Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Ethan and Angela Stowell probably don’t need an introduction, but just in case, they’re the couple behind 15 esteemed Seattle restaurants, namely Anchovies & Olives, Ballard Pizza Co. (3 locations), Bar Cotto, Bramling Cross, Goldfinch Tavern, How to Cook a Wolf, Marine Hardware, Mkt., Red Cow, Rione XIII, Staple & Fancy, Tavolàta Belltown, Tavolàta Capitol Hill. Ethan is the chef, Angela the CEO. That they ever relax may come as a surprise, but they make time. I’ve always loved Ethan’s cooking and his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients. I’m honored that they use Macrina breads at their restaurants. They are wonderful people and one of Seattle’s premier restaurateurs. Learn more about their life outside of the kitchen right here.

Leslie

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Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Everybody knows running restaurants is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Add kids and a serious commitment to philanthropy and you’ve got a recipe for a life few would call relaxing. Humble, as Angela and Ethan Stowell both are, they’d be the first to point out that they have the support of a great team in all they do. But even with a strong team, Ethan and Angela work long and hard and are pulled in many directions. Still, they remain deeply committed to spending quality time together with their two young children, Adrian and Franklin.

Given their culinary prowess you might expect them to spend their free time teaching the kids how to foraging for chanterelles or morels in the forest, or out on the beach digging for Manila clams. Turns out they’re just like most parents with two young kids, racing home from brunch at their neighborhood dim sum restaurant before their two-year-old, Franklin, falls asleep.

Ethan explains, “Because when you’re doing naps—you know what it’s like having kids—after lunch you’ve got to race home before he falls asleep. If you have a half-hour drive, you’re in trouble. The last thing you need is a twenty-minute power nap.”

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Because Ethan frequently works in the evening, mornings become family time.

“The nice thing about our schedule is we have family breakfasts every morning because we have the luxury of not leaving the house until nine,” Angela says. “Breakfast is our long time together, kind of the reverse of most families.”

Ethan gets up with the kids and starts breakfast. When he can he gets them involved, often making pancakes, eggs, or oatmeal.

Angela adds, “Well, we try not to do pancakes more than two mornings in a row.”

Presently, in fact, Ethan is skipping the pancakes nearly altogether. About a year ago, he lost over 50 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise and has kept the weight off. He is very careful about what he eats for breakfast and lunch, then lets loose at dinner. And he is religious about getting in an hour of exercise each day. Angela has always been a fitness and health advocate.

“Before having kids I did lots of triathlons and a half ironman,” Angela says. “I’ve been a runner for a long time. For me, it’s a stress relief. This may not be the most romantic thing in the world at 9 p.m., but if we’re both home, when we get the kids to bed, we’ll both go exercise. Sometimes it’s the only time we have, especially if it’s a Sunday and we’ve been busy with them all day. We both get our hour workout in.

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One key block of time for Angela to sneak in a long run is Saturday mornings when Ethan and a group of dads take the kids out without the moms.

“Saturday I just work a half day, so it’s dad and kid time,” Ethan says. “I have a friends’ group of five to six guys. A text thread goes out. Not everyone can make it every time. We meet somewhere at ten, go to the zoo, or the Science Center, or Golden Gardens. Then we get lunch and rush home for nap time.”

In the summer, weekends are often spent on Whidbey Island where Ethan’s parents have a vacation home. The island is Angela’s favorite place to be.

“Our weekends there are kind of always the same,” Angela says. “In the summertime we go to the farmers market in the morning, we go to Primo Bistro, we always go to Moonraker Books to check out what’s happening there and visit the owner Josh, then we visit a couple of farms with stands, maybe grab a loaf of Screaming Banshee bread. The cool thing about Whidbey is that there are a lot of people who knew Ethan when he was five years old. Those people are now super invested in our family.”

In Seattle, when the Stowell’s have the occasional night together they frequently go out to eat.

