Salted Rosemary Croccantini: better than expensive gourmet brands, even

Dear crackling, cackling, crackering,

It’s that time of week again when we get to zip back in time and steal a post from the old crumbling blogstead! I originally came up with this recipe back in December 2012, when I wanted some fresh, homemade crackers. When driving from Seattle to Virginia, about seven or eight months pregnant and anxious to see my husband again after he’d been moved by the Navy, I was given a package of sort of boring-looking crackers and a bag of sliced cheese. I didn’t even think the crackers looked very good but once I started eating them, I couldn’t stop! Flakes of salt, the herby aroma of rosemary, and the crackle of crispy … I was hooked. You will be, too.

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I love croccantini crackers.  Croccante is the Italian word for crispy or crunchy; –tini is a pluralized diminutive attached to the word, hence our cute little croccantini (if any Italian speakers know more on this, let me know, I have a very limited vocabulary!).

Last year, when I left for my Long Haul to Chicago, my cousin bequeathed upon me a large and full box of flat, salted, rosemary-infused-and-topped, fragrant crackers.  I wasn’t too excited at first (“Oh good, a vehicle for my cheese”) but then I ate one and … well, then I ate the rest.

They were good.  Really good.

I semi-forgot about them for a while, wishing now and again I could find them but not recalling the name of the brand.  “I need to ask her where she got them,” I resolved every time I thought of them.  I didn’t know they were a Thing, popular in Italy with cheese for a snack, and produced by more than one manufacturer, until I stumbled my eyes across them in Trader Joe’s.

Welcome to my cart, little box of crackers.

I took them home and quickly realized that in order to feasibly enjoy them in the quantity and frequency I desired, I would have to find a more fiscally responsible way to get them to my plate.  And following my rule of thumb for food – “If I can buy it, I can make it,” – I headed straight to the kitchen.

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I wanted the crackers to be whole wheat, or at least mostly so.  If not for the fact that unbleached flour is fairly pointless as far as nutrition goes, then for the fact that whole wheat has a more robust depth of flavor, somewhat nuttier and more hearty than white.

I strapped the baby to my back and got to work.  And let me tell you, it was worth the twenty to thirty minutes of experiential toil: these crackers are far and away better than the packaged version (why are we not shocked? Why?).  They taste better, have a meatier crunch, the salt and rosemary flavoring is controlled by me (more, more, more!!!), and they look a whole darn lot better, too.

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My cracker – hearty, flavorful, well-seasoned

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The store cracker – sparsely seasoned, pasty texture when chewing, snaps like a piece of brittle glass and explodes across the room, but still so good it inspired me to make my own. Now, imagine how much deliciousness there must be in the homemade version!!

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You can cut them into whatever size or shape you like.  Just don’t re-roll the dough – cook the odd pointy scraps leftover from any fancy cutting you do, and enjoy them in their fun shapes.

 It’s simple: Mix the dry ingredients by hand, in the Vitamix cup with dry blade, or in a food processor …

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Add the wet ingredients.

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Pulse into a loose ball of dough.

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Dump said ball of dough onto a barely dusted work surface.

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Mold gently by hand into a ball of firm, soft dough.

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Cut the dough into workable sizes.  Halved or quartered will be fine.

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Roll the first half or quarter out thin, thin, thin.  This is a quarter of the dough, rolled out.  Brush with olive oil.

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Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and dried rosemary; I rolled over it with the rolling pin to ensure the seasonings stuck in, or you can use your hand.

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Cut into the desired shape: use a pizza cutter, decorate with a dough roller docker if you wish, use cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, a knife, a glass, a bowl … or bake whole, and break afterwards.

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Just ten minutes at 450 F will do it.  Check at the halfway point to make sure you aren’t burning it!  Enjoy with cheese, salami, spread, hummus, baba ghanoush, meats, pico de gallo …

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Salted Rosemary Croccantini

Download the Salted Rosemary Croccantini recipe here

These are easy to make.  No particular skills needed, not even very much time – I made them between chores on a busy afternoon, on a whim, with a baby dangling from the carrier on my back.  Now, imagine how much easier it must be without the baby! I weighed my flour, as you will see following, because I wanted to have precise measurements.  Scooping, fluffing, or scraping flour out of the container is just not accurate enough, although it can get you a good approximation.  

