January 31, 2012

An Italian Dinner for Two

Occasionally, on a day when I work from home, I like to cook fancy meals that I wouldn't normally have the time or energy to make after I walk in the door at 5:30pm.  Yesterday was one of those days, and I decided that we would eat Italian.

I don't know about you, but even when I take a good deal of time to make dinner, I still don't have the time to make homemade ravioli (maybe one day) ... so I buy Buitoni.  If you know of an even better brand let me know - I buy Buitoni because I like it, and I know where it is in the grocery store.  I simply made the pasta, warmed up a bit of marinara sauce, mixed in a splash of whipping cream, put the sauce on the pasta, and topped the whole thing off with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan.

The pasta was delicious, but the real show stopper was the bread.  I made my best imitation Macaroni Grill bread.  You know that bread they make that is so fluffy, mixed with just the right amount of herbs, and topped with coarsely ground salt?  It's so good we go there just for the bread.  Now though, we can make it at home any time we want!  I originally found the recipe from Jamie over at Jamie Cooks It Up, but I altered it a bit to work with what I had.

Most people (myself included) tend to think that making homemade bread is difficult.  This recipe does have some wait time, but actually preparing the bread is super simple.  You just take one packet of active dry yeast, mix it with water and a bit of sugar, and wait about 5 minutes until it blooms.  Trust me, it will look different after those five minutes, and you'll instantly know what I'm talking about.  You then mix in the flour, salt, and olive oil, let your mixer beat at it for about 6 minutes, then incorporate the herbs.  (Beware that you will need to watch your mixer during these few minutes.  The mixer is working so hard kneading the dough that it may tend to want to "walk" across the counter like mine did.  I also think this step sounds awful - like tennis shoes in a dryer, but that's just me.)  Once that is done it will look something like this:

Just cover it on your counter and let it sit for 40 minutes or until doubled in size.

Split the dough into two portions and shape each into a ball.  To get the criss-cross top pattern on the bread, I simply cut the dough with clean household scissors.  If you have herb or kitchen shears feel free to use those, but regular scissors work great if you don't.  Brush both loaves with a beaten egg.

Don't worry if one (or both) of the loaves looks a little off... it doesn't effect the taste one bit!  Let the loaves rise in a warm oven 15 minutes or until doubled in size.

Then bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.  Once the loaves are ready, take them out of the oven, brush with butter and sprinkle with coarse salt.  I used plain Kosher salt, however, you can use whatever you have on hand.

Don't they look delicious?!  I consider the serving size to be about a quarter of a loaf.  I adore bread though, so if I feel like eating a whole loaf myself I'm going to do just that.  To go with the Macaroni Grill bread, I decided to make the dipping sauce from Johnny Carino's.  Why not just have the best of both worlds, you know?  I minced up a few heads of garlic (you can do more if you have a larger family), and sautéed them in butter until just crispy.  You really have to watch this - minced garlic can go from beautiful to burnt in a matter of seconds.  Then I divided the garlic into small bowls so we could each have our own and poured spiced olive oil on top.  When I run out of spiced oil I'll simply throw some basil over the garlic before adding regular olive oil.  Just use whatever olive oil and herbs you like best.  Our feast sans the dipping oil:

If you have an hour or so to spare before dinner, I highly recommend making this bread.  It takes very little hands on time so you can do other things or prepare the rest of dinner while the dough rests and rises.  Enjoy!

Macaroni Grill Herb Bread 
Hands on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1hr. 30 min.
Difficulty: Easy
Makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 Tablespoons Active dry yeast (or just use one single serving packet)
1 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning (I used McCormick's Italian Seasoning Grinder)
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
3/4 Tablespoon rosemary (if you have fresh on hand use it, but the dried variety works just fine)

1 egg, beaten
coarse salt (such as Kosher salt)

1.  In mixer bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and sugar.  Stir together and let sit for five minutes.
2.  Add salt, oil, and 1 cup flour.  Mix 30 seconds to combine.
3.  Add remaining flour a 1/2 cup at a time while mixer is running.
4.  When all the flour is incorporated into the dough, mix on high about six minutes.  (Watch your mixer here.  It's working hard and may want to move around.)
5.  Add rosemary, Italian seasonings, and black pepper.  Mix until herbs are incorporated into the dough.
6.  Cover bowl.  Let dough rise 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
7.  Divide dough in two, shape each into a ball, and place on sprayed/greased cookie sheet.
8.  Snip 2 slits into the top of each loaf then brush with the beaten egg.
9.  Set in warm oven (I had mine set on 150 degrees) for 15 minutes or until loaves have doubled in size.
10. Remove from oven.  Set oven on 375 degrees.
11. Cook for about 15 minutes in preheated oven, or until tops of loaves are golden brown.
12. Remove loaves from oven, brush with melted butter, sprinkle generously (or to your liking) with coarse salt.
13.  Place on cooling racks until time to eat.
14. ENJOY!

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