Week Four: Savory Quick Breads
Originally, I had planned to make a different recipe, one for Spoon Bread. Spoon bread is another Southern specialty, more often seen in the Low Country area of the South than anywhere else, alongside Hoppin’ John, Frogmore stew, and other traditional dishes. I knew it was similar to cornbread, but as I looked at the recipe, I decided it was a little too similar. Yes, it’s more like a soufflé than a bread, but the basic ingredients are just about the same as for cornbread. It most certainly is a savory quick bread, but the clincher was that the method is just not a quick-bread method. Spoon bread is made with a hot cornmeal mush and whipped eggs, rather than simply stirring dry and wet ingredients together. So I began the search for a different bread I could make then and there, with only the ingredients I had on hand – I refused on principle to run to the store for one ingredient when it was 3 degrees outside.
Many of my cookbooks don’t even mention bread, except in a token loaf or two, so my search was already narrowed somewhat. Nearly every other cookbook that contains a bread section, though, include no savory quick breads, or only ones that I had already made. So I went for the sure thing: the Quick Breads section of The Joy of Cooking, that venerable tome. I flipped quickly past biscuits and scones, past soda breads and banana breads, past muffins and muffins and muffins. I was starting to wonder if I could finagle something savory out of the apples in the refrigerator, or the chopped onions in the freezer, when my eye fell upon a recipe entitled Mediterranean Olive Bread. And lo and behold, we had just hosted a dinner party earlier in the week, which meant there were leftover kalamata and herbed green olives still hanging around. Fortune smiled upon me!
The text accompanying the recipe describes it as “easy-to-make”, good with fresh mozzarella or soft goat cheese, and that it “stays moist for 2-3 days and makes good toast”. Perfect! I could imagine what I would serve for dinner in the next few days: mixed greens, dressed with oil and vinegar, topped with toasted walnuts, diced pear, generous wodges of the brie also left over from the aforementioned dinner party, and crunchy cubes of this olive bread, crisped in an oven to make croutons. Picturing a steamed filet of fish with herbs and yogurt alongside, with a glass of wine, and I could almost taste it.
The bread turned out wonderfully, very easy to make, as promised, and full-flavored without being overwhelming. There are definitely olives in this bread, but they don’t punch you in the tastebuds. It is bread first, then with a healthy olive flavor. The herbs are just right, not taking over the olive flavor, but enhancing it. This bread was a hit as a post-dinner, mid-card-game snack for impromptu guests, and was light enough to enjoy first thing in the morning for breakfast too. If you don’t manage to finish a loaf before it goes a bit stale (though I’m not sure how it could possibly go uneaten that long), I could easily see crumbling this bread onto a sheet pan, drying it out in a low oven, and running through a food processor for the most flavorful bread crumbs ever. It would be absolutely delicious used as a crumb topping over a mild fish, like trout, grouper, or halibut; and just superb mixed with grainy mustard, olive oil, and fresh mint, and pressed onto lamb rib chops. Keep a loaf of this in the freezer, and you’ll never be at a loss for unexpected hosting duties.
Mediterranean Olive Bread
From The Joy of Cooking
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped pitted imported olives
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350º F. Grease an 8×4 (6 cup) loaf pan.
2. Whisk both flours, baking powder, rosemary, and salt together. Mix eggs, milk, and olive oil together to blend, in a large bowl. Add the flour mixture, and fold until about three-quarters of the dry ingredients are moistened. Add the walnuts and olives, and fold just until the pieces are distributed and the dry ingredients are moistened; the batter will be stiff.
3. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.
1. I used a mixture of dried rosemary, sage, and thyme (no parsley, I’m afraid), since I love the blend of flavors.
2. My bread felt done after 40 minutes, but took another 4 or 5 to get golden brown on top.