“We are definitely a family that doesn’t shy from taking them out to restaurants,” Ethan says. “I’m a big believer in bringing kids to our restaurants. You want kids getting used to eating good food, getting used to being out socially.”

In fact, this January they will be starting a family dinner night at Rione.

“I’m super excited about it,” Angela says. “From five to seven anybody who makes a reservation will be told that there will be kids around. It’s an opportunity for families to come out with their kids. Don’t feel bad if things get spilled. It’s gonna be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”

“There’s gonna be spaghetti on the windows,” Ethan says with a smile.

Angela adds, “We’ll be there. And at some point our kids will have iPads out. I think it’s good for parents to see that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through dinner at a restaurant. Because it’s not always going to be like this, and sometimes you just need a moment’s peace to finish your wine.”

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While they may be a more high-profile couple than most in Seattle, they both stress that their private lives are much like any other family.

“My life isn’t much different than any working mom,” Angela says. “You wake up and someone needs you right away—this morning it was who gets to sit next to mom—then you go to work and someone needs you. Then you get home and they need you again. Then maybe I squeeze in a little workout. Not anything different than any other working mom. We’re just really appreciative of the window of time we get together.”

Visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com to learn more and make reservations at your favorite spot.

Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

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Little is more satisfying than cooking from my garden’s bounty. It represents months of work and patience. Every vegetable started as a seed I planted, nurtured and harvested. And while the process is on a much larger scale at Macrina, it is still just as fulfilling. Yesterday, the first crates of butternut squash (more on this secret later) were delivered for our Thanksgiving pies. I didn’t grow them myself, but I worked with local grower extraordinaire Oxbow Farm in selecting the seeds and establishing the quantities we’d need.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Oxbow Farm gets their seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s has been around since 1972, is 100% employee owned and does not use genetically engineered plants or seeds. Our squash began with a hybrid seed called Metro PMR. It has superior flavor, resists powdery mildew and matures relatively quickly. Butternut is a moschata species of squash, which can be hard to ripen in our region’s limited growing season.

Butternut squash plants are tender, and their seedlings are especially susceptible to frost damage. Before planting growers have to wait until the soil is warm and the danger of a cold snap has passed. In the Pacific Northwest this means no earlier than May. The growers at Oxbow sow the seeds in a large protected hothouse to give them a head start. Because the seeds sprout quickly and are susceptible to becoming root bound, this can’t be done too early. Once they reach transplant size in the nursery there is quite a scramble to get so many tender plants out to the fields with enough time remaining for them to mature before the first fall frost.

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Like zucchini, the butternut squash plant sends off several vines as it grows, some as long as 15 feet. Lots of work is required to keep the plants weed and bug-free. After flowering, two or three young squash will grow off each vine. Green at first, tan vertical stripes emerge as the squash ripens. Eventually the green fades and is replaced by the matte tawny color of the mature fruit.

Depending on the weather during the growing season, the squash are harvested anywhere from mid-September through mid-October. This year, at Oxbow, the butternut were ready later than the other varieties of winter squash. The crew at Oxbow harvested them all in mid-October.

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Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

More than six months after choosing the seeds it was a joy to hold the ripe squash. Each is unblemished and heavy in the hand. Cutting one open, I found the orange flesh inside creamy and sweet. Perfect for pie.

Butternut squash are the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, the pies made with roast butternut squash won our taste test. They had more flavor than those made with only pie pumpkins. While our pumpkin pies are predominantly made with butternut squash, we do add a bit of pumpkin.

To make our pie, we cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and roast them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once the roasted squash cools, the skin peels off easily. Roasting them concentrates the natural sugars, and they puree beautifully. With the butternut squash we found we needed both less sugar and less cream in our recipe to create the perfect texture and taste for our pie.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

The week of Thanksgiving is when our bakery floor gets truly insane. We start by roasting the squash and the pie shells. Then the filled pies shuffle in and out of our ovens. At the cafés, managers and crew pull together the long list of pre-orders that customers have placed throughout the month. Thanksgiving Eve managers and crew are usually at the cafés by 3 a.m. to be sure every order is ready to go, as well as plenty of extra stock on the shelves to accommodate last minute shoppers.