1 cup (156 g) whole wheat or white whole wheat
3/4 cup (106.5 g) bread flour (I used King Arthur white bread flour)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 generous tablespoon chopped rosemary (see below), more or less depending on your preference
1/2 cup filtered water
1/3 cup olive oil
Extra olive oil for brushing
Sea salt, additional dried rosemary, and other optional herbs for topping

Heat oven to 450.  Adjust rack to the middle; if you have a pizza stone, put it in the oven.  If not, put a large cookie sheet in the oven.
Using a Vitamix or food processor: Add dry ingredients and pulse to mix; pour oil and water into the well and pulse from low to hi, repeatedly, until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.  It should only take a few revolutions.
By hand: Using your hands, a pastry or dough cutter or two forks, blend the dough until a scrappy, loose ball of dough forms.
Both methods:  Dump the dough onto a lightly dusted work surface.  Gather and gently work it into a ball of dough.  Using a knife, cut into halves or quarters (quarters are easy to work with).
On unfloured, ungreased parchment paper, roll the dough out until it is thin, thin, as thin as you can make it.  Then, a little thinner.  Brush with olive oil; sprinkle with salt and rosemary.  If you like, add other herbs such as thyme, basil, or flavors such as granulated garlic.
Pick up the parchment paper and place it in the heated oven on your stone or cookie sheet.  Bake for ten minutes in the heated oven, checking at the halfway point and near the end to ensure it isn’t burning.
Remove when it is browning at the edges and looks dry and croccante!

Note: Do not use a Silpat/silicone baking mat.  The heat is too near the maximum temperatures for the silicone (480 is where they top out), especially if you are using a baking stone.  You will end up with a smoking kitchen and crackers that taste oddly like plastic.  How do I know?  I tried.  Thank me later!

Chopped or Powdered Rosemary

Download the Chopped or Powdered Rosemary Recipe here

I used dried rosemary from our garden for this.  The Krups Electric Spice and Coffee Grinder is my preferred weapon of choice: it lasts notoriously long (years, years, decades), is loud but not deafening, is pretty cheaply priced and best of all does the job required of it with speed and efficiency.  

Strip leaves from the woody stems.

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Using a coffee or spice grinder, pulse rosemary 4 times for 1 second to chop coarsely.

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To grind into a powder, pulse for about four or five seconds several times, until the fineness you desire is achieved.

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Our family of rosemary, left to right: Whole, coarsely chopped, powdered.

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Download the Salted Rosemary Croccantini recipe here

Download the Chopped or Powdered Rosemary Recipe here

Crisply crunching,

Mrs H
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Home-Cured Bacon, Merguez Sausage, Cured Egg Yolks: Charcuterie and more

This post may contain Amazon affiliate links.
That’s how I earn my blogging income, so thanks for clicking through!

Dear cured but never ailing,

In our Food Lab Charcuterie Level One class, we got to play with a lot of really delicious, really wonderful pastured pork from Autumn Olive Farms. Their heritage pork is pastured, well-nourished and consciously raised. Read all the way down to find recipes for bacon, sausage, cured egg yolks and a special pork-belly dish!

Photo by Autumn Olive Farms; Berkshires in a cornfield.

Photo by Autumn Olive Farms; Berkshires in a cornfield.

The talented chef de cuisine Kevin Dubel, from Terrapin Virginia Beach, led an engrossed class through the steps of curing bacon, egg yolks, and grinding sausage at home. (Locals recognized the name of Terrapin instantly, but for our distant readers – it is the most elite and organic, sustainable and delicious fine-dining restaurant in all of Virginia Beach!) Students each prepared their own unique slab of bacon to take home and salt-cure in their fridge, and the self-selected flavors I saw flying across the table ranged from such traditional seasonings as black peppercorns and sage to more exotic choices like dried ghost pepper powder or kombucha. Everybody enjoyed a fresh charcuterie board, finished out with fresh cheese from Sullivan’s Pond Farm, and decanters of our famous farmhouse kombucha flowed!

