News & Events

Carol Field: From day-old bread to gourmet surprise

Repost from
Carol Field: From day-old bread to gourmet surprise

By Lizzie Bermudez

Although it may not feel like it outside, it’s winter time right now and what better way is there to celebrate the season than enjoying bread with your family?

Carol Field, author of “The Italian Baker, Revised: The Classic Tastes of the Italian Countryside” explains how to turn your day-old bread into a gourmet surprise. Here’s one way you can do it:

Minestrone Toscana Tuscan Bean Soup (Makes 6 servings)
8 ounces (225 g) dried white cannellini beans, ?or 11/2 cups canned cannellini beans with their liquid
3/4 cup (5.8 oz / 165 g) olive oil
2 large yellow onions (about 1 lb / 450 g), finely chopped
3 ribs celery (5 oz / 150 g), diced
4 carrots (10 oz / 300 g), peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon (0.2 oz / 5 g) tomato paste
2 teaspoons (0.4 oz / 10 g) warm water
2 ripe tomatoes (12 oz / 310 g), chopped
2 bunches Swiss chard (about 2 lb / 900 g), ?stems trimmed and leaves chopped
2 firmly packed cups (about 6 oz / 175 g) ?lacinato or dinosaur kale, stems trimmed,  leaves chopped (about 1 bunch)
3 cups (about 6 oz / 175 g) finely shredded ?Savoy cabbage
4 boiling potatoes (about 13 oz / 375 g), peeled ?and chopped
1 fresh small chile, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons (0.1 oz / 2 g) chopped fresh thyme?or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
5 to 6 cups (42 to 49 oz / 1.2 to 1.4 kg) cold water
12 slices (about 11/2 lb / 600 g) stale pane toscano scuro (page 88) or pane toscano (page 84)
Best-quality Tuscan olive oil, for garnish

If you are using dried beans, soak the beans overnight in water to cover, then drain. Bring the beans and fresh water to cover by 2 inches to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until tender, about 11/2 hours. Drain the beans but reserve the cooking liquid. Purée three-quarters of the cooked beans with a little of the cooking liquid or three-quarters of the canned beans in a little of their liquid in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in a blender. Reserve the remaining whole beans.

Heat 1/2 cup of the oil in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and sauté until the onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Thin the tomato paste with the warm water and add the thinned paste and the fresh tomatoes to the vegetables. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the chard, kale, cabbage, potatoes, puréed beans, chile, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the remaining liquid from cooking the beans or from the can of beans and enough of the cold water to cover the vegetables. Heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Add the reserved beans 10 minutes before the soup is done.

Just before serving, grill or toast two slices of bread for every serving. You can sauté the bread in the remaining 1/4 cup of oil, or brush one side of each slice with oil and bake on a baking sheet at 400ºF until golden, or brush the bread with oil and grill under a broiler or over an open fire. Place the bread in the bottoms of wide soup bowls and ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle a fine ribbon of olive oil over each serving.

A Kitchen Novice Inspired by Carol Field, author of The Italian Baker

Re-posted from
Posted by Ali Slagle on November 28th, 2011

I was invited last week to join our senior publicist at an event for Carol Field, author of The Italian Baker (Ten Speed Press, November 2011). As I trekked over to Danville’s Rakestraw Books, I was slightly apprehensive about the upcoming evening. There was the very real possibility that the majority of the night would fly right over my head, as during my cooking career I’ve heard more “Is something burning?” than “That smells delicious!” And with baking bread being a notoriously challenging task for even well-seasoned chefs, I was prepared to just enjoy a night in a cool bookstore, hanging out with some friendly coworkers, and hit the hay content that I had simply done my part to support one of our awesome authors at a local venue.

“I sometimes forget that authors, at their core, are storytellers.”

As seems requisite for me, I arrived 10 minutes late to Rakestraw Books on a Thursday evening, and Carol was all ready speaking to a rapt group of readers and fans in the middle of the colorful bookstore. She was doing one of the best things good authors do: telling a story. I sometimes forget that authors, at their core, are storytellers. As I settled in to listen to Carol speak about her experiences with bread and the genesis of her book, I was struck by the seemingly innate talent some are blessed with to tell a good story.