And when it’s all done we do the same thing you do. We gather with our families and friends for a feast. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love every part of it: decorating the house, setting the table beautifully, organizing the beverages, and—the best part—cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. Because there are so many dishes to prepare and only so much time, I always rely on Macrina Stuffing Mix, a selection of bread and rolls, crostini and a few of the appetizer spreads, and, of course, our pies. The pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite. The sweetness of Oxbow’s roasted squash with brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and ginger is perfect with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 21st.

Leslie

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Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center cultivates 30 acres of vegetables, tree fruit, and berries on the banks of an oxbow lake in the lower Snoqualmie Valley. We have been growing food for our customers for 16 years. Our produce is available throughout the greater Seattle area at independent grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Macrina Cornetti

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For years, my business partner, Matt has asked if we could make cornetto. Matt spent a year living in Italy and became quite enamored of the Italian breakfast – a stop at the local café on the way to work, a beautiful cappuccino, a cornetto and an animated conversation, usually about soccer. Every time Matt asked, I had to tell him we don’t have enough space. Well, this summer, we moved into our new production facility. There is space and I am finally able to grant Matt’s wish!

Cornetti are often referred to as the Italian cousin to the French croissant. Cornetti are made with laminated dough. Buttery dough is repeatedly folded and rolled to lace the dough with thin layers of butter fat. This creates a moist and flaky texture. Macrina’s laminated dough is slightly sweeter and made with a smidge less butter to create the perfect texture. We use the laminated dough to make our Cornetto, Chocolate Cornetto, Morning Rolls and Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels.

The story behind laminated pastry is an interesting one. It seems to have originated in Austria with a pastry called a kipferl. Some say the crescent shape was created to celebrate the Austrian defeat of the Ottomans whose flag carried an image of the crescent moon. Whether that story is myth or not, what is certain is that the pastry spread throughout Europe with regional and national differences.

Recently, The New Yorker published a story, Straightened-out Croissants and the Decline of Civilization” after one bakery in England started making their croissants un-curved. We have wisely opted to stay out of the centuries old England-France controversy. Our cornetti are slightly curved and available in our cafes and for wholesale sales. Come down to one of our cafés, order a cappuccino and a cornetto, and treat yourself to an Italian breakfast (while you read the New Yorker article, it is a fun one!)

Leslie

 

Cornetto (pictured above): “Little horn” in Italian. We form our cornetti from a triangle of our laminated dough rolled to create a crescent shape, brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with pearl sugar and baked to a deep brown. Lightly sweet, flaky on the outside and moist inside. Enjoy plain or with fresh preserves.

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Chocolate Cornetto: Our cornetto filled with batons of semisweet chocolate.

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Morning Rolls: Our laminated dough layered with house-made vanilla sugar and rolled into a swirl. Baked to a golden brown. Flaky and light with buttery caramelized sugar at the base.

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Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels: Our laminated dough layered with house-made hazelnut sugar and fresh orange zest, rolled into a pinwheel and baked golden brown. Dusted with powdered sugar. Flaky and sweet with just the right touch of citrus.

Green Tables

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Green Tables

Les Dames D’Escoffier Seattle is an organization near and dear to my heart. Being a Dame for nearly 25 years has been an important part of my life and career success. Early in my career I benefitted greatly from key mentoring relationships and support. Les Dames gives me a chance to pay it forward, to help other young women find the same opportunities. Les Dames raises money and awareness to inspire and aid women in finding rewarding careers in the hospitality industry. We offer scholarships, funds for continuing education, and help create opportunities through our experience and network of established relationships.

