once. It may seem improbable, but it is an impeccable source of recipes and I have rarely made a misstep cooking from it.

This torta di bietole (or Swiss chard tart) is something I make every summer. I buy a disc of tart dough at the grocery store (this particular one is gluten-free and perfect - Italians suffer in great numbers from celiac disease and the gluten-free options available at the grocery store are amazing, look at the blistery flake!), and a big bunch of the most tender baby chard. I get a quivering pile of ricotta from a cart at the market in Urbino, plus fresh eggs from our friend with the missing rooster. There's not much to the tart besides cooking the chard (first boil it, then sauté it with oil and garlic to dry it out and flavor it a little more deeply), then mixing it with the ricotta, eggs and some pecorino for more flavor. 

The delicate chard I can get here in summer has thin, tender little stalks. The chard I get back in Berlin (and that you may find wherever you are) has much thicker ribs, but as long you chop them after boiling, it'll be fine in the tart. The original recipe calls for sheep's milk ricotta, which is a rich delight, but not always easy to find out of season or out of Italy's borders. Of course, cow's milk ricotta is fine too. You could also swap out the pecorino for Parmigiano if you had to. (Sicilians rely more heavily on sheep's milk.)

All that's left to do is to fit the tart dough into the pie plate, scrape the savory filling into the pan, fiddle with a lattice crust with the leftover dough scraps and into the oven it goes. The tart is as good eaten fresh from the oven as it is the next day, when it's had a bit of time to settle, making it wonderful picnic fare. You could do the usual and serve this with salad alongside, or, if it's hot as hell where you are, just eat a wedge of it and call it a night. I love how simple it is, easy to whip up with the ancient whisk and plastic bowl in my mother's Italian kitchen, and how it isn't too rich and queasy-making, like quiche can be.

One final note: the metric quantities below are the ones I used when making this. I translated the U.S. quantities using Google and not my own equipment. I think they're all fine, but just wanted to make sure you knew.

Sicilian Savory Swiss Chard Tart
Makes one 9-inch/23-cm torta

550 grams/1.2 pounds Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved
300 grams/1 1/4 cups ricotta (preferably sheep's milk, but cow's milk will do, too)
4 large eggs
70 grams/3/4 cup grated pecorino
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet/circle store-bought or homemade flaky tart dough (unsweetened)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Boil the Swiss chard in salted water for 5 minutes and drain. Squeeze out the excess moisture and chop the chard roughly (especially if the ribs are wide). Place the olive oil a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic clove until light golden. Add the chopped Swiss chard, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for a few minutes, until the remaining moisture has evaporated. Discard the garlic clove and set aside the chard.

2. Place the ricotta and eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the grated cheese and salt and pepper and whisk again. Stir in the chopped chard. 

3. Place the tart dough in a 9-inch/23-cm pie plate or cake pan. Trim off any excess dough and set aside for the lattice. Crimp the edges. Scrape the filling into the dough and smooth the top. Top the filling with the excess dough cut into strips. 

4. Put the torta in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the dough is browned and crisp and the filling has puffed and set. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Aachener Poschweck


Joanie's beautiful Easter wreath, taken one Easter Sunday years ago when we were at her house for breakfast. The table was set with boiled eggs and tea, a sweet yeasted bread crafted into the shape of a proud rooster and plenty of sweet butter and homemade jams to spread on. The sweet sunshine filtered into her living room, casting lines of shadows against the portrait of her mother. It was such a nice morning.

This year, it's hard to work up the enthusiasm to celebrate a time of rebirth and new beginnings. Our circumscribed days are growing ever more so. We were warned these would be the hardest months and that has, so far, turned out to be true, at least for me. The days crawl by, not like last spring, when the one saving grace amidst all the fear and uncertainty was the speed with which the days were finished. This time around, the children are at each others' throats, the adults are tired and worn out, and a sentiment akin to hopelessness is settling into the cracks. But sometimes traditions are there if only to hold onto, white-knuckled, in a bid to spread some semblance of normality.

Today is Maundy Thursday, also known as Gründonnerstag in Germany. You're supposed to eat green things today, boiled potatoes with herb sauce, for example, or the Grüner Kuchen in Classic German Baking, a hearty, savory dish of yeasted dough topped with bacon, parsley and scallions.

