The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugid.
A mezze plate (also called meze) can contain many different foods. The mandatory part of the challenge included pita bread and hummus, and that is what I made. You can find the recipes for all the elements of the challenge here. [As an aside, the word mezze in Italian means half (adjective, female plural). For example, mezze penne is a kind of pasta, a shorter version of penne (literally, half penne).]
One of the reasons I love being a Daring Baker & Daring Cook is that it often happens that the challenge is a recipe I have been meaning to make for some time. Procrastination comes to a halt in the name of the monthly challenge. This month it was pita bread's turn to move from the "to-do" list over to the "done" list.
Michele allowed us to use a mix of flours, so I made pita bread with some whole-wheat flour (about 1/4 of the total), besides regular wheat flour. I halved the recipe, starting with 295 g of water (1 ad 1/4 cups) and 300 g of flour, then adding more flour until the dough had the right consistency. I baked the flatbreads on my baking stone and some puffed up nicely, while others didn't, not sure why. The breads that did not puff up were nonetheless good.
I had not made hummus for a while, so I was happy to renew my acquaintance with this famous spread. I soaked and cooked half a cup of chickpeas (ceci), using the recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. The flavorful cooking liquid left behind after I drained the chickpeas ended up in a really nice pumpkin soup I made the day after.
I roasted a red bell pepper (peperone rosso), removed the skin and added it to the chickpeas. I also roasted four cloves of garlic (quattro spicchi d'aglio), because I prefer the more delicate flavor of roasted garlic to that of raw garlic and squeezed some fresh lemon juice. I also used some ground cumin (cumino) as flavoring (together with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper). I toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant, then grind them in my mortar to get a nice, fresh flavor. Finally, I used olive oil instead of tahini, because the couple of times I have bought tahini in the past I ended up having to discard it, which made me feel bad. I don't use tahini in other dishes and don't make hummus often enough to finish a jar. However, my hummus had a sesame component: I toasted some sesame seeds (semi di sesamo) and sprinkled them on the surface.
Although I did not have a traditional mezze plate, I served my pita bread and hummus together with my roasted red beet spread, my homemade cream cheese and small pieces of two of my hard cheeses (edam and kefalotyri, the latter made with a mix of cow and goat milk). I also served small patties made with thyme-flavored chenna and baked crab cakes (made with fresh crab — more on this in an upcoming post, hopefully).
Preparing pita bread made me think of a traditional Sardinian flatbread that I ate many years ago when I visited the island and never forgot: pane carasau. In browsing around the web trying to find a nice reference to share with you, I found a few videos, the first featuring Anthony Bourdain.
Did you see how the bread puff up beautifully in the oven? The video shows how each flatbread is cut in half horizontally while still warm, but it doesn't show the second baking, when all the pieces are put back in the oven to crisp up. I have eaten pane carasau with pecorino ("true pecorino"), as shown in the video. I have also watched another short video, and also a longer one, divided into two parts (one and two). The latter is in Italian, but I think the images speak by themselves. In it, you can see how the pane carasau is baked the second time, and also the sort of presses used to keep it flat.
Now that I've made pita bread, maybe I will try my hand at pane carasau, though I don't have a wood-fired brick oven. I will start by looking for a recipe and then we'll see what happens. (To be continued.)
In the meantime, you will find a lot of photographs to admire, when you browse the creations of my fellow Daring Cooks. A special thank to Michele for a very nice challenge.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the pane pita e hummus audio file [mp3].