Shattering the January gloom
January is such a turgid month, and it seems that February isn't much better. Dark, cold and gloomy and no hint of springtime or even a watery ray of sunshine. As a mood enhancer, I have turned to recipes of holidays past, specifically pane carasau, a Sardinian flatbread.
If I were to buy into the slightly annoying habit that restaurants have of making spurious neologisms, such as Japanese tapas, I would refer to this as a "Sardinian poppadom". It is quite unlike a poppadom apart from being flat, crunchy and very useful for shovelling semi-liquids into you mouth. It has its history as portable sustenance for shepherds but, as with all good rustic foodstuffs, has made its way west to the hipster table to be served alongside hummous.
Having read up quite a few versions of recipes for pane carasau, from the more to the less-shepherdy. I went with the simplest. It's January, I can barely get it together enough to brush my hair, let alone fanny around with yeast (unfortunate turn of phrase there).
In to the mix went 1 1/2 cups of plain flour, the same of finely ground semolina, and 1 teaspoon each of baking powder and salt. These were whizzed in a food processor with 1 1/2 cups of warm water. These quantities make about four A4-sized pieces of pane.
This creates a semi-sticky dough which, when turned out on to a well floured and semolina-ed surfaces, becomes quite workable. I separated this into four and rolled out each piece into a roughly rectangular piece; the irregular edges are all part of this rustic charm - the shepherds weren't big on set squares.
I am desperately struggling to think of how to describe the thickness. As thick as a 5 pence piece? as a pancake? a millimeter or two? Basically take a quarter of the dough and roll out to the size of an A4 piece of paper, which is also likely about the same size as the metal baking sheet you will pop it on. The key thing is that it is of an even thickness across. Oil the baking tray first and, before sticking it in an oven (about 200 degrees c), adorn the surface. Sea salt? Definitely. A couple of springs of rosemary? Still sticking with the Italian theme. Black onion seeds, chilli flakes, or caraway seeds? Not sure these are authentically shepherd, but bring 'em on. Give it a final roll with the pin to stick any flavourings on and, if you want, a brush of olive oil.
10-ish minutes in a 200 degree oven and they are done. I can't give you exact timings here - it is like toast, when it's done, it's done. Go for a golden colour, light brown or black and you have over done it. The bread will rise and harden and will look done, patience is key. Whip it out and get the next batch in.
I broke them up into pieces and served them on the side of a dip, a whizzed up ratatouille that made a "mediterranean salsa". Again, another one of those pesky neologisms, and certainly not shepherd-authentic. Delicious nonetheless. I have to confess that, in line with the bylaw that I am sure exists in London governing gatherings of more than one person where wine is involved, the hummous then came out.