On Easter Sunday, Germans celebrate with beautiful breakfast tables, usually starring a sweet yeasted bread of some kind, plaited into a wreath. (Joanie's animal sculptures are one of a kind.) If you want to make something special for your Easter Sunday breakfast, you could make the Rosinenzopf in Classic German Baking and either leave it as a regular loaf or roll the dough pieces slightly longer, then craft a braided wreath out of the dough instead (make a long braid, then form into a circle and weave the ends together, before brushing the whole thing with an egg wash.) If you have large bunny cookie cutters, you can skip the wreath and make individual sweet bunnies. Take the Rosinenzopf dough, but leave out the raisins, and roll out the dough to a rectangle that's about an inch thick. Use the cutter to cut out bunnies, transfer them to a prepared baking sheet, brush them with egg wash, decorate them with pearl sugar and raisins and then bake up into these golden delights.

Easter bunny

And if you're feeling like either of those ideas isn't quite "EASTER!" enough for you, let me suggest the fantastic Aachener Poschweck, a sweet loaf from Aachen that has been made for Easter since medieval times. It's a sweet enriched dough, but you don't just add raisins, you also add chopped almonds and sugar cubes. The cubes, in the heat of the oven, sort of melt into these crusty little geodes which are a delight to find in your slice, and also a delight to eat. The loaf is quite an impressive one to serve at an Easter breakfast, and should be thickly sliced and served with butter and jam or honey. (It can also be eaten as is...) The interplay of rich yeasted dough and crunchy bits of sugar is reminiscent of waffles from Liège (which is just 40 miles away from Aachen).

Aachener Poschweck

If you can find fresh yeast, this is the time to use it - it will give your Poschweck the puff power it needs and an exceptionally fluffy, flavorful crumb. (Instant yeast will be fine, your loaf will just be slightly less exuberant, let's say.)

I'll be taking a little break from blogging for the long Easter weekend. I hope you are all hanging in there in one way or another. I'll see you back here next week.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Aachener Poschweck
Makes one 11-inch/28-centimeter loaf

For the loaf:
3/4 cup (100 g) chopped, blanched almonds
1 1/2 ounces (42 g) fresh yeast, or 2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 cup (240 ml) whole milk, lukewarm

4 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour, scooped and leveled, plus more for kneading
11 tablespoons (150 g) unsalted high-fat, European-style butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 egg yolks
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (140 g) raisins
1 cup (125 g) sugar cubes

For the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 teaspoons whole milk

1. Place the chopped almonds in a dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until pale golden and fragrant, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

2. Crumble the yeast into a medium bowl and add the sugar. Whisk in the milk until the yeast dissolves. Cover the bowl with a dishcloth and set aside for 15 minutes. If using instant yeast, skip this step and simply add the yeast to the flour and other ingredients in the next step.

3. Place the flour in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Cube the butter and place in the well. Add the vanilla extract to the yeast mixture and pour and scrape it all into the well. Before mixing, add the egg yolks and the salt. Using your hands, mix everything together and knead in the bowl until the dough comes together. Then scrape out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead, adding flour only if necessary, until the dough is smooth, 3 to 5 minutes more. You want the dough to remain as light and floppy as possible, so resist the urge to add additional flour, unless absolutely necessary, for example if the dough still is sticky after several minutes of kneading. The more you knead, the less sticky the dough should become. At the end of kneading, the dough should no longer be sticky. Form into a ball and set aside on the work surface to relax for a few minutes.

4. Gently roll out the dough until it is about an inch thick. Place the raisins, toasted almonds, and sugar cubes on the surface of the dough. Gather the dough up and around the fillings and knead them in until well distributed throughout the dough. This will be unwieldy at first, but as you keep going, the dough will start to come together again. Form the dough into a ball and put back into the mixing bowl. Cover with the dishcloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot for 1 hour.

5. After 1 hour, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Gently push down the dough to knead through once, and then shape into a 9-inch-/23-centimeter-long loaf that is about 5 inches wide in the middle. Place on the baking sheet.

