In early December I was in Copenhagen for a friend’s birthday.
Just an overnight trip, because in this period of my life I unfortunately only have brief snippets of free time: two dinners, a lunch a quick spin through the furniture shops. I had a tiny suitcase and decided to forego any acquisitions to leave room for a loaf of bread that had particularly impressed me.
The bread’s creator is Christian Puglisi (of the restaurants Relæ, Manfreds and Bæst), an excellent bread developed together with Chad Robertson of Tartine, in San Francisco: a dough at once light and creamy, tart, with a pleasantly toasted crispiness to the crust. Puglisi’s isn’t the only bread I’ve fallen in love with (the various others are from Italy), but it’s the most recent revelation. I’d already been in situations where I had to make space in my luggage for bread (one time I left two round loaves in a Roman cab of the type we were developing for breakfast; I tried to get them back, but to no avail), and I have long dedicated significant space to bread in my restaurant.
This space is destined to grow.
While Casadonna is closed, it will be something like a construction site: we’re building new rooms, and we’ll also be putting the finishing touches on a new bread laboratory. As I wrote in my book 10 lezioni di cucina (Giunti Piattoforte, 2015), where bread gets an entire chapter, making bread for a restaurant requires incessant research, commitment and resources. It is indispensable to have a dedicated production line, and if you can’t, then it’s better to work with an outside supplier of the highest possible quality. We already had an in-house bread kitchen (which in addition to making round loaves for lunch and dinner at Reale also supplied breakfast breads for Casadonna), but the restructuring will give us a larger and more rationally organized workspace, with various countertops and refrigeration units, the main oven and the machines for proofing. All this will bring us closer to a finished product that has “the dignity of a proper dish”.
So, when Reale reopens, the accompaniment to the meal will have changed a bit. We used to serve slices of two types of bread on a wooden plate: one with a type ‘0’ flour and potato dough, the other with ‘2’ flour from Solina (an ancient wheat grown at high elevations in the hills of Abruzzo and the Appenines of Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria and Le Marche); there was also a focaccia of Saragolla wheat (an old variety of durum cultivated from Abruzzo to Sicily); at breakfast, each table would get an entire pagnotta, meaning round loaf, of Perciasacchi (another ancient variety of durum, with a long tradition in Sicily).
Starting in March, we’ll serve the whole pagnotta also at lunch and dinner, a loaf of 600-800gr (this weight allows us to maintain the optimal proportion of crust to crumb), cut into six. The Saragolla focaccia, very moist and a produced with a special technique (almost a polenta, first cooked and then proofed), will continue to be served with the welcome course, along with the crispy millefeuille and breadsticks.
Later comes the pagnotta: just one type of bread.
We’ll warm it in a 40 to 50-degree oven before serving. The dough will be made with potato and a 50/50 mix of type ‘0’ and type ‘2’ Solina flour: we’re pushing the fermentation further and further to achieve that quality of creamy lightness, where the crumb almost dissolves upon contact with the tongue, that I appreciated so much in Puglisi’s bread. We’ll wait a few minutes before serving the scheduled course in order to leave the customer alone with the bread for a while: not quite “bread as proper dish”, but close. I tried this at Reale for our New Year’s Eve dinner and it appeared to have worked rather well.
Sooner or later, I’ll get to the point of making bread a proper course in the tasting menu, and I think my customers are ready.
It can only work if the bread deserves it.
Bread, in its simplicity, is complex, complete and profound. It can lay bare a chef’s true abilities. So simple, yet so difficult to do well.
I’ll talk more about bread, technique and experimenting with flours.