A major focus of ours is Green Tables, a Les Dames chapter initiative which supports education on all aspects of growing, sourcing and preparing nutritious food. We hold a series of fundraisers throughout the year and we have one coming up. Tag and Table is this Sunday, September 18th, on Capitol Hill. It will be a great opportunity to find fantastic kitchen tools, have some fun doing it, enjoy food and wine while you shop, and know that your support of Green Tables is making a difference in women’s lives and the health of our city’s food supply.

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One recent recipient of a Les Dames’ grant is Seed to Table, an edible education program for youth located in Olympia. We awarded them a $3,500 grant to help fund staff support and materials for their Preschool Garden Time program, spring field trips, and summer camp. They offer free, weekly Preschool Garden Time in the spring, garden field trips for preschool and grade school groups, and a summer camp for children ages 6-12.  The goal of this programming is to connect children with their food, by teaching them how to grow and cook their own delicious and nutritious meals.

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Program Director Karen Ray says, “Between April and June, we served over 460 people, including over 260 children, at our weekly Preschool Garden Times and class field trips.  These programs were free to the community, and all funding support was provided by Les Dames. Children dissected bean seeds to see how they grow, and then planted beans in the garden. They strung twine on pea trellises and watched the peas grow from week to week. They discovered spittle bugs hiding in the herb garden, and ladybugs eating aphids on the rose bushes. Children also learned how flowers get pollinated and turn into fruits and seeds. And throughout the spring, children harvested and ate from the garden–peas, carrots, broccoli, radishes, cherries, and strawberries.”

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Another recent recipient is Southwest Early Learning Bilingual Preschool. Director Karina Rojas Rodriguez says, “We are a non-profit bilingual preschool in the heart of West Seattle serving a wide range of ethnic, cultural and linguistic children. Many of our children do not have the experience of growing their own garden or attending amazing field trips like the pumpkin patch. With the Green Tables grant we are able to maintain our very own garden here on Delridge, rent a school bus to transport 130 children to and from the pumpkin patch, and most importantly continue to serve organic and farm to table meals to our children. We appreciate everything they have done for us and continue to do for us.”

Green Tables has awarded over $64,000 since it’s first grant awards in 2011, helping bring healthy meals to schools and early education supporting the garden-to-table cycle, and supporting sustainable farming practices that provide organic and sustainable foods to our community. Drop in on Sunday to learn more about who we are, meet some of the women who have worked hard to make this organization a success, buy something for your kitchen, and help us make a difference.

Thank you for your support.

Leslie

New Bakery: Making Kent a Little Sweeter!

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Lady Macrina watching over us all.

Not too long ago, I was working away at our Sodo bakery marveling at how small the space had become. Our team was working shoulder to shoulder, each process a fine-tuned choreography of mixing, forming and baking with counter space at a premium. My mind wandered back to 1993. When I first opened Macrina Bakery, I had six employees, and 847 square feet packed with a French Bongard oven, a stack of convection ovens, one mixer, an espresso machine and steel baker’s racks to cool the bread. I had been dreaming of having such a kitchen for years and here I was producing a full line of artisan breads, muffins, coffee cakes and tarts. Business took off through word of mouth, some very beloved wholesale customers and some very positive reviews. All my energy went into baking. Soon this kitchen was bursting at the seam and after only a year, I leased the adjoining space, enlarged the kitchen and added a cafe. We were able to offer more pastry items, develop some savory dishes and add new breads. It was a time of incredible growth for Macrina.

Eight years later with another cafe open in the Queen Anne neighborhood, production was moved to a larger space on 2nd Avenue. With more space, more ovens and better equipment we were able to organize better and again add items to our line of breads, pastries and savory items. We even improved some old favorites. Business continued to grow. Our cafes were thriving and more and more wholesale customers were added to our family. My crew and I shared great highs and weathered growing pains that tested our collective graciousness.

And soon we needed more space.

