Tag Archives: pesto

Pita Bread – Puffy and Flat

Not winter; not spring

Last fall when I got my hands on two new cookbooks Soframiz and Molly on the Range, I was cooking out of both non-stop. Unfortunately the family (myself included) was eating the various recipes faster than I could whip out my iPhone. Everything was just too good. As winter is playing her pre-spring dance with us – where one day it is 16° and you need to dig through the mitten box to find scarves, hats and gloves, but the next day can be 50°, followed by an ice storm where you don’t want to leave the house at all – it’s an excellent time of year to cook and camera. I’m planning on remaking some of our favorites and taking pictures this time.

Molly on the Range and Soframiz cookbooks

I acquired both cookbooks within a week of each other, which of course lead to comparing them. Interesting to note all the recipes they had in common – homemade hummus, meat to top off aforementioned hummus, pita bread, za’atar bread, and pistachio cake. Flipping through the pages, reading the recipes and looking at the pictures was a pavlovian exercise at best. Flip, flip, drool. Then repeat.

Hummus with meat, morrocan carrots, greens and pita

The hummuses (is that the plural of hummus?) were the first dish I made since I’d never before bothered to make my own. With so many choices at the grocery store why bother I said to myself? The answer is simple – warm hummus. Honestly it is dreamy, something you should definitely try at least once in your lifetime.  As an accompaniment for the hummus, though not an afterthought, there is fresh pita bread.

Pillow pita

Moist dough

Pita bread cut into 2 ounce pieces ready to roll

Second rising

Pita bread you say? Yes, pita bread. I’d eaten the Soframiz pita when I visited Sofra, and so was familiar with their non-traditional, slightly golden puff balls, which Sortun and Kilpatrick describe as “puffy pillows”. Yeh makes a more traditional pita which she describes as,

“A thick, fluffy disk of warm bread that would make the ultimate sleeping bag if ever we entered real-life Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves.

Puffy pillows or the ultimate sleeping bag – the truth is you probably want to make both. And if you can’t stop eating the pita bread, like I couldn’t,  you may also want need to take a nap. You’re probably thinking I’m nuts to want to bake something so readily available in every grocery store across the country, but trust me it’s worth making a batch or two of pita yourself. It’s not at all difficult and the results are delightful.

Pita pocket bread

Both recipes are pretty close to one another. Here are the very minor tweaks/choices I made:

  • I kneaded the dough by hand instead of using a stand mixer.
  • As a former beekeeper I chose honey as the sweetener to help proof the yeast.
  • I liked the suggestion of substituting some whole wheat flour in place of the white flour.
  • My hubby preferred all-purpose pita to bread flour pita. I couldn’t really tell the difference, but know they’re both good.
  • Perhaps because it is more or less still winter, and thus rather chilly most days, my rising times were much longer.
  • Oven temperatures were listed at 400° or 500°, choose according to how clean your oven is.

Pita Two Ways

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 package active dry yeast

1-2 Tablespoons honey

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 – 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided

In a large bowl mix together the water, honey and yeast. Give it a stir then let sit until the yeast starts foaming up to the top, around five minutes.

Add two cups of flour, stirring to make a loose, wet dough. Add the salt and then most, but not all, of the olive oil. It’s important to add the salt after you’ve added some of the flour so the salt doesn’t kill the newly activated yeast.

Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the remaining flour on your counter and dump out the wet dough and start kneading. Sprinkle the rest of the flour out and continue kneading till it has all been absorbed into the dough and the dough is soft and perhaps a wee bit sticky, about 5-7 minutes. Try not to be tempted to add more flour, since you want a slightly sticky, moist dough. Pour the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the bowl you started with,  and roll the dough ball around so it’s lightly covered with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and let dough rise until double, 2-3 hours.

Punch down the dough, then on a lightly floured work surface knead once or twice. Cut into 12 pieces. I ended up using a kitchen scale and the chunks weighed just a smidge over 2 ounces each. Then using your cupped hand-roll roll each chunk of dough so it forms a small ball. I think of my hand as a five-legged daddy-longlegs spider dancing around the dough. Once the dough has been formed into balls set them on a piece of lightly floured parchment paper, sprinkle them with a whisper of flour and cover with another piece of parchment, and set aside to rest – about an hour.

Preheat oven to 500°F if it is clean and won’t smoke, or 400°F it it isn’t spotless. For the pillowy version gently transfer the balls of dough to a parchment covered baking sheet and bake 7-12 minutes until slightly browned on the bottom. For the traditional pita version (where there is a pocket)* gently flatten the balls with a rolling pin or pat down with your hands and let rest another 10-20 minutes, then bake on parchment covered baking sheets 7-10 minutes or until you see them pop-up like a balloon, then settle down as they cool, which forms the traditional space you can stuff things into. Serve straight away, or cool on a rack then store in a plastic bag.

