Friday, January 21, 2011

A determined woman

Do you ever wake up in the morning and say "Today I'm going to..."
Because today, I woke up with determination, with gusto, and spirit. Today I'm going to finally master the art of making dough.

I'm not talking about pasta dough; that's easy. All that requires is a little flour, an egg and some water. I'm talking about any dough that requires my arch nemesis- yeast.

The only time I've ever tried to make bread with yeast I ended up with a brick that we had to saw through, dunk in coffee, and chew almost a thousand times before swallowing.

It was not pretty.

But last night it dawned on me. I'm almost thirty. And though I still get carded when buying alcohol, I can't fake it any longer. I'm almost thirty.
Before going to sleep, I though of what a great decade my twenties were. I graduated college and grad school, wrote a book, became a teacher, lived in Rome ( twice), met the love of my life, got married, moved around a lot, wrote another book--- whew.
All this and I'm scared of a little yeast.

Or at least I was until now.

To be completely honest, bread dough was a little too scary, so I thought of an easy alternative: pizza dough. Any good Italian girl approaching thirty should have a nice pizza dough recipe in her back pocket. That's not being stereotypical, it's just how it is. So this morning, in my determined state, I called my mother, a woman with more than one recipe under her belt.

My mother is perhaps the most determined woman I know; I can't even list all the she's accomplished in her life- it'd make my little list seem unimpressive. Really, she can do whatever she puts her mind to-- including figuring out mystery recipes from favorite restaurants.

My family hardly ever went out to eat- when you own a restaurant, you don't go out to restaurants for fun because you almost always leave disappointed. There are a few key exceptions to this, and Fiorello's in NYC is one of them.

Fiorello's has been a staple in my family for years. It's located right on Broadway, across the street from the Metropolitan Opera House, and has been my dad's favorite place for years.

We've celebrated big milestones there ( my twentieth birthday being one) and it's even the site of one of the first dates Gian Luca and I went on ( I finagled that one myself).

Ok, so what does this restaurant have to do with yeast bread? Among the things we love about Fiorello's is the amazing flatbread which they put in baskets on every table. I love it so much that, more than once I've gone in just to buy some. They don't normally sell it for take-out, but a determined woman always gets her way.

One day, my brother Joey came home from New York with a bag of flatbread for my mom. "Can you figure out how to make this?" he asked, and the challenge was on. Like I said before, my mother will always figure out how to make something.

It didn't even take her long. And before we knew it, the flatbread was a staple in our holiday breadbaskets. This Christmas alone I must have eaten at least two trays. It's that good.

And now, after almost thirty years of life, I too have mastered the recipe for flatbread, yeast and all. This is probably a bad thing actually, since I've already eaten four pieces.

Yeast beware- I'm no longer afraid of you. Next time, I'll be baking bread.


1 envelope dry active yeast ( 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil ( plus more for coating the pans)
1 cup water
mixed herbs ( I used parsley, oregano and rosemary)
salt and pepper

1- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Stir 1 envelope yeast into 1/4 cup warm water. Stir in 1 teaspoon sugar and let rest for ten minutes. If the mixture doubles in volume, the yeast is active.

2- In a large bowl, combine the flour, water and olive oil. Stir in the yeast and knead until the dough forms a ball ( you can use a mixer with a dough hook if you want).

3- Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for at least 30 mins.

4- once the dough rises to double its original size, punch it down. ( This will be enough for two medium sized pizzas if you want it for that).

5. Generously oil a baking sheet. Stretch 1/4 of the dough onto the sheet, making sure to pull it nice and thin ( don't worry if it tears a little).

6. Drizzle olive oil on top of the dough, and add your favorite herbs, salt and pepper.
7. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.


  1. I love Fiorello's and their flatbread. I could eat the whole basket of it and now I've got the recipe. Can't wait to try.

  2. Fiorello the Italian Singer?

  3. Thanks Linda!

    Hi Paolo- I'm not sure if Fiorello's is named after a singer. I always thought it was named after Fiorello LaGuardia- the old mayor of NYC.

  4. stop over and i will teach you how to bake bread simply!