Saturday, January 1, 2011

Neapolitan Casatiello

New Year's Casatiello. © Ryan Schierling
Sometimes I have trouble putting myself to bed. It's a hold over from being that kid who was absolutely convinced that going to sleep would mean missing out on something important and exciting. I'm still not always able to simply "go to bed" like a reasonable adult. I must force and cajole myself, like a tired child, finally into slumber. 

On one particularly obstinate evening, I found myself flipping through the local PBS channels and came upon the show Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito. I've never really watched this program before, and likely would have just kept surfing that night, but then I noticed what she was working on looked an awful lot like the dough I make for pizza. 

So I stopped, and watched... 

First, I was hooked because of the ingredients... olive oil, cracked pepper and pecorino cheese. Then I sat perplexed as I watched her assemble the dough using the regular paddle attachment, instead of the dough hook, on her big professional model KitchenAid mixer. The sticky dough actually looked like it was beaten "fluffy" for a few moments. Finally, the day was saved when she turned the dough out onto the counter and began to knead it with marvelously expert hands. 

To this point I really had no idea what she was up to with this recipe, and was still thinking "some kind of pizza, maybe," as she began to roll out the proofed batch that magically appeared from a far counter. The surface was brushed with olive oil... and...

Oh, look... big ol' chunks of meat and cheese!! Okay, I admit, I didn't have any real interest in the porky mortadella, but the provolone? Yes, ma'am! And paired with savory salty meaty bits... well, the concept and necessity of contrast must be honored. 

© Ryan Schierling
She rolled this fine mess up like a jelly roll and lifted it carefully into an angel food cake 
pan. At this point I thought I'd gotten the gist and just maybe it was time to curl up in bed. It was then... DROP THAT REMOTE... she began tucking whole uncooked eggs into the top and battening them down with little crosses of dough! 

Then it was finally explained. This is an Italian Easter holiday bread from the region of Naples. The meat and cheese-filled Neapolitan Casatiello is rich in symbolism with the round shape emulating Jesus' crown of thorns, the eggs a symbol of rebirth and the crosses, well – are crosses. This bread is also unique in that it is completely savory – unlike many of the sweeter Easter Breads prepared similarly with brightly colored eggs. 

No, it is not Easter – and I am not Neapolitan – so, I have taken the liberty of re-appropriating this recipe for the New Year. Our Austin neighbors may be eating bowls full of black-eyed peas for good luck in 2011, but we are sticking to our tradition of eating eggs. 

As a symbol of renewal and delicious potential, eggs are featured in fine traditions across many cultures. Since our very first New Year together, eggs – hard boiled eggs, in particular – have been our home's good luck edible. Scotch eggs are always served on New Year's day, but we've never had an established breakfast tradition. I thought this recipe looked like a delicious way to begin the next 365 day round. It's a good fit to precede Scotch eggs and it can be made a day ahead. 

In the loose and intuitive spirit of Mary's broadcast, I attempted to stay true to her recipe and the wisdom of her grandmother's technique. The dough is beautiful, soft and wonderfully fragrant. Not wanting a crown shape, I went to some lengths to find a long loaf pan. The longest and deepest I found was a long rectangular angel food cake pan, and it worked perfectly. The substitution of a semi-hard beef sausage for the mortadella was the only major deviation – and for what it's worth, the circular "egg bondage" technique is also my own. 

© Ryan Schierling
Eggs symbolize and celebrate the birth of something new. So with that I shall toast a 
slice of this New Years loaf, release the egg from its bready bonds and raise a cup of coffee to 2011.

1 comment:

  1. this is amazing!!!!! need an oven and a kitchen aid quick!


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