I wasn't that excited about the Week 13 bread challenge. The idea of making bread from scratch in our cramped kitchen with tiny counters wasn't really that appealing. A sent me some suggestions for breads that might work for the challenge and for dinner, and I found one in that batch that was perfect - this spicy Italian sausage and cheese bread from Emeril. The base of the "bread" here was actually pizza dough, and you could use store-bought instead of homemade dough, so that was much more convenient. It may not have been making bread and dough from scratch, and instead was more of a stuffed bread, but it sounded good to me for the challenge meal.
The ingredients for the challenge were:
- 1 package of garlic and herb pizza dough ($1.19)
- a few tbsp of cornmeal ($0.20)
- olive oil for sauteing ($0.20)
- 1 lb sweet Italian pork sausage, removed from casings ($4.36)
- 2 small onions ($0.40)
- 4 garlic cloves ($0.08)
- red pepper flakes ($0.03)
- 1/2 bunch of basil, leaves chopped ($1)
- 1/2 bunch of parsley, leaves chopped ($0.50)
- a couple of cups of shredded mozzarella ($2)
- 1 egg, beaten with 2 tsp water ($0.17)
The total for the recipe was approximately $10.13 ($13.67 when you include the mushrooms we ate on the side). It made enough for us for dinner plus a couple pieces of bread left over for lunch/breakfast, so not too bad. Could have been cheaper though if we shaved some costs on the herbs. (More on that later.)
The first step was to cook all of the "filling" for the bread. After doing the prep work (chopping the onion, garlic, basil, and parsley, as well as some mushrooms that we would eat on the side with the other half of the herbs), all of the filling ingredients got sauteed in a large skillet. First up were the Italian sausages, which we broke up while they cooked. Next was the onion, followed by the garlic and a few shakes of red pepper flakes. When all that was ready, the pan came off the heat to cool for a little bit, and then I stirred in the basil and parsley and let it sit. Luckily A was able to help me with this step so I was able to keep prepping vegetables and herbs while he worked at the stove.
The next step was to get the dough ready (which had been sitting out at room temperature for a little bit per the package instructions). I set the oven to preheat at 375 degrees and spread some cornmeal on a baking sheet. I also added some cornmeal to a large cutting board and worked on rolling out the pizza dough. We've been making pizza for a few years now but still don't have a rolling pin, so I basically flatten the dough using my hands. I couldn't get it to flatten out to the size I wanted and it was a little thick in some spots, but I figured it would be okay.
Once the dough is rolled out, the sausage mixture gets added on top, leaving about an inch empty on all sides. The sausage mixture then gets topped with cheese. (Note that I don't know exactly how much cheese we used, since I had frozen a bag of shredded mozzarella that we used for something else and just thawed it out for this.) At some point before this, we prepared the egg wash (the beaten egg plus water), and I brushed that along all the edges in preparation for the rolling step.
The recipe instructions noted that you were supposed to roll it from the long side like a jelly roll and pinch the ends in as you rolled it along. For the most part, it worked. But there were a couple of places where the dough was too thin and broke open under the weight of the filling. We tried as best we could to patch those up, but once you've already rolled it, it's kind of hard to do that. My fault. Once it's rolled, you brush the entire thing with the rest of the egg wash, then transfer it to the baking sheet with the seam side down, and bake it for about 40 minutes until it's golden brown.
It was pretty late by the time I finally got the bread into the oven, so our "side dish" of sauteed mushrooms turned into an appetizer of sauteed mushrooms with herbs and garlic. At least we got to eat something while we waited for the bread.
When the bread came out of the oven, I was so surprised that it actually looked like bread. I'm not really sure why since the starting point was pizza dough, and that's really just bread in another form anyway. If it hadn't had the holes in it, it would have absolutely looked like a loaf of bread. In those spots, some of the filling and cheese had spilled out of the bread, ruining its look, but at least it didn't adversely affect the taste or texture in any way.
We sliced up the bread after letting it sit for about 10 minutes, and were pretty impressed with how well it held together. Overall, the entire thing was better than we had expected it to be. The taste of the Italian sausage was great, and the garlic and herb dough (which I think had basil, oregano, and garlic in it) was quite complementary to the flavors in the filling. The only not great things we could find about the recipe were (a) that it was a little more doughy on the bottom and the sausage seemed to fall in a single layer despite trying to roll it like a jelly roll (although the "bready" part was good too, which means that this pizza dough is quite good), and (b) that the basil didn't really come through much once the filling was loaded into the bread with the cheese (as compared to when I ate it out of the pan), and since it wasn't the predominant flavor in the filling, dried basil probably would have worked just fine. Those are pretty minor though, since the bread was really good.
It took a couple of hours to get this bread finished, but it was worth the effort. We liked it and would definitely make it again, although we might put more vegetables in the filling for a more balanced meal. Also, while I love the smell and taste of fresh basil, I'd probably just use the dried basil in the future and save some money, since it probably won't make a huge difference. This was a really good bread and I'm glad that A found it and that we tried it!