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Students loved the chance to dig in and grind meat, add seasonings and experiement. We were blessed to have the expertise of Chef in our Food Lab; the pork for Terrapin is custom-raised, delivered from Waynesboro, VA, and chef breaks it down in his kitchen.  The salumi and charcuterie in the restaurant is house-cured and delectable – flavors are intense, fresh and undeniably delicious!  We loved the chance to meet with our readers and farm supporters, culinary enthusiasts and professionals as well as city-dwellers interested in eating better and living closer to their food.

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Home-Cured Bacon

Download home-cured bacon recipe here

10 pounds pork belly

450g salt, kosher (no iodine or anti-caking agents)

225 g sugar

50 g pink salt #1*

Optional: herbs, seasonings, peppers or other flavorings

1. In a shallow, wide bowl or pan, combine salt, sugar and pink salt, and add any additional flavors desired.

2. Use salt box method: roll pork belly in the salt and seasonings to thoroughly coat, and shake off excess.

3. Place in non-reactive bag or pan and set in a refrigerator. If in a bag, massage daily for seven days. If in a pan, flip every other day for seven days.

4. After seven days, remove and pat the pork belly dry. Smoke to an internal temperature of 150°F.  Alternately to smoking, place in 200°F oven until internal temperature reads 150°F.

5. Slice and enjoy!

*Manufacturers started adding pink color to their curing salts so chefs would not mistake it for regular salt. It is also called TCM (Tinted Cure Mix).  Pink Salt #1 or TCM is made up of salt and sodium nitrite; it is used for curing bacon, sausage, hams and other cured products that will be cooked. It is different from Pink Salt #2 which is salt, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, which is used for long dry cures such as salami or prosciutto. If you are concerned about sodium nitrites and nitrates used for preserving, remember there are more nitrites in a bowl of spinach than are used to cure an entire salame, and any cured meat that claims to be “nitrate and nitrite free” simply used a celery juice or other vegetable base, loaded with nitrites, to avoid using the sodium nitrite label. There is no nitrite-free cured meat.

Download home-cure bacon recipe here

More downloadable recipes from Food Lab Charcuterie: Level One

Charcuterie Level One Syllabus

Home-Cured Bacon

Merguez Unstuffed Sausage

Cured Egg Yolks

Download all of Level One in a single document!

For those interested in going further, the books recommended by chef are from Michael Ruhlman, the US authority on charcuterie and salumi and Chef Dubel’s mentor and teacher in the trade.

Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing (Revised and Updated) | Considered by chef to be the “bible” of the home curing world, this book has everything you need to carry off a successful venture in curing, smoking and salting your own foods at home. It’s a less intimidating world than you might think, once you delve in!

Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing | The techniques discussed in this book will be covered in our more advanced Food Lab charcuterie classes, but you can start researching now!

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Don’t strap your spurs on yet, there’s more!! The leftover slab of pork belly made a delicious staff lunch the next day, braised and slow-cooked in kombucha. Ready to try it out?

Staff Lunch Pork Belly

Download Pork Belly recipe here

One slab pork belly

Handful banana, carmen and green peppers, sliced into rounds

A few whole shishito peppers for good measure

A few whole beets, well-scrubbed

Kombucha

Salt, whole tellicherry peppers

Honey or maple syrup

Fresh herbs on the stem: oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary

1. Set a heavy Dutch-oven style pot over high heat. Gently sear the fatty side of pork belly.

2. While fatty side is searing, sprinkle meaty side with a two-finger pinch of salt, a scattering of tellicherry peppers, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.

3. Flip pork over, with fatty side on top. Turn heat down to medium. Again sprinkle with salt, tellicherry peppers, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Pile with herbs, then heap in vegetables – peppers, beets, and potatoes if you wish.

4. Pour over pork one to two cups of kombucha, original or the flavoring of your choice. Cover pot and let cook slowly for one to two hours depending on size, or until tender and internal temperature reads 145F. Check occasionally and add more water or kombucha as necessary.

5. Let rest three to five minutes before slicing or shredding, and serve immediately to happy farm hands.

Download Pork Belly recipe here

Thanks for journeying through our Food Lab class with us!  What flavors do you think you’ll use for your bacon?  Any suggestions for our future classes?

Mrs H
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