In 2008, with new partners, we found an industrial building in the Sodo neighborhood. We doubled our kitchen size, had plenty of parking for delivery vans and space for a cafe that could feature big windows both outside and into the kitchen. There was even space upstairs for administrative offices. I thought we would never fill all the space! The expertise, dedication and experience of my managing partners allowed me to step back from business operations and spend more time in the kitchen. We invested in and learned from our talented staff who are devoted to making the best breads and pastries. We improved ingredients, sourced more local products and services, and added sweet and savory items our customers requested. We increased our delivery area, our cafes were thriving and our growth continued.

Remarkably we outgrew this space quickly.

For the last few years we’ve been bursting at the seams again, forced to find more efficient ways to work within our confines. So, after a year of planning and another 6 months of construction, we have moved again!  Our new bakery is in Kent, which I like to refer to as the new Sodo (industrial, up and coming). I am in love with our well thought out bakery, with impressive temperature controls, the tools we need to keep up with demand and enough space for each team to spread out.

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The first bake in our new home.

As I was working shoulder to shoulder in our Sodo space that day not too long ago, I was very much looking forward to sharing the new space with my team. Now that we have officially moved in, I am even more excited. I love seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as they acclimate to their new home. We no longer have to push racks of bread around to get into the walk-in and we aren’t tripping over pallets of flour. I love having the space to create.  I am working on a new line of pastries that will blow you away.  You will have to stay tuned to see what we have coming later this summer.  Trust me it is worth the wait.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re very excited about Macrina’s future.

Leslie

 

Meet Our Team: Sergio Castaneda, Delivery General Manager

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Sergio started working as a driver at Macrina in 2002, delivering breads and pastries to wholesale accounts. Later, he became a packer, arriving early to bag all the fresh bread and pastries for delivery, was promoted to lead and later to an assistant manager. Having also spent some time as a pastry chef at a previous job, Sergio’s knowledge is broad. “I know all the elements of the business, from mixing dough and baking it, to handing it to the customer.” As the Delivery General Manager, Sergio oversees 23 drivers, seven packers, and an assistant manager. With new accounts being added every day, that number will grow.

His work day usually starts early in the morning. Not the sort of manager to sit idly in the office, Sergio can often be found shoulder to shoulder with the other packers, readying the day’s deliveries. Later, when all the deliveries have been made, he tackles his management duties, contacts new customers, works with other departments within Macrina to resolve pressing issues, hires new personnel, and continually looks for ways to improve his team’s ability to excel. He loves to work with so many people from different cultures and backgrounds. “I learn something new every day.”

Sergio lives in South Seattle with his wife and three children, ages 13, 11, and 6. By working early in the morning and getting home before the kids are out of school he gets to spend lots of time with them. “They’re growing up fast and family is the most important thing to me,” he says. Both he and his wife have strong backgrounds in food, so they share the cooking duties. His favorite cuisine to prepare is Italian—especially pizza and various pastas.

His family moved from Nayarit, Mexico to White Center in 1998 when he was 15. His two older brothers and an older sister helped him adjust to life in a new country. All of his siblings remain in the area.

When asked what his favorite thing about Macrina is Sergio paused, thought a moment, then said, “There are many. The Challah bread, the Brioche with Nutella, and the Plain Baguette, certainly. But also the professionalism of the people I work with.”

The Buzz on (Really) Local Honey

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On my Vashon Island farm, I have plenty of space for my gardens and chickens. But the current trend in urban farming blurs the old line between city and country. Farming used to be something that took place outside of town. Nowadays, many Seattle homes have parking strip planter boxes overflowing with beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, corn, and much more. Composting boxes overflow. Chickens cluck proudly in backyards, supermarket eggs are no match to their prize offerings. So it’s no surprise that urban bees should follow. That urban produce needs to be cross-pollinated somehow.

Corky Luster started Ballard Bee Company out of his Ballard garage. He’s the Steve Jobs of local honey, the godfather of the urban hive. Turns out it takes more than just plonking a couple of hives in your yard. You need to know how to manage the colony.