6. To make the egg wash: Whisk the egg yolk with the sugar in a small bowl. Whisk in the milk. Brush the loaf evenly all over with the egg wash. Using a very sharp (ideally serrated) knife, slash the top of the loaf three times diagonally. Set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 15 minutes.

7. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the Poschweck is a rich, deep golden-brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Place the sheet on a rack and let the loaf cool completely before serving in thick slices. The bread is best eaten the day it is made, but leftovers can be lightly toasted for a very special next-day breakfast.

Melissa Clark's Excellent White Bread


Omg omg omg, you guys, the baby's down. Asleep. In the bedroom. In the middle of the day! WHAT. I know!

I should go shower. But instead I will blog. It's like the good old days! Who knows how long I've got, ten minutes? 30? An hour? I've got the William Tell Overture blaring in my sleep-deprived brain and the computer open, so let's do this thing. Here goes!

So I made more bread. It seems to be the theme of the month! This time, it's Melissa Clark's recipe for Excellent White Bread. And it is indeed Excellent with a capital E. Totally, majestically excellent. I mean, check out that loaf up there! It's like Moby Dick sailing through my kitchen, or something.

It makes fantastic toast - all crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It makes very decadent grilled cheese sandwiches. And I used it for baked French toast on the weekend and it was stupendous in that too. (Tangent: Want to impress Europeans? Make baked French toast. I don't know why, but every time I make it for guests, be they German, French, Belgian or Italian, their minds are blown. It's very neat. Maybe it's also the maple syrup? I don't know. Who cares! DO IT.)


If you are a novice to bread-making, let this recipe be your gateway drug. It is so easy and so foolproof. And I made it even more so with instant yeast (see this post, see this cookbook, yadda yadda). The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup of sugar, but this makes the bread too sweet for sandwiches (though it's pretty great for French toast). If you want a nice, neutral loaf of sandwich bread (or "toast bread", as the Germans call it), two tablespoons of sugar is plenty to give the bread a little oomph, but not too much.


Oooh, this is fun bread to make. The dough is firm and smooth and satiny and gorgeous and rises just as much as it's supposed to in all the different stages. The crumb is tight and cottony and looks practically store bought, if that's a compliment to you (if it's not, you know what I mean, right?). We chomped our way through one loaf (a full recipe baked in a verrrrry long loaf pan) in an alarmingly short period of time and my husband, who is genetically predisposed to dark, grainy, wholesome loaves, asked me specifically to make another loaf as soon as possible. He gets it: EX-CELL-ENT.

Aaaaand, the baby's awake.

Excellent White Bread
Adapted from Melissa Clark's recipe

Makes 2 loaves

5 to 6 cups/625 grams to 750 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ cups/355 milliliters lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon/15 grams salt
3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, soft, plus more for greasing bowl and pans and for brushing the tops of the loaves
2 eggs

1. In a large electric mixer bowl, place 5 cups of the flour. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Mix with the hook attachment on low speed, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is stiff and slightly tacky, 8 to10 minutes.

2. Grease a large bowl with butter and turn dough out into the bowl. Flip over dough so greased side is up, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Generously butter two 9-x-5 loaf pans.

3. When dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto floured surface and knead for 3 minutes. Return to greased bowl, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.

4. Press down dough with your hand to expel the air. Divide dough in half and place each half into a loaf pan. Brush tops of loaves with remaining melted butter.

5. Cover and let rise until dough is just above the tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when tapped, the tops are brown and the internal temperatures are 200 degrees. Remove loaves from pans and let cool on wire racks. The loaves will keep for at least three days at room temperature in a bread box.

Fannie Farmer's Oatmeal Bread


Dear reader, it has been a long week. I know it's only Wednesday. And Monday was a holiday here. Yes, somehow, I have been bested by a Tuesday and half a Wednesday. I am counting the minutes until the weekend.

Hugo is home with pink eye and a runny nose. The mucus, it is oppressive. The whining even more so. Bruno has decided that daytime napping will be done only while being bounced in a bouncy chair, or wrapped in a baby sling, or pushed in a stroller. None of these will allow me to distance myself from him by more than 10 inches. I am still wearing the workout clothes I donned this morning. Nota bene: I have not worked out. I have not showered. Both of my shoulders are damp with regurgitated breast milk. Last night, I slept a cumulative total of three hours. Things are not pretty.

