Tag Archives: Jim Lahey

In love with stecca

steccaMY FRIEND NANCY knew that I often baked bread using Jim Lahey’s no-knead approach, using the Dutch oven to make a crusty round or oval loaf.  She’d tried a lot of Lahey’s recipes, and one favorite was the stecca (“stick” in Italian), a small and thin baguette-like loaf that incorporates olive oil as well as the usual flour-water-salt and yeast combo and is baked on a baking sheet rather than a Dutch oven.  Nancy’s partner, Duane, is Steve’s brother, and he would gladly eat stecca every day. After Steve and I tried it at their home in California, we fell in love with it too, so Nancy copied the recipe for me.

When I got home, I made it once or twice. It was a little messy — as Nancy had warned me, the tea towel was permanently marred by impossible-to-remove oil stains–but very, very good. Still, maybe because it was a bread that should be eaten in a day or two rather than a loaf to last for days (sometimes almost a week), I forgot about it and didn’t make it again for a year or two.

That all changed recently. I came across the recipe and thought I’d try it again. It was so easy — as long as I started it the night before we wanted to eat it — and made a wonderful accompaniment to soup or salad. It was delectable on its own with a bit of butter or some cheese. I made it again and again, playing around with variations, substituting a bit of whole wheat flour, sometimes adding seeds to the top.

Now I’m making it often, but only half a recipe at a time. Not that we couldn’t eat four stecca loaves in two days (it would be very easy to eat a stecca loaf by oneself in one sitting, especially if it’s still warm from the oven) — but it’s probably better if we don’t.

Isn’t it amazing what just 1/4 of a teaspoon (or 1/8 in the half recipe) will do, given a bit of time? Maybe there’s a moral there: Give it time.

sesame stecca


I tweaked Jim Lahey’s recipe just a little. This is the recipe for four little sticks of bread.

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast (instant or regular)
  • 1 1/2 cups cool water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt; (sesame or other seeds optional)
  • cornmeal and additional flour for dusting
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together both flours, table salt, sugar and yeast. Add the water, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until it comes together as a wet, sticky dough. Cover the bowl and let it sit at room temperature until it is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled, 12 to 18 hours (a few more won’t hurt).
  2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl. Fold the dough over itself two or three times and gently shape it into a somewhat flattened ball. (If it is too sticky, you may need to first add a little more flour, but it should still be quite a moist dough).
  3. Place a tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with cornmeal. Place the dough on the towel, seam side down, and brush the top with some of the olive oil. Sprinkle top with 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and a light dusting of cornmeal. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place in a warm draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled, and when you gently poke it with your finger it holds the impression.
  4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise (approximately) preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. with a rack in the center. Lahey says to oil your 13-by-18 baking pan, but sometimes I don’t oil, and it’s been fine.
  5. Cut the dough into quarters. Gently stretch each piece more or less evenly (mine is always a little uneven, but it’s part of the charm) approximately the length of the pan. Brush with olive oil (you may not need the entire 1/4 cup) and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Sprinkle with sesame, poppy or other seeds if you like.
  6. Bake for 14 to 20 minutes (I find it’s done at 14 or 15 minutes), until the crust is golden brown. Cool on the pan for five minutes, then transfer the stecca to a rack to cool (or not, if you must have some now).

NOTE: The crust of the stecca is thinner than a baguette, and the combination of the oil and salt may make it soggy in just a few hours. You can reheat the loaves in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes until the crust crisp but watch carefully — the stecca is so thin that it may turn into a cracker very quickly!


Leave a comment

Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, Praise for other cooks, Uncategorized

Breads of summer

wholewhbreadIF YOU’RE SWELTERING IN THE SUMMER HEAT,  you probably won’t relate, but here in the Northwest, we still have plenty of cool-ish, windy days and rain. I think it’s perfect weather for bread baking, which is an activity I thoroughly enjoy. And isn’t summer made for pleasurable activities?


Cloud watching is another of my favorite pastimes these days. Any time of the year.