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(Photo: Seattle Tilth)

Corky’s love for beekeeping began in college when a German roommate started a couple of hives in their backyard. While working as a designer and contractor building homes in Seattle, he started raising bees in Ballard. City ordinance only allows up to four hives on lots less than 10,000 feet. So Corky began recruiting others to host hives. He manages them; the homeowner gets a dividend of honey and the knowledge that they’re helping our local ecosystem. The hive takes up little space, but its impact is large. Corky combats disease-and-mites by using integrated pest management principles and avoids harsh pesticides, such as acaricides, in his efforts to keep the hives healthy and happy. The city, surprisingly, turns out to be a great place to produce honey since urban trees and gardens tend to be free of industrial agricultural pesticides. With a surplus of fantastic honey, Corky bottled it and began to sell it through a few local stores in 2010.

Renee Erickson, chef of Ballard’s The Walrus and The Carpenter and Fremont’s The Whale Wins, has Corky manage hives for her restaurants. Corky’s cult status in the beekeeping world has also allowed him to partner with Seattle Tilth to teach classes on building and maintaining healthy hives.

At Macrina, I’ve always tried to carry a few locally produced items that complement our breads—it’s hard to find anything more local than Ballard Bee Company’s honey. The flavor is delicate and floral, with just a hint of lemon in the aftertaste. With Seattle’s explosion of urban farming, there are plenty of flowering trees, flowers, and gardens. Plus all those wild blackberries. So the bees do their important work, Corky’s careful attention keeps their hives healthy and we get to offer this beautiful honey. Everybody wins!

Leslie

The Bread Lab: A Washington State Treasure

BreadLabFieldsThe flour most of us are familiar with—the inert, white powdery stuff from the supermarket with a long shelf life—is a very modern development in our long relationship with wheat, the most important food in history. Before industrial agriculture became dominant, milling was done at regional mills with diverse strains of wheat. The effort to create uniform flours that won’t spoil has taken much of the flavor and nutrition from our flour and the products made with it.

One of the national leaders in the effort to restore flavor and nutrition to available wheat is located just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley. Dr. Steven Jones runs The Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the price of the commodity down farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Recently though, farmers, using wheat as a rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil have discovered, or rediscovered, that many varietals grow wonderfully there. This is where The Bread Lab comes in. Jones is a wheat breeder dedicated to making regional grain farming viable again. His lab develops vigorous wheat hybrids full in flavor and nutritional value that grow optimally in particular climates.

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Over six years ago, I was invited to be part of The Bread Lab’s advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. At the time, I was happy with our flour and didn’t imagine I would be looking elsewhere. A few bakers I knew in Seattle were experimenting with milling their own flours. I was eager to learn more. The Bread Lab proved to be an excellent resource. It gave me the opportunity to test wheat from smaller growers. Jones and his team check it for strength and provide us with its falling number, which indicates the speed of fermentation. As you can imagine, our baking schedule is pretty tight. A dough moving unexpectedly slowly or quickly can really throw things off.

Using ingredients with the highest integrity has always been central to my mission at Macrina. In flours, flavor and high nutritional value are the two most important things I look for, along with consistency and a reliable supply. My earliest fascination was with whole grain milling. Most commercially produced flour is made only with the starchy endosperm of the grain. Both the nutrient-rich bran and flavorful wheat germ are discarded because the oils they contain will turn rancid in a few weeks. But the durability that commercial flour gains by discarding them comes at an enormous cost—the loss of flavor and nutrition.