But let's talk about more pleasant things. Bread. Homemade bread. It happened because I recently accidentally bought "instant" oats. I do not like "instant" oats. Somehow I was not paying attention in the grocery store (I blame the baby and his nighttime shenanigans) and I grabbed the wrong bag. At home, whilst decanting the oats into their glass container, I realized my mistake. My disappointment was disproportionate, but what can I say? Sleep deprivation and the perpetual scent of sour milk on one's person will mess with your sense of perspective. Then, last weekend, while paging to the only recipe in the Fannie Farmer cookbook that I use (the pancake recipe), I came across a recipe for something called "Oatmeal Bread" that uses, wait for it, instant oats. A whole cup of them.

And there it was, a long-missed sense of triumph, albeit tiny. A solution to my oat problem. It may be pathetic, what passes for triumph in these trying days. But I will take any victory, no matter how small. And it was a victory indeed, this bread discovery.

The recipe produces a nice, sturdy loaf of sandwich bread that is agreeably chewy and has a nice, even crumb. It doesn't taste like oatmeal, really, but it has a damp wholesomeness that is just lovely. And did I mention how nicely chewy it is? I like it a lot. It toasts well, stands up well to a variety of toppings, both sweet and savory, makes a very good grilled cheese, and is as comforting to make as it is to eat. The right recipe for me, right now. 


Now, the recipe is simple as can be, and yet I managed to simplify it further. As you may know, if you have read Classic German Baking, I loathe active dry yeast and its finicky nature. Moreover, you can't buy it here in Germany. So I use instant yeast instead, which means you can also skip the irritating "proofing" step when making yeasted dough and just mix all the ingredients together at once. I urge you to do the same. (I used 1/2 tablespoon of instant yeast for 5 1/2 cups of flour - next time, I will try the recipe with 1 teaspoon of instant yeast to see just how little yeast I can get away with.) The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of molasses, but I didn't want a sweet loaf, so I reduced the molasses to 1 tablespoon. You can use honey instead of molasses if you prefer, but at just a single tablespoon, the molasses flavor is nonexistent. It is just the right amount of sweetener for a loaf that is meant to be eaten with lots of different things. I won't make it any other way. But you should of course do as you see fit.

The recipe makes two loaves. I have one in our bread box that we are working through right now; the other one I have sliced evenly and put into the freezer. Having sliced bread in the freezer for bleary-eyed mornings makes them slightly more bearable. Slightly. Working through that jar of instant oats will take some time, but pulling gorgeous loaves out of the oven on a regular basis is hardly a hardship. One takes what one can get.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through these links, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Fannie Farmer's Oatmeal Bread
Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook
Makes 2 loaves

1 cup instant oats
1 tablespoon molasses or honey
2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon butter or oil, plus more for the pan

1. Place the oats in a large bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and pour over the oats. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the sweetener, salt, flour, yeast and butter. Stir until a shaggy dough comes together, then pull out onto a floured work surface and knead, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and relatively smooth (the oats won't make it completely smooth). about 7 minutes.

2. Shape the dough into a ball, place back in the mixing bowl, cover with a dish cloth and place in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) to double in bulk (about an hour).

3. Butter two standard loaf pans. When the dough has doubled in bulk, gently pull it out of the bowl onto the work surface, knead it a couple times, then divide it in half and shape into loaves the length of the loaf pans. Place each piece of dough into a pan, cover anew with the dish cloth and let rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour).

4. Remove from the oven, if that is where you were letting the loaves rise, and preheat to 375 F/190 C. Remove the dish cloth and place the pans in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Remove the pans from the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes before turning the bread out of the pans and letting them cool completely. The sides of the bread will seem a little flabby at first, but firm up as they cool. The bread will keep in a bread box for 4 to 5 days or can be frozen in plastic freezer bags.


Focaccia ai Quattro Sapori


I am in Italy at my mother's house for three weeks. It is beautiful here, and hot, and I am stuck indoors most of the time, writing recipe headnotes for the German baking book, which is due to the publisher on October 1st.


