Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Bread Recipe

For about 30 years I've tried to bake bread that approximates the chewy, crusty, full-flavoured breads I gobble up in Europe. I have tried different recipes and techniques, and often have limited success with an acceptable baguette or loaf... but too often the bread I produce is in the shape of a boule or baguette, but still tastes like ordinary white bread.

Then, recently I have discovered a recipe that is not only dead simple and seemingly unfailable, but consistently produces a loaf that is everything I want... and others seem to agree. At a recent meeing of the Pelham Slow Food Convivium, Reinholt raved that it tasted like the breads of his childhood in Germany... high praise indeed! Others have said it reminds them of an Italian loaf, and others that it has the texture and taste of a French country bread (not to be confused with the delicate and fine-textured French baguette... this is coarser, though there is a taste similarity).

Anyway, it's so easy and foolproof you can try it for yourself and see if it meets your requirements. Note: this recipe does take time... about 24 hours, so you do have to plan ahead!

The recipe is adapted from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery as reprinted in the New York Times in November, 2006.

No-Knead Bread

3 Cups all-purpose or bread flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (I have found that regular yeast also works)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 5/8 Cups water

1. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add the water, stirring until blended. The dough is sticky and messy... but it's supposed to be. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 to 20 hours.
2. The dough is ready when it is bubbly on the surface. Flour a work surface and pour out the dough onto it. Flour the top and fold it over on itself a few times, then cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for 15 minutes.
3. Flour the dough again so it doesn't stick to your fingers as you shape it into a ball. Put the dough seam-side down on a floured surface, cover with floured tea towel and let it rise for about two hours. By then it should have doubled in size.
4. Put a heavy, lidded pot or casserole dish in the oven and set the temperature to 450. (I use a cast iron le Creusset pot and find it perfect, but any heavy enamel, cast iron or ceramic pot should work.) When the dough is ready and the oven is up to temperature, plop the dough into the hot pot. It is still soft and... well, doughy... so you can shake the pot to even it out before covering it with the lid and putting it in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 15 minutes or so, until the surface is dark brown. Cool on a rack.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

May: Niagara’s Farmers’ Markets

As any vacationer who has traveled in Europe will tell you, one of the highlights of any trip is a visit to the colourful, bustling markets that once or twice a week transform every town and village into a food festival. The idea of getting fresh food directly from the producer and creating meals around what is available or particularly appealing at the market is the very essence of Slow Food. Here in Niagara, we are lucky to have a variety of markets to visit, and lots of local producers who are eager to supply us with fresh, nutritious, delicious ingredients for family meals. While our markets don’t take over the centres of towns, and our market days are not quite the festive social occasions that European markets are and have been for hundreds of years, the Niagara markets do provide us with excellent local produce, a chance to meet and chat with the producers, and a social occasion for the community to get together in an informal celebration of good food.

Pelham Market: Our local Thursday afternoon market right beside the Town Hall in Fonthill features produce from greens to bread, from delicious snacks and full meals to fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, and root crops… much of it organic. Add the evening concert in the adjacent pavilion, and you have An Event.

Welland Market: The biggest market in the region, Welland’s Saturday morning market features more than 65 vendors in and around two permanent buildings. Look for excellent meat and bakery selections along with the mounds of produce, flowers, cheese, herbs, and even local handicrafts. Don’t miss the elephant ears!

St. Catharines Market: A part of downtown St. Catharines since the mid 1800’s the St. Catharines Market puts about 40 vendors under an attractive glass and steel structure in the heart of the city. While it’s open Tuesday and Thursday, Saturday is when the place hums.

Smithville Market: Right in the heart of Niagara’s cash crop farming country, Smithville attracts a wide variety of producers to its market in the Convenience St. parking lot on Saturday mornings.

Grimsby Market: A very lively market that features 25 fulltime vendors and a community tent for local clubs and not-for-profit organizations, the Grimsby Market provides another Thursday evening option for shoppers. Look for cooking demonstrations by local chefs using ingredients right from the market on the Thursdays before a long weekend.

Brock University: Friday noontime, Brock is the place to be for an expanding market, intended to provide fresh, local food options for the students… but everyone is welcome. It’s in the Jubilee Courtyard behind Inniskillin Hall.

Port Colborne Market: Right at City Hall on Friday mornings, the Port Colborne Market is a lively outdoor collection of vendors who bring a wide variety of products to market, including baked goods, meats, and cheese, along with fresh local vegetables and fruit.

Niagara on the Lake Market: Held on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning, this small but growing market is actually between the Old Town and Virgil across from Jackson Triggs winery on Niagara Stone Road.

By shopping for our food at these markets, we can not only put fresh, nutritious food on our tables, but support local farmers and producers who add so much to the rural environment and character of our region; Regional Councilor, Brian Baty, pointed out in a recent column that if each resident of Niagara spent $10 on local groceries, we’d collectively pump $226 million into the local economy. And, the more people who shop for local goods at farmers’ markets, the louder the cry to supermarkets and those restaurants who haven’t yet got the message: “Give us locally produced, fresh, tasty, nutritious, good food!”