As the owners of Rakestraw passed out delicious warm stew accompanied by dark rye and golden sourdough breads to the crowd, Carol was content to talk about the roots of her ideas for The Italian Baker. She shared the eccentric stories of her time in Italy–following the trail of bread baking techniques that date back to Roman times–and learning the trade from passionate bakers who preserve not only a baking tradition, but a way of life. She talked about peasant recipes that use every last crumb: both a necessity of life and a feast for the palate. She shared stories of bringing her knowledge back to the US, where rustic Italian breads had been previously overlooked, and how she desperately wanted to share these incredible artisan breads in such a way that would allow home bakers to make and enjoy them.

While munching on some truly delicious breads and biscotti, I was thoroughly enchanted by the wonderful story of Carol’s journey to creating this staple cookbook for bread enthusiasts everywhere. Over the course of her talk, she emphasized the seemingly endless possibilities of bread making, and the ease with which an educated baker can control the its many variables. She spoke of bread as many speak of fine wine, with an obvious love for the varieties, a deep-seated knowledge of technique and practice, and a solid connection to the roots and tradition of the craft.

Carol concluded the event by taking questions and speaking personably with every person there, sincerely delighted to be sharing her expertise and love of artisan breads. Her attitude towards bread can only be called infectious, and as I left the warm atmosphere of the Danville bookstore, my signed copy of The Italian Baker in hand, I felt more confident than ever about this new avenue of baking opening before me.

The Italian Bakerreads like a travel guide through the back roads and ancient streets of Italy, and Carol’s love of her subject shines through the simplicity and variety of recipes collected in her book. If you can catch her in a city near you promoting her new revised edition, her presence and demeanor will surely impress, and I highly recommend coming out to meet her in person. This author’s intent is not just to show off the creations of traditional Italian bread makers, but also empower her readers to become artisans themselves.

Fillmore to Italy and back again

In a RE-post from The New Fillmore Carol shares a tale of local inspiration.

The Italian Baker, Revised Edition

Now that the new edition of my book The Italian Baker has been published, I have been reliving the adventure of working with bakers all over Italy. It started in San Francisco in 1981 when Il Fornaio, then a bakery featuring Italian breads and sweets, opened at the corner of Steiner and Union Streets. I couldn’t believe my good fortune: Italy had come to my neighborhood.

I was there almost every day, learning from bakers from Rome, Florence, Ferrara and elsewhere. They were wrestling with the problem of adapting American ingredients to their Italian recipes and I listened and was intrigued. I wrote an article for Attenzione, a magazine for lovers of Italy that, alas, no longer exists. It got such a strong response that it began to seem a logical next step to write a book.

When my family lived in Italy in the ’70s, our rental house in Liguria was no more than 30 miles from good friends who lived in Tuscany, but it could have been 200 for all the differences in the food and bread. In Liguria, we ate focaccia as our daily bread; in Tuscany, it was saltless loaves. In Liguria we ate pesto on pasta; in Tuscany pasta turned up rarely so we ate hearty soups instead. Easter in Liguria was celebrated with torta pasqualina, 33 phyllo-thin layers of dough enclosing a chard and egg filling. In Tuscany Easter week brought pan di ramerino, rosemary and raisin buns that reminded me of hot cross buns with an apricot glaze.

On the 12 or 13 trips to Italy it took to write The Italian Baker, I realized that I had plunged into an unknown world. With good introductions, there I was, an American woman turning up in Italian bakeries at 10 or 11 at night wanting to learn how bakers made the iconic breads of their cities and regions and countryside. Night after night, city after city, trip after trip, I was determined to get it down.

Photo by Ed Anderson

There were no books on the subject. Bread making is an art handed down from father to son, so I ended up relying on the equivalent of oral history, with the additional challenge of learning a whole new vocabulary. I watched, wrote copious notes, asked question after question, saw massive amounts of flour whirl in a machine with water and yeast and salt. I wrote down numbers. I laid breads on a table, set a tape measure in front of them, took their pictures, asked about ovens and temperatures and wondered how their big deck ovens would translate at home.

Back home on Washington Street, I tried to recreate the miracles of these breads and sweets, taking a formula for 20 kilos of flour and working to reduce it to two or three loaves. Motes of flour swirled in the kitchen air. I could make a starter, which Italians call a biga, with flour and water and a small amount of yeast, and it bubbled energetically in the space of hours. I made hundreds of loaves, trying out variations in proportions and types of flour. A typical day found me making several kinds of bread, documenting each stage and each variation and finally sitting down around 6 p.m., glassy eyed.