The good thing is that this means that soon - soon! - we shall have a title. Maybe even a subtitle. I am so ready to give this baby a name. Also to stop baking cake every other day, but that is a story for another time.

Back to Italy: As I have mentioned too many times to count, my mother is not a big fan of, um, cooking. She mostly just endures it, though a few recipes have managed to rouse some enthusiasm out of her, like Deb's carrot-harissa salad that I think she makes at least once a month. With gusto! Go figure.

Since we are here for three whole weeks and both Max and Hugo require more at mealtimes than a green salad snipped from the garden and the closest grocery store is a 15-minute car ride and every time one of us mentions having to leave the inflatable kiddie pool because we need more groceries another certain someone starts screeching and yelping like some sort of mortally wounded small mammal and it's just easier for everyone to keep that kind of nonsense to a minimum, I started meal planning when we got here. I work 4 to 5 days in advance. We're not talking complicated stuff here - oftentimes meals are just pasta with a sauce (spaghetti with clams, or gnocchi with butter and sage, for example) and a boiled vegetable, but it helps so much to have it written all down and shopped for. In fact, I'm not sure who's more pleased with this development, me or my mother.

To fill in a few holes here and there in the menu planning (we can't, after all, eat pasta every day, though my husband and child would be thrilled if we did), I went through a few of my mother's random recipe booklets that she tucks inside a cupboard. In one of them, I found a very promising recipe for something called Focaccia ai quattro sapori. I promised the good people on Instagram that if it turned out to be any good that I'd blog about it. And guess what.



What it is is a big square piece of plain dough topped with sautéed Swiss chard, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella and anchovies. It helps, of course, that the chard came from the garden and the tomatoes taste like candy and the mozzarella is soft and funky and the anchovies rich and meaty, but something tells me that even with less-than stellar ingredients, this will still taste pretty darn good.

So here you go, no more dilly-dallying:

Focaccia ai quattro sapori
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a meal with a salad

1 batch pizza dough*
Olive oil
2 big handfuls Swiss chard (unless the stalks are quite thin, strip the leaves from the stalks and use the stalks for something else)
1 ball of mozzarella, halved and sliced
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
4-5 anchovies in oil, halved

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat and pull the prepared dough out onto the sheet until relatively even and thin. I made a crust, but next time I wouldn't. Do as you like.

2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan and sauté the Swiss chard leaves until dark and wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Distribute the sautéed chard evenly over the crust. Distribute the mozzarella evenly over the chard. Distribute the cherry tomatoes and then the anchovies evenly over the pizza. Drizzle with a little extra olive and sprinkle with two small pinches of salt. Set aside while you preheat the oven to 190C/375 F.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 5 minutes before slicing into squares and serving. My mother and I liked this best as an aperitivo before dinner and ate a couple squares apiece. My husband liked it best as dinner and basically housed the rest.

*If you are lucky enough to live near a pizzeria or store that sells freshly made pizza dough, just buy that. Otherwise, make your favorite pizza dough. If you don't have a favorite pizza dough, try this: Measure out 300 grams of flour (about 2 1/2 cups) and put in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon instant yeast (not active dry!). And about a 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Then add about 2/3 cup of water (160 ml) and stir with your fingers. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and keep stirring. You may need a little more flour or a little more water, it sort of depends on where you are. When the dough is shaggy but holding together, dump it out onto your work surface and knead. You can use some flour to keep the dough from sticking too much as you knead, but try not to add too much, which will make the dough stiff. It's always best to make a slightly looser dough than a too-tight one. When the dough is no longer sticky and is nicely smooth, put a drop of oil in the bowl, return the dough to the bowl, rub with a little more oil and cover with a cloth. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot for an hour. Then proceed with the recipe above.

Saltie's Focaccia

Photo 3

You spend 10 years in a city like New York and you consider yourself some kind of expert. You know how to get around the West Village without a map; every street corner means something particular to you; you start recognizing strangers miles away from the neighborhood from which you know them. That kind of thing. And then you leave.

The city, of course, goes on (as do you). Restaurants open and close, people move away, new buildings go up. And you start to hear about new places that would have been the kind of place you would have loved, if you still lived there. But you don't anymore. Nuts to you. Cue cravings for things you've never even had the pleasure of tasting.

