revisiting Italian Restaurant Breadsticks
Flashback to those early-married, on-a-tight-budget years when we occasionally splurged on a big night out by heading north to the Italian Spaghetti House on Lake City Way. The atmosphere was faux Italian, heavy on trellises with ivy and grape clusters, walls filled with colorful Mediterranean maps and murals, and candles dripping wax down twine-wrapped chianti bottles. The place felt dimly romantic, its dining room dark enough to require a lighter to illuminate the menu.
Decades ago, before Olive Garden, Buca, Macaroni Grill, Carrabas or Maggianos came to town, this was our affordable Italian destination. The food? What did we order? maybe spaghetti with meatballs? or lasagna? I don't recall much beyond tall glasses filled with cellophane-wrapped grissini and, in later years, baskets of soft, flavorful breadsticks. What was the lure of those dry, crisp packaged grissini? Whatever the attraction, I do remember scarfing up every single one on the table, every time. That was decades ago, the restaurant long since closed and grissini have all but disappeared from food memory.
Fast forward to recent months and packaged grissini are visible again, stocked on grocery shelves all over town, at ordinary stores from Albertson's to Trader Joe's. Maybe I have just become more attentive since #TwelveLoaves focused on Italian breads for March 2015, and SourdoughSurprises invited bakers to revisit any of the previous 36 topics for this month's group post, perhaps something previously missed. Hmmm, something Italian plus a sourdough something I haven't baked before... Aha! "grissini!" It's more than time to try a batch in my galley, striving to add a bit more flavor to a homemade sourdough version of those short, crisp bread batons.
Sourdough Grissini Twists
based on a recipe from homejoys
This recipe makes one dozen grissini
1/2 cup A/P flour (plus more as needed to knead)
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Italian herb mix (Penzeys, Ltd.)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
Toppings: I used Gourmet Garden's Italian Herbs paste for half of the dough; a homemade Za'atar mix for the remainder. (sumac, thyme, sesame seed, sea salt and coarse ground black pepper)
- Combine all ingredients except the toppings and mix well to combine. Let rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Turn out onto a well-floured board and knead until soft and smooth, about 5 to 8 minutes, adding more flour sparingly as needed (note: the dough should remain moist and soft). Place in a greased bowl, cover loosely and let rise for at least 3 hours. Every hour gently fold and turn the dough to encourage the gluten to stretch.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking sheets (silpats).
- Roll or press the dough into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with the filling(s) of your choice. Use a pizza cutter (straight edge optional) to slice the dough crosswise into even strips.
- Gently twist and stretch each strip; place on the prepared baking sheets and press down the ends to prevent any un-twisting.
- Place in the preheated oven and bake until lightly browned, about 25-28 minutes depending on the thickness of your dough. Keep a careful watch during the last few minutes; grissini can go from undercooked to burnt very quickly. Cool completely before serving.
Taste: The smoked salt flavor was not discernible, adding nothing remotely smoky to the dough, so I'll skip it in the future. Italian Herb paste won top honors as the preferred filling. These grissini were especially popular when dipped in a balsamic vinegar and olive oil mix.
The z'atar-filled grissini were a disappointment, boring in comparison with the herb paste favorites. However, wrapped in fennel-flavored salami these bland grissini upped their popularity considerably!
Texture: Pan A, baked for 28 minutes produced a pleasantly crisp baton, cracker-like in texture, and much preferred over Pan B's softer, almost pizza-crust bite from a 25 minute cook. Pan A went directly into the oven while Pan B rested for 30 minutes. No significant rise or oven spring was noted for either pan; these grissini were crisp and chewy, not light and airy. I might roll the dough thicker next time to see how/if it impacts the texture, or try an overnight first rise, or even add a bit of commercial yeast for comparison.
Appearance: Visuals do matter! I love the twisted version of these grissini rather than the smooth breadstick log of memory. The herb paste's vibrant green color pop set my taste buds tingling even before the first bite, and it really delivered on flavor.
Sesame seeds in the za-atar filling shyly hinted at a flavor treat, but failed to deliver. This filling was upstaged by the herb paste in both appearance and taste. This surprised me since za'atar has been a hit as a focaccia dough ingredient; evidently it loses flavor impact when scattered on top.
Today's small trial batch worked for an afternoon snack, but I'll make a double recipe soon. Grissini are tempting as a standalone item, but will really shine when paired with a bowl of soup, something hearty like Tuscan White Bean Soup or Italian Mushroom Soup or maybe Minestrone.
Some things never change - I'll still want to scarf up every grissini on the table!
submitted to #SourdoughSurprises and #TwelveLoaves for March 2015