He realized that, despite his fatigue, which was aggravated by the phone call, he felt hungry as a wolf. It was ten past six, not yet dinnertime. But who ever said you have to eat at an appointed time of day? He went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Adelina had prepared a dish fit for a convalescent: boiled cod. On the other hand, they were huge, extremely fresh, and six in number. He didn't bother to reheat them; he liked them cold, dressed with olive oil, a few drops of lemon, and salt. Adelina had bought the bread that morning: a round scanata loaf covered with giuggiulena, those delicious sesame seeds you are supposed to eat one by one as they fall onto the tablecloth, picking them up with your forefinger moistened by saliva. He set the table on the veranda and had himself a feast, savoring each bite as though it were his last.
As you may have guessed, "he" is Inspector Montalbano, the protagonist of novels and stories written by Italian author Andrea Camilleri. I had read Il giro di boa (Rounding the Mark), the novel from which the excerpt above is taken, shortly after it was published, in 2003, and recently I read it again. I lingered over this passage for several reasons. The first one is that it reminded me of my first visit to Sicily, many years ago now. I tasted bread covered with sesame seeds for the first time and loved it. Then, there is the great choice made by the novel's translator, Stephen Sartarelli, of leaving some of the original Sicilian words, especially giuggiulena, which sounds just lovely. I have read that the word comes from the Arab giulgiulan, meaning sesame seed. Sesame seeds (semi di sesamo in Italian) are used in two other delicious Sicilian specialties: reginelle and cubbaita. Finally, there is the philosophy behind Montalbano's approach to eating: savoring each bite as though it were his last. Words to live by.
Montalbano does not cook and does not ask Adelina (his housekeeper) to prepare for him a specific dish. He is happy with whatever he finds in the fridge or in the oven, and when he decides to eat, he devotes to the meal his full, undivided and loving attention: he sets the table, sits down to eat and savors each bite "as though it were his last." Eating on the run is a concept that does not have any place in Montalbano's world. As I wrote in my very first post on this subject, sometimes Montalbano supplements the food prepared by Adelina "with aulive, passuluna and a piece of caciocavallo (green and black olives and a typical southern Italian dream of a cheese)."
The peaceful image of food savored to the last sesame seed picked up from the tablecloth is in sharp contrast with the horrible crimes that are the subject of Montalbano's investigation in the novel, which contains references to current political problems and events. I won't give you more details, otherwise I may spoil your pleasure. Because you are going to read the book, aren't you?
Reading the excerpt and remembering the bread I ate while in Sicily inspired me to make bread with giuggiulena (sesame seeds). Also, Montalbano's love for olives (olive) suggested to me that he may like them in his bread. The end result is a set of four breads and references to their recipe.
Looking for a recipe for bread with sesame seeds, I found two on the King Arthur Flour's web site. The first one (called lunetta) uses mostly semolina flour (which comes from durum wheat). I suggest that you follow this recipe by weighing the ingredients, not measuring their volume (you can view the ingredients by weight on the recipe page). Also, make sure you get fine-textured semolina flour. To be on the safe side, I put the flour in the food processor and run it for a while before mixing it with water, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes before proceeding with the rest of the preparation. Based on one of the comments on the recipe page, I used a whole egg to make the wash and baked the bread on a pizza stone (for longer than stated). Below there is a photo of the bread sliced1.
The second recipe has less semolina flour and more white flour (I happen to have Italian-style flour, which I use in a recipe for pizza dough). The braid shape is not very evident in the photo. I chose this recipe, because I seem to remember that the bread I ate during my first visit to Sicily was shaped in a braid (treccia) a bread I also found in the atlas of Sicilian breads. In this case, I added a quarter cup of sourdough starter to the ingredients, as a personal touch.
Black Olive Cheeks (puccia) from Local Breads by Daniel Leader. You can read the recipe here. The only change I made is using less olives (1 cup), half of them oil-cured and half kalamata. I pitted and chopped the olives the evening before making the bread, after preparing the biga, so the morning after all the ingredients were ready. Don't be surprised if these panini (literally, small breads) disappear fast: they are delicious2.
Finally, something special to surprise Montalbano: a challah bread made with mostly whole-wheat flour, compliments of Peter Reinhart. This was my first try at challah and in honor of the fact that when I buy challah, I usually get one with poppy seeds (semi di papavero), because it is my husband's favorite, I decided to devote half the surface to each kind of seed. A first challah experience and a very satisfying one.
Each of these breads has a different personality, due to the different ingredients. As my next step of my Montalbano-inspired exploration of the world of breads, I would like to try a recipe I found in a recently-purchased bread-making book, but first I need first to get some durum flour. More on this in a future post.
I wanted a photo showing sesame seeds ready to be picked up "with your forefinger moistened by saliva," so here you can see the S-shaped bread sliced and spread with foods whose identity will be revealed in the near future.
On May 23, 2009, Camilleri uncovered la statua di Montalbano (Montalbano's statue) in his home town (Porto Empedocle Vigata, see my first post for details on this name). If you follow the link and then click on the word avanti (forward) you can see a close-up. A month prior to the unveiling of the statue, Camilleri had written an article about it for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he described how one day he had met a person strikingly resembling his Montalbano. The article ends with a reference to Luigi Pirandello's novel One, No One and One Hundred Thousand (Uno, nessuno e centomila), preceded by this words:
So già che molti diranno che non somiglia a Montalbano. E che altrettanti diranno invece che gli somiglia. È inevitabile: ogni lettore si crea un suo Montalbano.
I know that many people will say that it doesn't look like Montalbano. And just as many will say that it looks like him. It's inevitable: each reader creates his or her own Montalbano.
This is, as you may have guessed, my contribution to the eighth edition of Novel Food, a literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I cooked up a few seasons back and have been co-hosting ever since.
1 I had never heard of a bread called lunetta, so I did a bit of search on the web. I found an atlas of Sicilian breads, which includes a reference to lunedde, votive breads with the imprint of a hand. Here I read that these panini are spiral-shaped and that the hand imprint symbolizes Our Lady of Sorrows. Unfortunately, I could not find a photo of lunedde nor a mention of sesame seeds on their surface, so I am not sure whether there is a connection. On the other hand, the pane casereccio di Lentini is S-shaped and covered with sesame seeds. There is also a crescent-shaped bread called laddu or ladduzzu, and the reason I looked at it is that the Italian lunetta means lunette. On this page there is a bread called lunetta that is crescent-shaped and seedless. In summary, I am still not sure about the Italian connections of KAF's lunetta. If anybody is able to provide information, I would be very grateful.
2 In the book, Leader says that he first saw these rolls in Lucca (Tuscany). A web search points to Puglia as the origin of a bread called puccia, a version of which is puccia with olives. Readers from Puglia, would you like to comment on this? There is also a bread called puccia in Veneto, made with rye flour.