'Fresh herb twist' is not the literal translation of pane alle erbe, but it is the one chosen by Daniel Leader, author of the book from which the recipe came: Local Breads, Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe's Best Artisan Bakers. I have recently become interested in developing my bread baking abilities, an interest fostered by a couple of recent Daring Bakers challenges. Thanks to my dear friend Christine, I learned about this book and, now that I have it, I have started to use it.
For my first sampling of the book, I chose an Italian bread that I had not tasted before: pane alle erbe (herb bread), which the author learned about in Alto Adige/Südtirol, a region in northern Italy. What attracted me to the recipe was the use of farina di segale (rye flour), together with wheat flour, and of fresh herbs: rosmarino, timo e basilico (rosemary, thyme and basil), the first two of whom grow in my little herb garden. The nice shape of the bread also played a role in my choice, since all my bread production until then had been of a rather conservative appearance.
The book in general and the recipe in particular include all sorts of instructions that contribute to the happy outcome of your efforts. I was so happy with the outcome that I made pane alle erbe again within a few days. The second time, I intentionally left a portion of one of the twists aside, because I had decided to experiment with canederli, or knödel, which are gnocchi made with pane raffermo (bread that is a day or two old) that are typical of Trentino Alto Adige. Variations of this dish use different ingredients. I did not have a recipe, so I looked around the web and, among all the ones I found, I decided to use this one as my guide. I made some adjustments to the recipe, the most important one being the omission of speck, an ingredient I did not have. Speck is a product of Alto Adige/Südtirol: it is made by de-boning, then curing and finally smoking a pig's thigh (here you can see the different production phases). It is really good and I recommend you try it, if you have the chance.
I cut the bread, 6.5 oz., into 1/4-1/2" cubes and placed them in a medium bowl. In a small bowl, I beat two large eggs with a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of ground black pepper, then added half a cup of non-fat milk. I poured the mixture over the bread cubes and mixed well. I let the bread rest for over an hour, mixing every now and then to make sure it absorbed the egg mixture and therefore softened.
In the meantime, in a small frying pan sprayed with olive oil, I cooked a shallot (a bit more than 1 oz.), minced, together with half a teaspoon of minced fresh rosemary until it was soft. When it was cold, I added the shallot to the bread, together with a sprinkling of ground nutmeg, two tablespoons of grated parmigiano, two tablespoons of minced fresh parsley and 1/4 cup of regular white flour. I mixed well and let rest for about half an hour.
With the help of a small measuring cup, I scooped up enough bread mixture to shape 2" diameter balls with my hands. I let each ball roll on a plate with flour so that its surface was coated, then set aside. I ended up with eight canederli. I cooked them, four at a time, in a saucepan filled with vegetable broth. I used a slotted spoon to gently immerse the canederli in the simmering broth and kept them there for 15 minutes, making sure the broth remained in a nice simmering state.
To my husband, I served two knödel in a bowl with some of the broth. I had one asciutto (dry) together with some roasted squash. This being the first time I tried to make this dish, I didn't have a frame of reference to assess the result of my experiment. I can tell you that my husband liked it and I did too. I am planning to make this recipe again, using speck, if I can find it, or adding more cheese to the mixture. I would also like to try other variations. Here is an update on this recipe.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, a food blogging event started over two years ago by blogger extraordinaire Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, hosted this week by the founder herself. Here is the roundup of WHB #127.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pane alle erbe audio file [mp3].
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