Free Recipe: Semolina Bread with Sesame Seeds

Sicilian Semolina Bread with Sesame Seeds

I recently spent a delightful evening with my friend Viola Buitoni, a wonderful Umbrian cook and teacher, and Carol Field, the San Francisco author of the just reissued classic, The Italian Baker.

Viola hosts the wonderful Italian gastronomy series at the Italian Cultural Institute.  The presentations are free and I highly recommend them if you want to gain new insights into Italian food and culture.

Carol explained the special place bread and bakers hold in Italian culture and the incredible differences in bread from one part of the country to another, sometimes from one village to the next. There are 1,500 varieties of bread in Italia.

I agree that no Italian meal is complete without great bread on the table. When in Italia I love to explore the local bread bakeries (panificio) and enjoy their specialties – salt-free bread in Florence, the focaccia in Genoa and Venice, the fat bastone loaves in Naples, the Sicilian semolina bread in Palermo.

Carol learned from artisan bread makers throughout Italy. She often joined the bakers at three in the morning as they started baking bread for that day. She painstakingly reduced their large volume recipes and adapted them for the American kitchen. Her recipes maintain the integrity of the Italian original. Carol so inspired me that I had to bake bread this weekend.

This is a version of the bread I grew up on in northern Jersey. We always had a hot loaf from Calandra’s on First Avenue in Newark on our family dinner table. I ate a lot of great Sicilian semolina bread from Bergen County Italian bread bakeries when I was In Jersey for Thanksgiving with family a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been craving semolina bread with sesame seeds ever since.

I adapted Carol’s Pane Siciliano recipe to satisfy my craving. It’s hard to find any Italian bread with sesame seeds in San Francisco never mind one made with semolina flour. Italian-French on Grant at Union sometimes makes a soft twist with sesame seeds and La Boulange sometimes has an Italian loaf with sesame seeds. Both are good but they’re made with unbleached flour. I had to make this one with semolina flour for myself!

The bread has a chewy golden crust and a tender interior turned a pale yellow by the semolina flour. The sesame seeds add a nice nutty flavor.

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Is North Beach Shrinking?

Geppetto's Salumeria About to Open

I was worried about the south side of Vallejo Street between Columbus and Stockton. There was an even mix of Italian and Chinese stores on that block. Then Pulcinella Pizzeria closed and I heard that Victoria Pastry (est. 1914) on the corner was moving to Powell and Filbert near Washington Square. Would we have to cede that side of the street, no longer with any North Beach-oriented businesses? Thank God the answer is no.

As I reported last week, Tony Gemignani quickly scooped up the Pulcinella space where he will feature deep-dish pizza in his new Capos. The new owner of the Italian-French Bakery on Upper Grant is taking Victoria’s corner spot. He own’s the building.

I hope Italian-French reinvents itself in its new location. North Beach could use a really good panificio (bread bakery) that makes a selection of traditional breads found in Italy. OK, they can throw in a San Francisco sour dough every once in a while. Arthur Avenue, NYC’s Real Little Italy” boasts a half-dozen great bread bakeries and every family has their favorite. Why can’t North Beach have at least one? Will Italian-French step up and fill the need?

A new salumeria (Italian deli) will open across the street. The owner of Pinocchio on the corner will open Geppetto’s right next door, hopefully before Christmas. The equipment and furnishings are still crated and sitting in the front of the space ready to be installed. They’re working hard and I can see the place starting to come together.  I can’t wait to get a peek at what Giovanni Zocco will have to offer us. Stay tuned.