This is why, years ago, I started using freshly milled whole grain flours from Fairhaven Mills. I admire the nutty and natural caramel flavor that comes from the milled whole grain flours. When I first started experimenting with this whole grained milled flour, I was hydrating a portion of the flour to soften the bran. This worked to some degree, but I was still not getting the rise I wanted, resulting in a dense texture. The Bread Lab provided me with many strategies. With their help and plenty of experimenting, I got the results I desired. On another occasion, we had a difficulty with a flour we were getting from Fairhaven Mills. They’d had to substitute a wheat from Montana rather the Walla Walla wheat we’d been using. I sent a sample to The Bread Lab. They tested it and determined that the wheat had a smaller falling number, which means the dough develops quickly. We reduced the mixing time and with lots of tweaking got consistent results. When you’re mixing hundreds of pounds of dough destined for someone’s table in a few hours and the dough isn’t behaving you can imagine the frenetic scene that results.

SkagitWheatEvery year The Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country descend on the Skagit Valley. Workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations cover a range of wheat-centered topics (I’ve learned lots from these over the years). At the 2015 event, they held a bread tasting for a group of experienced bakers. We tasted seven breads, each made with a different locally grown wheat. For each loaf the recipe was essentially the same, with small adaptations made to create the best loaf with each flour. The varying tastes, textures, and the overall natural sweetness was a revelation. The flour made all the difference. The experience inspired my commitment to bringing more locally grown flours to the breads we make at Macrina.

One of the challenges The Bread Lab faces is that making local wheats prevalent takes more than introducing them to local bakers. Local grain economies that existed before the mass produced flours drove them out of business must be rebuilt. That includes persuading farmers to grow the grains, mills to grind them, stores to sell them and buyers to purchase them. Contributing to a healthy and sustainable local food economy is not just a good thing for Macrina to do, it’s a great thing for our bread. You just can’t beat the taste that freshly milled whole grain flours provide.

With the success The Bread Lab has experienced they’ve outgrown their small space and this summer will relocate to a 12,000-square-foot building. King Arthur Flour is partnering with them to add a full-scale mill and educational center. The state-of-the-art facility, and the passion and knowledge of Jones and his team, is a unique treasure. We are lucky to be so close to the innovation taking place in Skagit Valley, innovation with benefits that extend through the state and beyond.

Leslie

Summer Larder Series (Part 2) / Bucatini Pasta with Roasted Tomato Sauce

Bucatini Pasta with Roasted Tomato Sauce and Stecca Garlic Bread Recipe

In the introduction to my last video, I talked about the value of a larder stocked with the jams and sauces made with the surplus of fruits and vegetables from the summer harvest. The small investment of time spent cooking and preserving the best of summer allows you to enjoy its riches all year. And when you’re entertaining, a well-stocked larder makes it that much easier to kick out something spectacular or a quick and easy dinner during the work week.

Spring plant sales are a vice of mine. I imagine my garden overflowing with zucchini, snap peas, green beans, peppers, lettuce, and much more. Especially tomatoes. Given the unreliability and streakiness of hot summer weather in the Pacific Northwest, I plant lots of tomato varieties, never knowing which will thrive best. I plant sweet cherry tomatoes for fresh eating, Brandywine, Juliette, and Tiger Stripe for bruschetta and fresh sauces. Inevitably I wind up with baskets of lovely, ripe tomatoes far in excess of what my tomato-loving family can eat. What to do? Roasted tomato sauce. My baskets of surplus tomatoes go into the oven with olive oil and garlic to roast. I puree them with fresh basil before sealing them in jars and storing them in my larder.

In the seasons that follow, invariably those jars of summer goodness become the heart of flavorful pastas on busy nights. To me, a good roasted tomato sauce calls for garlic bread. Our new Stecca bread is ideal for this. Stecca, a soft “sweet” (meaning not sour) baguette, is made with our yeast-risen ciabatta dough. It has a light, golden crust and a well-aerated irregular crumb structure. In this video, I transform it into an excellent garlic and cheese-topped dipping bread, a great accompaniment to bucatini pasta with roasted tomato sauce. Together they make a simple, soul-satisfying meal that you can throw together in less than half an hour.

Italian Bread Traditions

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In Italy, there is a saying Senza il pane tutto diventa orfano, without bread everyone is an orphan. Such is the role of bread in Italian daily life. It has a presence at every meal. Its importance, not just to Italian cuisine but to Italian culture, can hardly be overstated.

