They usually say that when you are having fun, time flies. Or they also say that when you’re very busy time flows just as quickly. Well, either I have never had so much fun or my tendency to say yes to everything – work projects and personal commitments – has reached an all-time high. I feel like I have lost on the road January and February, where have they gone? Have you seen them?
If I turn back I was there, comfortably wrapped in a wool jumper, stashing away all the decorations of my small Christmas juniper, I had just returned from Belgium and I was prepared to live two months of mental and physical organization of my work. A deep breath, a turned page, a glass dried out and put in the cupboard, and it’s mid-March and the spring is bursting outside my windows, so beautiful and fresh that it seems to have revealed herself for the first time.
I had in mind many little exciting projects and the firm belief that I was finally going to use my diary in a more productive way. Yet I find myself listing again all the projects that I started in a burst of enthusiasm and then I left in a corner, waiting for better times, or just calmer moments. Do you remember the Newsletter? Well, I promise it will be back, even though it now looks more as a seasonal than monthly newsletter.
There is one thing, though, that I carry on with some consistency, which gives me an indescribable and primitive satisfaction, and it is my sourdough starter.
When I want to catch my breath and regain a rhythm which is more mine, I decide that it’s time to refresh the sourdough starter. I take out of the fridge the airtight glass jar in which I keep it and let it stand at room temperature for one hour or two. Then I weigh it, I add the same amount of strong flour and half the weight of water, I move everything into the stand mixer to knead for a while, then I move it back on a wooden surface to finish the kneading and to feel more involved in the miracle. I keep a small portion of the freshly fed sourdough starter and put it back in its glass jar. With what is left I usually make a focaccia.
I put the dough back into the stand mixer, I add a pinch of sea salt and a splash of water – usually a scant espresso cup for about 600 g of dough – I knead it well, then I let it sit there for about ten minutes. It will be sticky and quite soft. Now with the help of a good dusting of flour I stretch gently the soft and sticky dough and fold it in three parts, then I flatten it down gently in a square baking tray greased with olive oil. I cover the tray with plastic wrap and put in the oven with the light on until the dough has doubled, I usually wait from 5 to 6 hours. This is when I sit in front of the oven staring at my focaccia rising and calming down the waves of thoughts in my head. When the focaccia is almost ready I stick some olives in the dough, or sprinkle it generously with wild oregano or za’atar, then I drizzle the focaccia with an emulsion of good extra virgin olive oil and water and finish with my favorite flakes of sea salt. Heat the oven to 200°C and bake the focaccia for about half an hour, until golden and crisp.
I found the directions for this kind of focaccia in a nice father – daughter food blog, Manine in pasta, which in turn was inspired by Genny, Sara and the bread made by the Simili sisters with the refreshment of the sourdough starter. For those who are already expert in long rising and baking with a starter, this may seem a simplistic and approximate method, but it was the only way that allowed me to keep my starter active for six months without killing it by starvation, to use the starter more than once a hundred years and above all it helped me to become familiar with the sourdough starter, making me stop to fear it. I have made huge strides in my dealings with it, attempting also to play with different flours and adding water by instinct (by instinct!! me and the sourdough starter, by instinct!!).
I still have a lot to learn, but I consider these focacce that I bake almost weekly a small personal goal, a safe haven to return to when I need to stop the frantic pace and bring it to a slow flow, more suitable to me. A focaccia is a bread for every season and occasion, from family snack to a rustic antipasto during a dinner with friends: just cut it into cubes and you will see them vanish in no time. I can’t wait for summer to explode and finally bake a focaccia with the sweetest ripe cherry tomatoes to make a Mediterranean version.
Now that the weekend is upon us my sourdough starter is ready: on Sunday it will receive a special attention from hands much stronger than mine. I am specializing on focaccia but now he makes breads and loafs that are way better than mine. We eat them still warm in the evening with a cheese platter and a few slices of deliciously fatty Tuscan salami. I thought it was just beginner’s luck, but week after week he managed to knead and bake fragrant loaves. I don0t know if I am more envious or lucky…
Have a great weekend everyone and spend some time with your sourdough starter, or just knead something. It will give you a pinch of serenity.