Every visit to a different region of Italy taught me more. I learned that authentic bread sticks were easy to shape, that durum flour made fantastic bread in Puglia and Sicily and that the cracker-thin crusts of Roman pizza were very different than the Neapolitan version.

Photograph of Carol Field by Russell Yip

I came back to San Francisco having tasted breads made for Easter in various regions. In Friuli it was a Gubana, a brioche-like bread with raisins and nuts moistened with five different liqueurs. In Naples, I ate Casatiello — a spicy cheese bread flecked with chunks of salami and freshly ground pepper. In Umbria, I tried an intense cheese-flavored bread baked in terra cotta flowerpots.

And always there was the rhythm, from Washington Street to Italy and then back again, each trip full of discoveries to reproduce so that Americans could bake the iconic tastes of Italy. Friends knew to come by on baking days. Our next-door neighbors looked out the window and arrived in their pajamas.

Since all those trips and the first edition of The Italian Baker, which was published in 1985, more tastes of Italy have come to the neighborhood. Pizzeria Delfina makes pizza for ever-expanding crowds. SPQR makes outstanding “modern Italian” food and serves a gorgeous array of Italian wines. Mollie Stone’s sells cheeses imported from Italy and blood orange juice from Sicily.

It’s wonderful to relive an experience after so many years. Once again I can say: Italy has come to my neighborhood.

Read more: “Food of the poor is no longer for the poor

New York Times Lists Italian Baker

Corby Kummer, a senior editor at The Atlantic, writes a wonderful article for New York Times’ Sunday Book Review Embracing Home: Books About Cooking. He lists his favorite cookbooks for the holidays.

Kummer writes about The Italian Baker:

Every bread baker, home or pro, has been influenced, knowingly or unknowingly, by Carol Field’s ITALIAN BAKER (Ten Speed Press, $35), which the author has now revised and retested. I’m perhaps improperly impartial because I’m quoted inside the back cover with enthusiastic praise of the first edition. But the technique of a long-risen, low-yeast bread started with Field, and she’s still the master of that and biga, the “almost natural yeast” that’s an easy and essential sourdough starter. It’s also Field who introduced Americans to ciabatta and made bakers aware of the regional variety of focaccia.

COOK’S NIGHT OUT: Cookbook Writer Carol Field

San Francisco Chronicle PUBLISHED: September 30, 2007 | By Karola Saekel

Asking Carol Field to a dinner interview at her favorite San Francisco restaurant is a question with a foregone answer: You know she is going to opt for one of the city’s true Italian outposts. Berkeley-raised Field, a longtime San Francisco resident, is one of the most recognized nonnative scholars of Italian cuisine and culture and has written half a dozen books on the subject, mostly cookbooks, but also an erudite volume on the hill towns of Tuscany and Umbria, and a novel.

Choosing a dinner venue did put her into a quandary. Should we meet at Quince? Too elegant, she decided. Should we savor the tastes of Tuscany at Delfina or Neapolitan fare at A16? Bay Area diners are so lucky these days, she says, having the pick of restaurants that are respectful of both the ingredients and the traditions of specific regions of her favorite country rather than the minestrone, pizza and pasta of generic American Italian restaurants of the past century.

Field finally settled on a relative newcomer, Noe Valley’s La Ciccia, which serves the cuisine of Sardinia, one of Italy’s lesser-known and – until recent years – poorer regions, which nevertheless has a noteworthy and distinct cuisine.

Traditionally, Field says, Sardinians were sheepherders, and, to this day, their sheep’s-milk cheeses rank among Italy’s finest. Discerning Genovese cooks, she says, always make their pesto with Sardinian pecorino, and the region’s sheep’s-milk ricotta, she asserts, is to die for.

Goats also roam Sardinia’s rocky hillsides in great numbers, and their meat as well as their milk contributes to the region’s menus. We got a taste of this specialty in a pasta we shared, macaroni (the straight Italian kind, not the American elbows) in a tomato-pepperoncini sauce incorporating beef and goat meat for a distinctive, robust but not overly gamey taste.

This pasta was a special that night, as was our outstanding starter, a salumi of tuna and salmon imported from Italy. Both fish are smoked and very thinly sliced. The texture and taste are unique (the salmon bears no resemblance to lox) and addictive.