I have always had a reverence for bread. Many years ago, dining with friends, I discovered just how reverent Italian traditions are when one in our party inadvertently set a wedge of bread on the table crust side down. My Italian friend immediately turned the bread over, right side up, and crossed himself. Apparently this could bring about bad luck, not just for my friend but for the whole table. The superstition seems to be based on the religious fact that bread is considered a symbol of life. Turning it over is considered disrespectful. Bread is a staple of life. One must not risk cursing the supply.

pane-forno-legna-7-620x400Carol Field, the author of The Italian Baker  writes, “Bread is merely flour, water, yeast, and salt as the world is merely earth, water, fire, and air. These four elemental ingredients—grain from the fields, water from rivers and mountain streams, leavening from the wild yeasts of the air, and salt from the sea—have been combined since Roman days to make the breads of Italy.”

The history of the people on the sunny Italian peninsula has been a combative one, with small city states battling one another. Pride in local traditions is fierce. Only in the last 150 years did Italy become a unified country. Even today, regional differences are surprisingly large. Towns situated just kilometers apart have unique dialects, customs, and, yes, even breads. But bread they have. All of them.
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Bread consumption in Italy is higher than any other European country. Most loaves are made by artisan bakers, working on a small scale and heavily influenced by family and regional traditions. Secrets and techniques have been handed down from baker to baker over the years. Even in a metropolitan city like Rome, one finds many varieties of bread. Years ago, while dining there, I discovered a remarkable bread. It’s crust ranged from caramel to almost black; the crumb had a beautifully irregular texture, and the flavor was highly developed. I had to know who had made the bread. With the address in hand for Panficio Arnesse Giuseppe, I wandered the winding streets of the Trastevere neighborhood until I finally tracked down the baker of this bread. Giuseppe was seated in front of his warm oven, reading a newspaper. Amiable and chatty, he was happy to share. He showed me his wood-burning oven, fueled by hazelnut shells. His dough was made simply, without any refrigeration. Starters were developed in his mixers and held there for the next day. We talked for hours. His bread is the inspiration for my Giuseppe loaf.

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Matt Galvin, one of my partners at Macrina, visiting Giuseppe at Panficio Arnesse

I visited a great many bakeries, tasting more than 100 loaves. In Florence and throughout Tuscany the large, thick-crusted oval loaves are made without salt. Some say it’s because a heavy tax was levied on salt in the Middle Ages, and Tuscan bakers decided to go without. Others say the strong flavors of the local cuisine find a better balance in bread without salt. The bread takes some getting used to, but with a slice of salty typical Tuscan salami, like soppressata, I found it excellent.

Down south, on the heel of the Italian boot, Puglia is one of my favorite regions for bread. Their loaves bear influences of the Turks who long ago occupied the region. My favorite has a crunchy crust, irregular crumb, and a flavorful, chewy interior that tastes of the fragrant wheat they use. Local lore is that anyone who wastes any crumbs of this loaf will be doomed to purgatory for as many years as crumbs spilled.

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Wheat field in Puglia

Throughout much of recorded history on the peninsula, bread has been so fundamental to well-being that prices have been regulated by the locality. A fair price for bread—the staff of life—provided sustenance for all. When bread could not be obtained at a fair price, revolution or famine usually followed. Given the central role bread holds in Italian cuisine, and has since Roman times, the almost sacramental reverence it receives is no surprise. Not only has it provided daily sustenance, but its social role—breaking bread with others—is central to Italian life.

In hill towns, small protected valleys, walled cities, and dense neighborhoods, artisan bakers have nourished their communities with the work of their hands, feeding cherished natural starters, kneading and letting their dough rise, stoking the fires in their ovens, and baking traditional loaves, day in and day out. I am honored to have had the opportunity to learn from and to follow their rich tradition.

Leslie

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