We are on a road trip!
Tonight, we are in the inland town of Gundagai. First stop in what is shaping up to be a trip through historic inland towns and villages.
I haven’t driven our car for weeks, and for at least a couple of months before that, since I prefer to walk or take public transport to get around our patch of inner Sydney. It took a while to get used to the manual gears, the road, other cars, but then I settled back into familiarity with our good little car, and we were away, to quieter and greener places.
When I was not driving, I nibbled on a slice of gubana.
Gubana. A special Easter cake/bread I stumbled across almost by accident. I made the recipe, and found the flavours intriguing, lingering, in a way that says old fashioned good things. Bread-like, not quite as rich as brioche or challah, crammed full of walnuts, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, hazelnuts, and more. The bread is almost like panettone, and filling is so flavoursome, with a lingering sweetness that comes from dried fruit rather than sugar.
Here I am, on a Monday night, trying to think of a witty, captivating way to introduce a kale salad. I could wax lyrical about its impressive pedigree: from Barbuto in NY via Deb Perelman’s kitchen to yours truly. I could go all food anthropology on you and talk about the similar ingredients found in pasta or even bread from that island off Italy (disclaimer: only in the world according to Google).
Or, I can just sit back and tell you about this salad – the flavours, textures, ideas.
Because, this way, I won’t have to talk about how this is yet another kale salad. I can just say – this salad doesn’t make me feel like I’m eating grass. Grass is virtuous to be sure, and good for moo-cows, but I prefer my grass a little more mediated by cows, say in the form of pecorino cheese.
Then, I can tell you the salad is savoury, sweet, tart. These bold flavours complement (but not mellow) kales earthiness – think Ottolenghi’s way with radicchio in Plenty. The textures vary between lemon-softened kale, plumped raisins, crunchy walnuts and crumbly-creamy pecorino.
I’ve served variations of the salad at two elaborate dinners, a Moroccan/Sicilian epic, and our similarly epic Christmas lunch. Both times, it was hoovered up, with people asking about it as they peered into the salad bowl for more.
Fougasse, panis focacius, fogatza, fouace, hougasse, fouasso.
Just don’t say focaccia.
Fougasse is a type of flat bread made in France, with a name derived from Latin and Occitan (the language of the Languedoc region, among others, and apparently a close relative to modern Catalan). The most famous variety is slashed to look like an ear of wheat, and is savoury, though other varieties include a sweet bread flavoured with orange water. Fougasse is baked until it’s very browned, and should have a crispy crust and a soft interior.
The English and French Wikipedia both tell me that fougasse was used by bakers to test if their bread oven was at the right temperature. If the French Wikipedia says so about a French bread, it must be right, right??
I also quickly learned it’s not focaccia. For a variety of reasons, including focaccia is Italian and fougasse is French.
Having got these preliminaries out of the way, I can get on with this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) assignment, sweet fougasse. I’ve wanted to make fougasse, with its distinctive wheat or leaf shape, for a while. Who could resist the idea of slashing dough, pulling on dough, until there are giant holes in the dough? It’s all of my “playing with food” wishes come true.
But. Like a stroll through Alice in Wonderland, nothing turned out quite the way I expected.
‘Ultimate’ is a fraught word. When someone claims something is the ‘ultimate’, I can just see the pitfalls open up and a line of other ‘ultimate’ versions ready to fight for the title. For something as simple as banana bread, the word ‘ultimate’ becomes even more complicated.
Everyone has an opinion on what makes a banana bread the ‘ultimate’ of its kind. Research on the internet reveals a panoply of secret techniques / ingredients / you name it. All for what is basically a cake made with mushy bananas.
Some say the secret is really ripe bananas (but, there are even disagreements about the right degree of ripe: whether we are talking a few black spots, or black all over and squidgy and, you know, the word ‘rotten’ starts to come to mind). Some say it’s how the bananas are mashed / pureed / chopped. Still others say the secret lies in the other things in the batter – type of flour or sugar, baking soda versus baking powder, vanilla / cinnamon / nuts / chocolate, even yoghurt / butter / oil / sour cream.
There are ‘quick’ recipes, ‘quick’ and ‘ultimate’ recipes, ‘best’ recipes, ‘quick’ and ‘best’. Recipes with icing, recipes without icing, recipes with cinnamon sprinkled on top, and recipes made with coconut oil. I half expected to find a recipe for raw banana bread (now I’m curious, is there such a thing as raw banana bread?)
Finally, some swear that the secret is for mum, or grandma, or that special friend who runs that bakery, to make the perfectly imperfect banana bread that brings back childhood memories.
Phew! Are we overwhelmed yet?