This little snack came together in fragments, beginning with a visit to the finest liquor store I’ve ever known — Mission Wine & Spirits in Pasadena. I was there in search of Amaro Nonino, a liqueur of grape distillate aged in barrels with mountain herbs (essentially aged, infused grappa). Enticing, right? True to Mission’s reputation, I found it, setting into motion my favorite pastime: pairing food with the drink you’re intent on having. The idea to make Sardinian parchment bread — “carta musica” (sheet music) — came about fortuitously while browsing a local deli. To go with it, I improvised a rustic spread made with caramelized fennel and anchovies. That’s how I welcomed Amaro into Mr. Alpenglow’s bar.
SARDINIAN PARCHMENT BREAD
recipe for about a dozen oblong breads:
2 cups unbleached flour
1 cup fine semolina
1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt
1 1/4 cups water, about
extra virgin olive oil, optional
Preheat the oven to 450F. In a large bowl combine the flours and salt and mix ingredients thoroughly. Slowly add water, stirring with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a soft dough (you many not need to add all the water). With your hands, work the dough into a ball. Place on a clean, floured work surface and knead for about one minute. The dough should be firm and pliable, not sticky. Divide the dough evenly into 12 balls. Place the balls on a lightly floured surface. Flatten each ball into a thick 4-inch pancake. Generously flour the work surface and with with a heavy-duty rolling pin roll each portion of the dough as thin as possible into an 8″ to 9″ round. These breads are meant to be roughly shaped. Thinness is more important than the shape. The dough should be thin enough to see your hand through it.
Place several rounds of dough on an ungreased baking sheet, brush lightly with the olive oil, and place in the oven. Bake until the top of the bread is firm and lightly browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Baking time will vary and will also depend on the number of breads placed in the oven. With tongs or your fingers, turn the bread over and bake until the other side is slightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes more. (The bread should be rather bumpy, puffy, and irregular, with occasional pockets full of air.) Transfer the bread to a wire rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining rounds of dough. The bread cools quickly and can be served immediately.
FENNEL ANCHOVY SPREAD
improvised recipe for about 2-3 cups:
extra virgin olive oil
3 medium-large fennel bulbs, diced
2 medium yellow onions, diced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tin of fine anchovies
1 cup of walnut pieces, toasted
juice of 1 lemon, plus a bit more to taste
kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
one bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Aleppo chili peppers, optional
In a large skillet, heat a generous amount of olive oil on medium-high flame. Add the fennel and saute until caramelized and softened. Transfer to a dish. Reheat more oil and saute the onions until caramelized and softened. Transfer the onions to the dish with the fennel. Reheat a bit more oil and add the garlic and anchovies, using a wooden spoon to break apart the anchovies in the oil. When the anchovies are nearly dissolved into the oil, add the caramelized fennel and onions back into the skillet with the toasted walnuts. Stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer half of this mixture into a food processor and blend until smooth. Stir the blended and unblended portions together and transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and top with parsley and Aleppo chili.