Lately, inspired by my son Zak’s incredible breads, I’ve been experimenting with a hybrid (hy-bread?) method of bread making, combining the Jim Lahey no-knead method, with, yes, a little bit of kneading and shaping  using sourdough starter (1/3 cup approximately for one loaf) along with a tiny bit (1/4 teaspoon or less) of yeast. I’ve also been increasing the proportion of whole wheat/ whole grains, with varying success. This loaf I baked yesterday, about 50 percent whole wheat, rated a photo and is being enjoyed in sandwiches today and toast tomorrow.


Actually, as I write this, it isn’t quite officially summer yet. Maybe soon my cooking plans will turn to potato salads or berry jams. But it’s very likely that there will also be more good bread-baking days ahead here in the Northwest corner. . .

Leave a comment

Filed under baked goods, bread and pizza, summer, Uncategorized

Keepin’ warm and eatin’ right!

Print by Aviva Steigmeyer

I keep this print of Aviva’s on the kitchen cupboard, and I find myself looking at it a lot these days, especially around the holidays–which always seem to require copious amounts of fat and sugar– when I feel the need for an antidote to all the rich food.

Whether you’re preparing for these holidays or recovering from them (or even  avoiding them completely) it’s always good to have some simple and tasty food around. And it doesn’t hurt if it’s nutritious too. Despite the feeling after Thanksgiving dinner that you will never want to eat again, it’s pretty likely that you will….

So I’m back to that classic, can’t-be-beat winter meal: soup and bread.

In the week before Thanksgiving, I decided to make a big pot of soup to last all week long.  Something with white beans and green vegetables sounded good to me, and at the Food Coop, I was inspired by a nice bunch of kale.

Lacinato kale is also called black kale or Tuscan kale or dinosaur kale

I soaked some navy beans, sauteed onions (that essential step) and kept on cooking till I had a big pot of soup. Carrots gave it a little sweetness and the kale gave it that green nutritiousness.

White Bean soup with Kale

1 lb. white beans–Great Northern, cannellini or navy beans
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 4 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken—if you don’t have homemade, canned is fine. I like Swanson’s low sodium chicken broth)
6 to 8 cups of water
Seasonings: salt and pepper, bay leaf, chopped fresh rosemary or other herbs to taste, a rind of hard cheese such as Parmigiano.
4 to 6 carrots, halved lengthwise and chopped into ½ inch pieces
1 big bunch of kale (preferably lacinato), stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped

  • The night before, soak the beans in plenty of water.  (If you want the soup the same day, you can cover the beans with water, bring them to a boil, then remove from heat and let them sit, uncovered, for an hour. Then, proceed.) Drain and rinse.
  • Let the olive oil heat up, then sauté your onions over medium heat until they are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.
    (It helps if you can fry the onions and garlic right in the pot you’ll be using for the soup, but if you don’t have the right kind of pot for sautéeing, you can transfer this mixture to the soup pot.)
  • Now add the beans, plus about 10 cups of liquid, a combination of broth and water.  You can use half broth, half water or less broth if you like (I used about 3 cups broth to 7 of water).
  • Add seasonings: A teaspoon or two of salt (bland soup may be under-salted; you don’t need to even approach the sodium levels of canned soup, but salt brings out flavors),  black pepper, a bay leaf, and a teaspoon or two of finely chopped fresh herbs if you have them – I used sage and rosemary. Also—if you have that cheese rind, toss it in too. It flavors the soup beautifully.
  • Bring the soup to a simmer and let it simmer, uncovered, until the beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.

While I was at it, I decided to start a bread that would bake the next day, meaning it would be ready to eat about 24  hours  after I started it. There are loads of good breads you can make that would be done sooner– and for that matter,  lots of great bakeries that will sell you a nice loaf of crusty bread–but it’s kind of satisfying to make crusty European-style bread in your own oven.

I won’t attempt to give the recipe here, but will direct you to Mark Bittman’s New York Times’ article and recipe adapted from Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery. Since it was published three years ago, it’s  become a home-bakers’ sensation. It’s a good weekend project — sometime when you’re not in a hurry.  But if you’re worn out from too much holiday cooking, perhaps it’s best to save this project for another day…..

This loaf took about 24 hours start to finish

As I’m writing this post, it’s two days after Thanksgiving, and I’m making more soup and another loaf of bread.