One of these places for me was Saltie on Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. I can't remember where I first heard about them; I think it was through Brian. But their sandwiches sounded totally beguiling. I mean, with names like the Captain's Daughter, the Scuttlebutt and the Spanish Armada, how could they not? Their funny names belied their aggressively straightforward composition, though: focaccia filled a slice of Spanish tortilla with aioli, focaccia swiped with hummus and piled with pickled vegetables; focaccia sandwiching scrambled eggs with ricotta. Every time I heard about Saltie, I got peckish, for sandwiches and for New York.

Luckily for me, Saltie published a cookbook, which I bought on my last visit to Boston in the fall. Saltie's pedigree is illustrious - the joint owners and chefs come from Diner, the now-famous restaurant that put Williamsburg on the map. They care about high-quality ingredients and have cheffy standards, but apply them to humble sandwiches, soups and cookies. Their book is a quiet delight - full of bossy instructions (I love bossy instructions) and musings on a variety of subjects, including herb salads and Moby Dick.

It also makes you want to cook things as disparate as chicken salad, pickled red currants and perfect boiled eggs. But the crown jewel of the cookbook has to be the recipe for focaccia, the basis upon which the whole Saltie operation stands. I made it when Adam and Craig came to lunch and it is, in my opinion, the holy grail of focaccia recipes (I'm talking about focaccia genovese, meaning a flat "loaf" of bread about the size of a baking sheet, baked with so much oil that it's almost fried - for thick and fluffy focaccia pugliese, click here).

Photo 1

This kind of focaccia is the ultimate no-knead bread - you stir together flour, salt and yeast (the original recipe calls for active dry, which I don't like, so I substituted instant yeast, at a 1:1 ratio), then you add water and mix it all briefly with a wooden spoon until combined. You pour a substantial amount of olive oil in a big (big) bowl, dump in the batter, which looks more like milky oatmeal than bread dough, and put it in the fridge for a good amount of time (a minimum of eight hours; I let it go for 24). That's it.

The next day, or when you're ready to bake, you simply pour the risen dough, which reminded me most of all of a soft and yielding post-pregnancy belly, onto a baking sheet and push it gently out to the corners. You let it come to room temperature, sprinkle it with salt and put it in the oven. There is so much oil pooling around the edges and on the top and bottom of the focaccia that it partially fries in the oven.

Photo 2

It's pretty spectacular stuff, in the end. The top goes toasty, bubbly and brown and a rich, nutty fragrance fills the air. The focaccia, split open, has the most wonderful bubbly crumb, full of juicy holes to fill with mayonnaise or tomato drippings. I cut off the edges to prepare for our sandwich lunch and then snacked on those edges for a good long time - they are the platonic ideal of the cook's treat. Crisp and crunchy, salty and rich. Cocktail nuts who?

Photo 4

To make Saltie's Scuttlebutt sandwich for Adam and Craig, I filled the sandwiches with the cookbook's pimenton aioli, their pickled beets and herb salad, plus slices of feta and hard-boiled eggs. And it turned out that the whole concoction was just too rich and crazy for me (Adam and Craig liked it, though). But later that evening, I layered sliced tomatoes and a milky piece of mozzarella in a split piece of focaccia and found that I'd made myself a sandwich for the ages. Salty, simple, chewy, oily and juicy. What a home run.

Put this one in your laminating pile, folks. And with that, I'm back to the rest of the World Cup final WHICH I AM NOT HANDLING WITH EQUANIMITY RIGHT NOW AAAAAH.

Saltie's Focaccia
Makes 1 sheet pan of bread

6 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 1/2 cups warm water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and drizzling
Coarse sea salt

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the warm water to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated and a sticky dough forms. Pour 1/4 cup olive oil into a 6-quart plastic food container with a tight-fitting lid (or a very large bowl, like the one from a standmixer). Transfer the focaccia dough to the container, scoop a little oil from the sides over the top, and cover tightly. (If you're using a bowl, wrap tightly and thoroughly in plastic wrap, making sure there's plenty of room in the bowl for the dough to rise.) Place in the refrigerator to rise for at least 8 hours or for up to 2 days.