*After much experimenting I’ve found the traditional pita with a pocket really does benefit from a hot, hot oven. So if you’re oven is going to smoke at 500°F consider making the pillowy version.

Note: this bread doesn’t last for a long time so if you’re not going to eat it all in a few days wrap and freeze.

Pita with pesto

I love both versions for scooping up hummus or topping with heaping spoonfuls of Moroccan Carrot Purée. Shawn enjoyed them slathered with pesto. Homemade pita bread is also the perfect base for a chocolate hazelnut spread sandwich. Especially when the pita is still warm. Decadent & delightful. Of course you may want to take a walk (or a nap) after munching all this deliciousness.

Chocolate hazelnut spread on homemade pita bread

Brook along Grass Hill Road


Filed under 50 Recipes

My Garlic Twists to the Right

I do not consider myself directionally challenged, however when I harvested our garlic over the weekend it appears I have trouble with up and down. Look at the photo and notice how all the heads of garlic swing to the right. When you plant garlic you separate a head into individual cloves then stick them in the ground late fall – pointy end up. After that you forget about it all winter, snap off the scapes in the early summer, and harvest the bulbs in July (one clove grows into one head). It’s really pretty easy. Or so I thought until I began pulling up heads which were somewhat stuck because of their right hooks.

garlic that swings to the right

In our house we go through fifty pounds of garlic a year. You’d think we were brushing our teeth with it or suffered from a vampire infestation in the basement. If someone ever forced me to get rid of all the herbs in my cupboard  I would rip up the floorboards and jam heads of garlic down where no one could see. I would become a garlic horder.

Fall Garlic Planting

Our family uses garlic granulated, frozen, but most of all fresh. We slip it into almost every dish. So this past fall I committed to growing a serious crop of garlic to try and minimize what we buy at the farmer’s markets and stores. We shall see how long it lasts.

Garlic hanging on fence

Not all of my garlic was twisted. Heck, I didn’t even plant everything I harvested. There was a surprise crop (above) which volunteered itself from an old garden in our yard. We must have garlic elves in our yard looking out for our extreme garlicy needs.

Straight garlic

As I’ve mentioned before I am not the world’s best gardener. If you want to know more about growing garlic check out Margaret Roach’s blog. My seed garlic was purchased from Dan, the garlic guy, at the Amherst Farmer’s Market. Directional disclaimer – Dan’s instructions do say plant the garlic cloves pointy end up. So it wasn’t his fault this year’s garlic crop was wacky.

Midsummer harvest - garlic and lilies

After the garlic harvest I make a huge batch of pesto. The basil is usually ready (if I didn’t dawdle in the spring getting it planted) so I just have to make sure there are plenty of pine nuts and olive oil on hand. This is not a classic pesto where I carefully grind everything together with a giant mortar and pestle. Nope, my mini food processor does the trick – zip, zap, zoop.

Basil plugs ready to plant in spring

I’m not going to give you portions because everyone’s tolerance for garlic varies. We use 15-24 cloves of garlic for a small batch of pesto (2 cups) which might be overwhelming to some. My rule of thumb is have a loaf of bread next to you and taste as you go, adjusting the garlic-basil-olive oil-nut ratio.

Basic Pesto

Basic Pesto

Fresh garlic, peeled

Basil leaves

Pine Nuts (or almonds or walnuts)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)

I start by putting in what seems a “normal” amount of garlic – 2-4 heads worth, depending on their size. We like our pesto to have bite. Fast spin in the food processor to roughly chop the garlic. Then in goes some olive oil and as many basil leaves as I can jam into my mini processor. Whizz some more and taste. Usually it takes several go rounds to add enough basil. I taste little spoonfuls of the evolving pesto on bread or plain crackers as I go. When it gets close to perfect I add the pine nuts, since they are soft and can disappear if you add them sooner. I pulse until they are chopped but haven’t disappeared. Throughout this process I drizzle in olive oil to keep the mixture slightly loose. It’s not soup (though you can add pesto to soups), nor should it be paste unless you’re planning on using it as such. You are in charge and running this food processor after all.

When it tastes good to you, scoop out the finished pesto and cover with a thin layer of olive oil to keep it from oxidizing. Or freeze in small containers (I sometimes use an ice cube tray), again with a small layer of olive oil on top. We add cheese at the table since some of us don’t do well with dairy.

Garlic harvest 2013


Filed under 50 Recipes