Welcoming, comfort-food cooking is what we all need right now. The new book from Joey Campanaro of Little Owl in New York, Big Love Cooking: 75 Recipes for Satisfying, Shareable Comfort Food, delivers just that. I recently received a review copy. He writes in the introduction: “There is nothing fragile or careful about these recipes. They are not a peck on the cheek. They are a warm embrace.” How timely is that? I was intrigued to see that Calvin Trillin had written the Foreward. I finally, after having the book for ages, actually read his The Tummy Trilogy earlier this year. Little Owl opened in 2006 half a block from Trilin’s home in Greenwich Village, and it was a dream come true for him. He sings the praises of the gravy meatball sliders and how despite Campanaro’s experience at fine dining restaurants he chose to put this dish served to him by his grandmother in South Philly on the menu. His mother and grandmother are two sources of inspiration for the Little Owl menu and for the recipes in this book. The chapters cover Brunch, Soups and Salads, Pasta, Meat and Poultry, Fish and Seafood, Sunday Supper, and Desserts. And, it’s not all strictly Italian-American food. You’ll find Cinnamon Sugar Beignets, Sesame Green Beans, and Citrus and Palm Hearts Salad among other chosen dishes. Campanaro didn’t want to be restricted to solely Italian-American fare at the restaurant, and the name of the business allows room to offer a broader array. The Baked Ricotta Crespelle caught my eye as soon as I opened the book. I can’t wait to attempt making the crepes and filling them. Next, I made the quick and easy Monday Baked Ziti, but since I didn’t have Sunday gravy handy I made a simple marinara for the sauce. And, the Sesame Seed Breadsticks looked irresistible. I had to try them next.
A few pages before this recipe in the book, there’s a recipe for the meatball slider buns. For that bread dough, roasted garlic is mashed and mixed into it. I loved that idea and added it to the breadsticks recipe. Mixing the dough and letting is rise is a straightforward process. Then, the dough was rolled into a large rectangle and transferred to a baking sheet. The breadsticks were cut from the rectangle and moved apart. The baking sheet was very full, and I think next time I might split the dough in half and use two sheets for more space to separate them. They were brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking. And, they were as delicious as expected. We couldn’t stop eating them. I’m looking forward to cooking a lot more comforting foods during this holiday season. Wishing you all very happy holidays!
Sesame Seed Breadsticks
The place to be for bread on Sundays in South Philly was Sarcone’s Bakery on South Ninth Street—a fifth-generation Italian bakery that is still as great today as when I was a kid. Our family’s Sunday supper table wasn’t complete without their sesame seed bread that my grandmother would pick up and tote home in a paper bag. If I was with her, that bread never made it home intact—it was just too good to resist eating off the heel (or more) before we’d reach the door. My mother would have some things to say about it that I can’t repeat. The slider bun recipe makes terrific Sarcone’s Bakery– inspired breadsticks, just eliminate the garlic and the second rise.
Makes 18 Breadsticks
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp molasses
1 1/8 tsp active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups [315 g] all-purpose flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 egg white, beaten
1/4 cup [35 g] toasted sesame seeds
Prepare a large baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Brush the inside of a medium mixing bowl with olive oil and set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine 1 cup [240 ml] of warm water, the olive oil, molasses, and yeast. Mix on low speed to incorporate. Slowly add the flour and salt and mix at low speed first, so that the flour doesn’t fly everywhere, then increase to medium speed, mixing until it comes together as a sticky dough mixture, 2 minutes. Transfer the dough ball to the prepared bowl and double wrap it all around like a tight package (so tight that you can bounce a quarter off the top) and set in a warm place or at room temperature until the dough is doubled in size and becomes soft and elastic, about 1 hour.
Midway through the 1 hour rise, preheat the oven to 400°F [200°C]. Lightly flour a work surface and turn the dough out. Using a rolling pin, roll it out to a ¼ in [6 mm] thick rectangle or oblong shape roughly 9 in by 13 in [23 cm by 33 cm] in size. The beauty of an oblong shape is that the sticks on the end are shorter than the ones in the middle—a little something for everyone.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and use a pizza cutter to cut the dough into about 18 breadsticks that are about the width of your pointer finger (just eyeball the width as best you can so that they bake evenly). Be sure to separate the sticks a bit so that they don’t stick together when they expand in the oven.
Use a pastry brush or a flat rubber spatula to lightly brush the tops of the breadsticks with the egg wash and sprinkle the sesame seeds over them to coat them completely.
Bake until golden brown and crispy, 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
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