2. When you're ready to bake, oil an 18 x 13-inch baking sheet. Remove the focaccia dough from the refrigerator and pour onto the prepared pan. Using your hands, spread the dough out on the prepared pan as much as possible. Place the dough in a warm place and let it rise until it about doubles in bulk. The rising time will vary considerably depending on the season. (In the summer, it might take just 20 minutes; in winter, it can take an hour or more.) When the dough is ready, it should be room temperature, spread out on the sheet, and fluffy feeling.

3. Heat the oven to 450° F. Pat down the focaccia to an even thickness of about 1 inch on the baking sheet, and then make a bunch of indentations in the dough with your fingertips -- like you're playing chords on a piano. Dimple the entire dough and then drizzle the whole thing again with olive oil. Sprinkle the entire surface of the focaccia evenly with sea salt.

5. Bake, rotating once front to back, until the top is uniformly golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool, then slide out of the pan. Use the same day or slice crosswise, cut into squares, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze.

Julia Ziegler-Haynes' Prune and Caraway Scones


I'm going to be real honest here and say that February was a doozy of a month. From start to finish (with the exception of a weekend in Paris with my girls), it was just the worst. And you know what? I'm going to go ahead and blame it on stinking Mercury Retrograde, even though that may make me sound like a hippie nut. I can take being called a hippie nut, just as long as I get a little bit of a reprieve now from planetary movement. Yes, Universe? Thank you.

Things are looking up, though. For one, spring has sprung over here in Berlin. There are crocuses in the park that we pass every morning on the way to Hugo's daycare. the sun shines almost every day and I even saw rhubarb at the grocery store yesterday for the first time this year, long pink stalks full of promise. Second of all, sweet Hugo now calls hippos "appas", has started taking weekend naps in our bed with us, and has discovered the wonder of apple wedges, which he also calls "appas". Thirdly, Max thinks I'm superwoman because I can tell the difference between Hugo requesting an apple or Hugo looking for a hippo. Like I said, things are looking up!

And funnily enough, in the muddy mental swamp that was February, I did a lot of good things in the kitchen. These scones, found on an old 3191 post, were particular gems. They're regular old cream scones bolstered with the inspired combination of sticky prunes and little crescents of caraway. They, as their creator says, walk the line between savory and sweet very well, plus they bake up into gorgeously craggy wedges. It's sort of impossible not to start picking at one the moment the sheet comes out of the oven.

We ate our scones spread with sweet butter at brunch and Hugo kept coming to the table for big chunks to cram into his mouth (Hugo may be many adorable things, but a dainty eater he is not). Max declared them his new favorite breakfast food (he'd never met a scone before, to my disbelief) and I felt very good indeed.

Whenever people ask me why I like to cook, when so many people find it stressful and complicated, I wonder how to put into words that feeling. You know what I mean, right? The sense of providing your loved ones with edible comfort and happpiness? That's only part of the equation, though. The rest is, to me at least, more ineffable. But even if the words to sum it up elude me, I'm so glad I get to feel it. And I'm so glad I get to share it, with you.

Prune and Caraway Scones
Makes 16 small scones or 10 large scones

2 tablespoons caraway seeds (plus more for sprinkling on top)
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cold and diced
2 cups coarsely chopped prunes
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 large egg
Flaky sea salt (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the diced butter and using your fingers, pinch the pieces into the flour mixture until you are left with a crumb-like mixture with some larger butter chunks still remaining. Add the prunes and the caraway, tossing the prunes in the flour mixture so that they don't clump together.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the 1/2 cup olive oil and heavy cream. Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and stir to incorporate, just until the dough starts to come together. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured parchment sheet. With lightly floured hands, start to press down and out on dough, forming a large rectangle, about an inch and a half think. Cut this rectangle in half the short way, and then the long way. You are left with 4 smaller rectangles, which you will then cut into 4 even-sized triangles each. Alternatively, shape the dough into a circle and cut into 10 triangles. You could also cut these into small-ish squares.

3. Place the scones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Beat the egg and mix in the remaining olive oil. Using a pastry brush, coat the tops of the scones with the egg wash. Sprinkle lightly with the remaining caraway and sea salt, if using. Bake for 25 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until scones are golden-brown. Serve warm.