Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
I have been looking at the book Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts, by Aglaia Kremezi. I have had it for ages but have not spent much time with it. It initially presents as a puzzle of a book that, despite having VEGETARIAN in its title, feels free to regularly refer to non-vegetarian accompaniments and optional non-vegetarian additions to the recipes. A more accurate title might be Vegetable Dishes for Mediterranean Feasts.
It is a little thing, but it had delayed my delving into the book in the kitchen. The dishes all look amazing, true, but I was overly conscious that I had thought that I had bought a vegetarian cookbook, and felt somewhat fooled.
When I decided to test out one of the recipes in the book, I went to something that I rarely cook these days – her section on bread. Breads need a level of accuracy to turn out, and it did turn out to be a great trial of her recipes.
Aglaia describes this bread as an aromatic, fragrantly spicy olive oil brioche, ideal for sandwiches. Yum. It can also be made into buns, or, by slicing and double baking, into savory biscotti.
Notes on the Recipe Process
The cooking process was a joy. The instructions are clear, the amount of ingredients is pretty accurate, and the dough came together like magic. If I could make one comment, it is that the dough is very green, of course, as it has 3 cups of herbs in it. But the picture accompanying the recipe in the book has bread which is beautifully brown in colour. Perhaps it is toasted.
This is a brioche-style bread, with loads of olive oil, but without the egg. Although the book does not say this, it is best to use a tasty olive oil.
I got lazy, it was late at night, and didn’t proof the dough quite enough or shape it well. I didn’t slash the top of the loaf either. My bad. A split loaf. But it is tasty, green and brioche-like. Great with ricotta and sliced tomatoes still warm from the sun. It makes great toast, so I can see why Aglaia enjoys it made into biscotti.
Olive Oil Bread with Parsley and Dill
Source: Adapted from Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts
Prep Time: 15 mins + 2 hours first rising + 30 mins second rising
Cooking Time: at least 40 mins
Serves: 2 loaves
0.66 cup (160ml) olive oil + 3 Tblspns
1.5 cups (about 100g) roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1.5 cups (about 100g) roughly chopped fresh dill
2 Tblspn coarsely ground fennel seeds
500g (about 4 cups) plain (all purpose) flour + extra for kneading
7g (approx 2.5 tspn) dried instant yeast
1.5 tspn sea salt
0.5 – 1 tspn freshly ground black pepper
0.66 cups (approx 90g) walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
3 Tblspns cream or milk for brushing loaves (optional)
In a large saute pan, heat 2 Tblspn of the olive oil over medium heat and add the parsley and dill. Saute briefly until just wilted, about 2 – 3 minutes.
Puree the herbs with the fennel seeds and 0.5 cups of water, using a food processor or a hand held stick blender. Put aside for the moment.
In the bowl of your food processor with dough hooks, or using the kneading cycle of your bread maker, combine the flour, yeast, salt and pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in the parsley mixture and the 160ml of olive oil. Then add up to 1.5 cups tepid water, adding just enough to form a soft dough. (I used just over a cup. It will depend on the flour used and the humidity of the day.)
Continue to knead with the processor for 5 – 6 minutes until the dough “cleans” the side of the bowl and forms a ball.
Oil a large bowl. Flour your work surface. Take the dough out and knead for 2 minutes, incorporating the walnuts if using. Add more flour as necessary. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Place the dough into the oiled bowl and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1.5 – 2 hours.
Line 2 loaf pans with baking paper.
Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface and divide into 2 loaves. Place into the tins and cover with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 30 minutes until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven 20 minutes before cooking to 190C. Brush the tops of the loaves with milk or cream (optional). Using a scissors to make a few diagonal cuts 2.5 cm deep on the top of each loaf.
Bake for at least 40 mins until golden brown and hollow sounding when you tap the bottom of the loaf. Remove from the oven and transfer the loaves to a wire rack.
Allow to cool completely before slicing.
Notes on the Recipe and Alternatives
The dough can be made into individual buns instead of loaves. Cook for 25 – 30 mins only.
Shape the dough into long baguettes and when cooked, slice and bake again in a slow oven to dry completely to make crunchy savory biscotti to serve with ricotta or cheese, or just with coffee.