Oatmeal bread took a mere six hours before it was ready to eat

Back in the day when I had Thanksgiving at my house, there was not only leftover turkey for sandwiches in the days following, but also a hulking turkey carcass which had to be dealt with–which meant that every post-Thanksgiving Friday, I’d be making turkey-barley soup. And I usually made a batch of oatmeal-wheat bread, which was great for sandwiches and soup accompaniment.

Marc carved up the Thanksgiving turkey a couple days ago. The leftovers have probably become soup by now.

This Thanksgiving, I admit, I am thankful I don’t have to deal with a turkey carcass (nasty word).  I don’t even really miss the turkey sandwiches so much. Maybe I’m sliding slowly to semi-vegetarianism — or, as some folks call it these days (a bit absurdly),  flexitarianism.

So, there would be no turkey barley soup. But I did still want something with barley. So today I made mushroom barley soup.

Here’s about all you need to know for any barley soup:  Buy some pearl barley, either in bulk at a co-op or in a bag which you’ll find near the dry beans in your grocery store. Simmer 1/2 cup pearl barley in two cups of water (double the amounts for a giant pot of soup), covered, for about 20 or 30 minutes, until tender. You’ll be adding the cooked barley to your soup.

If you’re making turkey soup, you could saute some onions for 5 minutes or so, and then add garlic, chopped celery, carrots and saute them too. Now, take your turkey stock (after you’ve picked out the bones and much of the meat for another purpose), and add the cooked barley and the sauteed vegetables. After you simmer your ingredients together for an hour or two, add some chopped greens (kale again, or chard or spinach or beet greens) or green beans or other vegetables (including frozen ones) and simmer just till those are done.

For mushroom barley soup, I adapted a recipe I’ve been using for a long long time, from Moosewood Cookbook. It’s a handwritten and illustrated collection of recipes by Mollie Katzen when she was a member of the Moosewood collective which started a vegetarian restaurant in upstate New York in 1973.

The original Moosewood Cookbook, published in 1977, was–like The Vegetarian Epicure–a great inspiration to vegetarian cooks who wanted something other than brown rice and stir fried veggies.

My copy of the original Moosewood Cookbook fell apart with use, so I had to use this image from Wikipedia.

The original recipes were pretty heavy on butter and eggs. The book also had a maddening index, which required you to look up recipes by the ingredients. This meant you had to wade through about 30 recipes with mushrooms before finding mushroom barley soup. And it was even worse  with common ingredients such as potatoes or rice.

The classic vegetarian cookbook was revised in 1997

Fortunately, the revised 1997 edition has a normal index. And Mollie Katzen revised the recipes to make them lighter and healthier (but still very good).

Yes, it’s easy to make this recipe (or the white bean/kale one) vegetarian or even vegan. Simply ignore suggestions for butter, chicken stock or cheese.

It will still be delicious, and you could invite a vegan friend over for a bowl of soup.

Mushroom barley soup

  • Just saute a nice big chopped onion for 5 minutes or so in a tablespoon or two of olive oil or butter. Add a couple cloves of minced garlic and about a pound of sliced or chopped mushrooms and keep stirring until it’s all tender and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  • Next, toss in 1/4 cup or so of sherry if you have. I had some leftover cheap port that I’d used in making cranberry-port chutney, so that’s what I used,  but if you don’t have anything like that, don’t worry. It’s not worth going out to buy a bottle.
  • Now add the cooked barley with its cooking water, some salt and pepper, herbs (rosemary or sage is nice) and 4 or 5 cups of water or veggie or chicken stock, or a combination. ( Moosewood says to put in 3 or 4 tablespoons of soy sauce too, but I usually don’t.) You could add a bay leaf too, if you have one.
  • Let all this simmer, partially covered, for 30 or 40 minutes, and adjust the seasonings. If you like, you could serve with some chopped parsley or grated Parmeggiano or Romano or pecorino cheese.

Now you have a lovely soup to eat, and it will keep you warm and eatin’ right.

P.S. If you are tired of being in the kitchen, or simply need to take a break, sit back and enjoy reading Maira Kalman’s latest wise and wonderful blog entry about food, “Back to the Land.”

1 Comment

Filed under bread and pizza, fall, soup, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter