sun-dried tomato bread

This bread began, oddly enough, with a trip to the library. A certain 15 month-old has such a voracious appetite for books (much like her father) that we need to go once per week to gather fresh supplies for her. The library in our neighborhood isn’t the biggest or the best, but they have an excellent children’s section and are mild-mannered about my little hooligan running around like some sort of book-loving cave baby.

If, and I stress if, she has found a book that really piques her interest, I can sit her in a chair next to the cookbook section and peruse for a few moments. It’s a crapshoot as to what’s checked in at the moment, but I absolutely lucked out during this particular visit. The book is Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table, and it was love at first sight.

Before you poo-poo me, I will acknowledge that yes, it’s that Marcus Samuelsson of Top Chef Master’s, the one who came off as sort of an ass. He owns a string of restaurants in NYC, he’s a James Beard Award-winning chef, the youngest ever to receive two three star ratings from the New York Times, blah blah blah. Looking beyond the hype and the attitude, I began to read his recipes. And read. And drooled. And read. An clapped with delight. And read. And became giddy with thoughts of the pancetta potato cakes, empanadas with peanut-mango sambal and coconut rice pudding that would soon be filling my kitchen with their aromas.

“New American” here simply means a collision of cultures, a fusion of flavors and ingredients and methods. The book is a mish-mash of recipes, and although I’m in love more with the photography of the recipes than the stories behind them, it’s a fun world of cooking to explore.

The first thing I had to try, simply because it’s the first thing I had all of the ingredients for, was his recipe for sun-dried tomato bread.

But reading through the recipe, I needed to alter a few things. Real sun-dried tomatoes? I only had the jarred variety, packed in oil. Fresh majoram sprigs? Ummm….I don’t grow that. Fresh yeast? I wouldn’t even know where to get the stuff.

And hold the flippin phone: kneading? By hand? That just isn’t going to work for me. From here on out let’s just call this the “cheater’s” version of sun-dried tomato bread. And even though you’ll be a mischievous, deceptive I-don’t-follow-the-rules kind of cook, the results will make it all worthwhile.

Once I resolved my ingredient issues (summer savories instead of majoram, drained and rinsed sun-dried tomatoes, active-dry yeast instead of fresh), I pushed full speed ahead.

Let the yeast hang out with the salt in some lukewarm water for a while. Once it bubbles and foams (as pictured), it’s ready. If it doesn’t bubble or foam after about 10 minutes, get some new yeast (expiration dates, as it turns out, matter when it comes to dry yeast) and start again.

Roast your garlic or saute a few cloves in a frying pan with a little olive oil for about 20 minutes. The cloves should be soft and easy to squeeze out of their little clove homes.

Chop your tomatoes and kalamata olives…

…and mash them together with the garlic and the fresh herbs to form a paste.

And the whole kneading-by-hand dilemma? Solved by a stand mixer. It’s my secret bread weapon.

On low speed using the dough hook attachment, combine your flours with the yeast mixture. When the dough has come together and all the dry ingredients are incorporated, increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If the dough remains sticky, add a bit more flour one tablespoon at a time until you get the right consistency.

Toss in the sun-dried tomato mixture and stir until evenly incorporated.

Halve the dough and place into two prepared loaf pans. Cover and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, or about one hour.

On a cold day when my radiators have kicked on, I love to let my bread rise on top of them. It fills the whole house with that fresh bread smell.

Bake for about 50 minutes, sprinkling the tops of the loaves with a little kosher salt and covering with foil halfway through baking.

That’s one gorgeous loaf, my friends.

Serve up a warm slice with a little soft cheese and a few olives, and you’ve got the perfect afternoon snack.

I love the flavors in this bread: salty kalamata olives, tangy sun-dried tomatoes, and a touch of fresh, mild herbs to balance it all out. This is a savory bread for the recipe books, my friends.

New American Table is now long overdue, but I can’t part with it just yet. There are too many recipes I need to try, or should I say cheat. What can I say? I love new books just as much as my daughter. But just as she tosses aside the board book she’s read one too many times, so do I toss aside recipes I just can’t follow to the tee. I’m a much happier cook that way. And really, shouldn’t cooking be about following your own rules, not someone else’s?

Sun-Dried Tomato Bread (based on the recipe from Marcus Samuelsson’s New American Table), makes 2 loaves

  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (rinsed and drained if jarred, soaked and drained if fresh)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives (pitted)
  • 1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoon active-dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a few tablespoons additional if needed
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs (I used summer savories, but you could use anything that would work well with the flavors)

Heat olive oil in a small saute pan over medium-low heat. Add garlic cloves and saute, stirring occationally, for about 20 minutes or until cloves are soft to the touch (alternately, you could roast a head of garlic and use the remaining cloves for something else). Let cloves cool on a paper towel.

Pour water into small bowl and add yeast and table salt, stirring to dissolve. Let rest in a warm place until the yeast begins to bubble and foam, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, squeeze garlic cloves from their skins and mash together with fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes and kalamata olives to form a paste. Set aside.

Add flours to bowl of stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. On low speed with the splash-guard in place, slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Continue mixing on low until all of the dry ingredients are incorporated, and then increase speed to medium. Mix until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. If dough remains sticky, add additional flour one tablespoon at a time until dough reaches desired consistency. Prepare two loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide dough in half, place in pans, cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, or about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375F. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle tops of loaves with kosher salt, cover with foil, and continue baking an additional 25 minutes or until loaves sound hollow when tapped. Let cool in loaf pans for 5 minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

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