someone at tartine bakery must have sold their soul to the devil because their bread is fiendishly, hellaciously, fire and brimstone-y good (no, i don’t even know what that means). sure, their banana cream pies, ham and cheese croissants, bread pudding, morning buns, croque monsieurs, and just about everything they make deserve every deliciously over-the-top superlative i can think of, but their bread merits its own separate tribute. bread is oh so simple, yet oh so fucking hard to perfect. it’s just a few ingredients – usually flour, water, yeast, and salt – yet making that ultimate crusty yet chewy, structural yet yielding, flavorful but not overpowering loaf is an absolute work of art.
i know i sound obsessive, but every person i’ve served it to starts off skeptical, chews for a few moments, then says something along the lines of, ‘i would trade one of my kidneys to eat this every day.’ i couldn’t agree more (you only need one, silly). every time i buy a loaf to serve as an appetizer, i can never enjoy as much as i want because an entire dinner is coming. so my roomates and i planned a dinner last week of just tartine bread, cheese, and salad. they sell the bread only on wednesday through sunday and it comes fresh out of the oven at 5pm. i almost didn’t want to write that because the bread goes so fast, but hell, it’s on their website and everyone knows about it. which is why all of it had been sold in less than an hour when we stopped by last thursday. GAHHH. arrow straight to the heart. they were nice enough to give us a small piece of tester loaf for free, and we bought a still-really-good-but-poor-substitute-for-tartine-bread loaf of acme cranberry walnut bread from bi-rite.
on our way back, we stopped in tartine to have a glass of wine and listen to a weekly band that always seems to include some form of accordion (bean, you’d love it) and what did we see on the counter but this thing of beauty:
apparently it was a test loaf of fougasse, which is basically a french version of what would be focaccia in italian. i spoke to a really nice guy who works there named eric, who was taking photos of the bread. i asked if i could take a photo too, then snapped a few shots of him and the fougasse with his camera. we chatted a bit about how we’re neighbors cause he lives over the bakery, and told him about how we came home empty-handed after missing out on the day’s bread. i sat back down and then after a few minutes he came up to us and handed over the fougasse because apparently they had to get rid of this mountainous bready wonder of a test loaf.
GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! the bread score of a lifetime. we took it home, added the other tester loaf, one of my favorite cheeses – the incredibly rich and creamy king island seal bay triple cream brie (anything with triple cream is triple awesome) – as well as a really fresh mozzarella, some deliciously spicy and fruity mcevoy olive oil, and a fantastic bottle of charles creek cabernet that we got at a tasting room up in somona last week. nom nom fucking nom.
it was like a meal you have as a kid when your parents are out of the house – i’m gonna eat whatever i want! thirty-six marshmallows, two pop tarts, a bag of cheese puffs, and a hot pocket! – except the grown up version. no thought for nutrition, balance, or even vegetables (the salad greens were ignored in the fridge) but just what tastes good, and a lot of it. the fougasse was incredible – it had a crunchy and cracker-y crust with a thin sheen of oil and a sprinkling of salt on top, and a very airy inside without a lot of heft that the traditional loaves have. it was fantastic with the cheese (duh), but we came to appreciate its true bread-y power because of its deliciousness when standing alone with no accompanying flavors. truly awesome.
and the best part – leftovers! despite attacking the fougasse like a ravenous pack of marauding t-rexes, there was still a fair amount left at the end of our meal (note: this is not because we eat like corseted duchesses at a garden party, it’s because the fougasse started off the size of a fully grown koala bear, i kid you not). here’s an important food tip – never throw out good bread. there are tons of dishes you can make with leftover bread like ribollita (tuscan bread soup), panzanella (tuscan bread salad), bruschetta (holy shit, italians are geniuses!), or breadcrumbs for mac-n-cheese and a bajillion other dishes. just throw the bread in a plastic bag and tie it up tight for a day or two, and stick it in the oven to crisp it up when you want to use it.
the next day, i decided to make bread salad with the leftovers, which is super easy because you can throw in pretty much any vegetable you like. tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onions are standard, but you could also throw in asparagus, artichokes, green beans, white beans, any kind of bell pepper, pine nuts, olives, anchovies – basically anything you’ve got lying around in the fridge or whatever’s fresh at the farmer’s market. we went with just the basics, made a garlicky vinaigrette, and it turned out smashingly delicious:
for the salad: leftover bread. four tomatoes. half a red onion. one cucumber.
chop the tomatoes and cucumbers into bite-size pieces and the red onion into thin slices. toss the bread in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350°, until it gets crispy. tear the bread into bite size pieces. don’t do it straight out of the oven or you’ll burn the shit out of your hands (yes, sometimes i’m not that smart).
for the dressing: one big clove of garlic, a chunk of red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper.
mince the garlic (i like to lay my knife blade flat on top of the garlic and then bring my fist down hard to smash it – boooyakasha i’m a ninja! – then it’s really easy to peel and dice) and the red onion. splash in the olive oil and vinegars. i like red wine vinegar for the acidity and tartness and balsamic to sweeten it up. add salt and pepper. whisk everything together with a fork. the fresh garlic will give it that spicy garlicky taste that perfectly complements the richness of the olive oil and sweetness of the balsamic. mmmm.
once you’ve made the vinaigrette, pour it over the bread and veggies and toss. if the bread is very dry or in thicker pieces, let it sit for a bit to soak up the vinaigrette. enjoy!