Ciao'd while watching the early (tennis) rounds at Indian Wells. 

The syllabus for my cooking school curriculum beaconed that on this day, we would learn "Italian Baking with Carol Field." An elegant woman with cropped hair and lively eyes stood leaning on the counter in front of the class and told stories about Italy. Carol recollected knocking on bakers' doors in the middle of the night when bakers do their baking and begging to be let in so she could watch, learn, and record recipes, some of which were centuries' old. I was riveted. But she really had me when she talked about writing, and how it important it is to share stories in ways that both inform and inspire. Indeed, in an article about Carol years later, she said that she loved to cook but it was the writing that grounded her. For this, she is my sister forevermore. 

Carol passed away a few days ago. She suffered a stroke. Her husband passed away a few weeks before her death. Married 56 years and having shared a life full of love for Italy and each other, I think she simply wanted to join him in the Italy of the afterlife. Riposare in pace, Carol. 

I am not a baker. Bread, about which Carol was an expert (check out her seminal book The Italian Baker), stung me with apprehension and fear. Many of her recipes charmed true bakers with their instructions to prepare a biga (starter) and then do this and that and more on the way to a crusty bread with spongy, chewy, airy crumb. But Carol was kind enough to include recipes that plebes like me could make successfully (and deliciously), too.

To wit, her olive bread. This recipe is from Chiavari, a town on the Ligurian coast famous for its olives. The bread is infused with olive paste which gives it an appealing richness and an interesting purplish-black hue. It smells heavenly when it's baking. The flavor is exceptional. This olive bread reminds me of the bread served in trattorias on visits to Liguria and beyond. I am always inspired by the ways seemingly simple foods make such spectacular impressions. 

My fellow novice bakers, this recipe is a can-do, I promise. Give it a try in memory of a very special woman. Carol Field, a true paisana.



Makes one loaf

8 oz. pitted black oil-cured olives
2 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 cup plus 3 teaspoons warm water
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 to 16 pitted black olives, for garnish
1 egg white, beaten

Put the olives in a food processor (use a mini processor, if you have one) and process until smooth.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast with the warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the olive paste.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and salt, and slowly stir into the yeast/olive paste. Transfer to a bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix until the dough comes together and is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and hand knead for a few minutes. 

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 90 minutes.

Transfer the dough from the bowl to a work surface. Punch down and shape into an oval. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the dough, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Push the whole olives into the dough and brush with the egg white. Line a baking sheet or baking stone with parchment paper. Slide the dough onto the parchment paper and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 400°F and bake for 30 minutes more. Transfer the bread to a rack and let cool. Recipe adapted from Carol Field, The Italian Baker, HarperCollins, 1995.