To continue my scandalous love affair with the Brioche, Peter Reinhart brings us across the border into Italy for the Casatiello. Aptly describing it as a ‘savory Panettone’, this bread begins with a sponge starter (yeast, flour and milk) and finds its fulfilment with the addition of cured meat and cheese. It’s a versatile recipe, allowing a variety of cured meats (chorizo, bacon, sausage, etc) and cheese (Provolone is recommended although Swiss, Gouda or Cheddar are also allowed), as well as the flexibility to omit the meat altogether for a vegetarian version.
Feeling inspired for whatever reason, I decided to use Guanciale (“gwan-chi- ah-lay”) for this recipe, an air-cured Roman bacon prepared from pig’s cheeks. I read about its invaluable contributions to dishes such as Spaghetti Carbonara and Pasta al’Amatriciana, having first heard about it from Marcella Hazan in the preface to her carbonara recipe. Unlike regular bacon, which is made from pork belly and smoked, guanciale is basted in a mixture of wine, herbs and pepper before being hung to dry for 40 days. This process gives it a flavor that is sweeter, rounded and more mellow than your typical bacon, and its rich, fatty content guarantees a truckload of Ultra Pork flavor for pasta sauces with just a small piece. I was quite likely high on an insane amount of butter used in Reinhart’s Rich Man’s Brioche recipe such that the more I read, the more I was convinced that this was the perfect recipe to make an acquaintance with guanciale, the bacon of all bacons. I was in luck at A.G. Ferrari and walked home with a half-pound pack for $10 – a little steep, but I didn’t have the luxury of time, unlike Blake at The Paupered Chef with his home-made guanciale.
Although Reinhart’s recipe calls for four ounces of cured meat, I decided to half the amount after sauteeing the chopped bits of guanciale and saw the oodles of rendered fat collecting in the pan. Yes, I was looking for a power-packed pork flavor in the final loaf, but I didn’t want to overdo it.
After letting the sponge bubble away for 90 minutes, the remaining steps are relatively simple and similar to the preparation for Brioche. You combine the sponge with some eggs, add it to the dry ingredients (flour, sugar and salt), mix it all up, then add the requisite amount of butter a chunk at a time until you get a smooth and tacky dough. Add the meat and cheese of choice (guanciale and Provolone for me) and leave it to ferment for at least 90 minutes, then shape it, ferment for another 90 minutes and into the oven it goes. According to Reinhart, Casatiellos are traditionally baked in paper bags or Panettone molds but I decided on loaf pans for convenience. This recipe provided enough dough to fill two 8×4-inch pans, making it easier to share the porcine love with a lucky friend.
The result was a richly satisfying bread that needs no accompaniments. What else do you need, really, when one bite hits all the savory notes? I guess a salad would be the perfect counter for each flavorful bite, making this bread ideal for those days where an ‘Express Lunch’ is much needed.
The guanciale provided just the right amount of porky-ness although on my next attempt I’ll dice the meat into smaller pieces so as to distribute them more evenly throughout the loaf. For the Provolone, I had shredded it into virtual cheese ‘dust’ with the Microplane instead of the ‘coarse shreds’ that Reinhart called for, and it blended beautifully with the dough. If you are a cheese-lover however, you might want to heed Reinhart’s advice as that would give you little melting ‘pockets’ of cheese with each slice. I’m no cheese fan so this variation worked well for me, giving each bite a gentle wave of Provolone flavor all mixed up with the butter and salty hints of guanciale.
Definitely a recipe to revisit!
Challah is the next recipe on the list so look out for that, but here are other Casatiello adventures to check out in the meantime: