The Odyssey Red Wine Rosemary Bread

by Cara Nicoletti on December 6, 2012

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It seems like it’s been a decade since I’ve written anything here. I promised my friends that my next post would be the pavlova of posts—light and airy and easy to digest—but I’m afraid I just can’t deliver on that promise. November was a very strange and heavy month. First, there was that stress-circus of an election that had me so on-edge I was nearly catatonic and feeling mostly like this by the time election night actually rolled around. In the hours before the results were read I was so overcome with anxiety I ordered a four-person serving of nachos and found myself unable to eat them. Did you hear me? I said I was unable to eat nachos.

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Then, there was the explosion of Thanksgiving turkey stress, which seemed to descend upon the butcher shop the absolute moment people shed their Halloween costumes. For three weeks the phone rang at a constant pace, the voices of the people at the other end growing increasingly panicked and closer to tears over brining and deep-frying, stuffing, trussing and the impossibility of finding turkey tenderloin (which I have to admit, I had no idea was a thing people sold separately).

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In the background of all of this was the enormous shadow cast by Hurricane Sandy, which decimated New York with a vengeance that none of us who weathered the dud that was Irene last year could have imagined. On the Sunday before the storm hit the line at the shop spilled out the door and onto the street for hours, until all of the cases were empty. There wasn’t a cube of stew-beef in sight when we turned the lights off that night, only bins of bones and two bottles of coconut-flavored vodka that had mysteriously appeared on the counter sometime around 1pm. Everyone was jolly with the prospect of having a couple of days away from work, curling up with a good book or a few movies, cooking and drinking and eating (and eating and eating).

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The next morning my coworkers and I headed back to the shop to prepare it as best we could for the possibility of flooding or loss of electricity. The wind had started to pick up, creating tiny leave-cyclones all over the empty streets and boarded-up storefronts. The sky over the Brooklyn/Queens Expressway was lit up with that doomy, electric, hurricane-gray—you know the one I mean? That light that somehow manages to be both the brightest and darkest light you’ve ever seen? The one that makes you think that maybe this hurricane won’t just be a cozy, two-day vacation?

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By the time I walked back into my door later that afternoon I was on the brink of full panic. Consumed by visions of a post-apocalyptic Brooklyn, I decided to calm my nerves the best way I know how: bread. I mixed and kneaded and shaped four loaves and when I finally sat down on the couch I felt somehow calmer knowing that they were all tucked in, rising in the heat of my tiny oven. Scrolling through storm updates on my computer, I was struck by a photo in the New York Daily News of a man standing in front of a boarded-up book shop that had been covered in literary quotes about storms.

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I couldn’t quite make out what the quotes were so I started compiling a list in my head of famous literary hurricanes. The best known are probably the storms in Shakespeare’s King Lear and The Tempest, but there are also the epic hurricanes of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Chris Adrian’s Children’s Hospital. Better still are the raging storms in Guy de Maupassant’s “The Drunkard” and Kate Chopin’s short story “The Storm.” No literary character is tossed around by more storms than poor Odysseus. Throughout The Odyssey he is constantly being re-routed and delayed by divinely-inflicted hurricanes, pushed further from home and tossed onto islands with lecherous women and hideous beasts. I found my old copy of The Odyssey, poured a huge glass of wine, and with my bread rising in the oven, started to read.

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I began to notice, as I drank my own wine and waited for my bread to rise, how often the words “bread and wine” appear together throughout the text. This combination is everywhere in The Odyssey and it is always symbolic of being welcomed and safe and home.  Bread and wine are ancient staples of comfort and hospitality, they appear in almost every root text, from the Bible to The Canterbury Tales, and always offer relief and solace. For me, they certainly do the same–they are always the first things I reach for in a crisis or offer to a friend having her own. Here, I combined the two comforts into one with delicious results. Eat this bread with salted butter and more wine, it is immensely satisfying. So satisfying, in fact, that if the siding on the building across the street is ripped off by the wind and comes crashing into yours, you’ll be so calm you won’t even stop chewing.

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Ingredients:

  • 3 cups of bread flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 ¼ cups warm water
  • ¼ cup red wine, warmed slightly (I used a cabernet but I’m sure any kind you prefer will taste great)

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Directions: 

Sift together flour, salt, rosemary and pepper in a large bowl. Dissolve yeast in warm wine, add water to wine and mix all of the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until it forms a shaggy ball (very shaggy, don’t fret). Cover the bowl with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise for 16-20 hours (an oven, turned off, works great).

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After 16-20 hours turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. The part of the dough that was flush with the bowl while rising will be the top of your loaf. Shape the loaf by tucking the bottom, ragged parts into the center of the loaf—it will look like a belly button. Turn the shaped loaf over, place it in a bowl, cover it and let it rise for 2 more hours—it should about double in size. When you have 30 minutes left of rise-time, place a heavy, lidded pot into the oven at 450 degrees. Let it heat up for 30 minutes, then place the bread into the pot, cover it and let it cook for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes uncover the pot and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the bread has a golden, crackly crust.

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Don't forget to follow along for updates:

If there’s a literary food scene you want to see come to life be sure to leave me a comment and let me know! Or take a peek in the Recipe Index.

Leave a Comment

Susan Corson December 6, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Wow – I am speechless! by your accounting of the storm AND the bread. Missed your posts but this was worth waiting for. You’re amazing!

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Seymour Salett December 6, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Cara,
your blog is correctly named-YUMMY. The description of the storm could be adequate but the bread and wine combination sounds so good. I like the additional narrative that you’ve added. Keep up the good work,
Seymour

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Sarah December 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

This is a great post, I really enjoy you’re writing, I hope you don’t quit!

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Deb December 6, 2012 at 8:17 pm

So you dissolved the yeast in red wine?! I love that!! I want to eat this bread and be so calm and happy that I won’t care if my neighbors siding (or in my case a beat up car) comes crashing through my window and into the house. Cara Mia, you continue to out- do yourself with every post.

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Noodle December 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Cara Mia, this is among my favorites. I love your description a hurricane sky so true and Perfectly put. Glad that you got through the hurricane ok and that were able to welcome in the “rosy-fingered dawn.” I plan to make this bread this weekend and perhaps have a nice California red as well.

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Peri's Spice Ladle December 6, 2012 at 9:30 pm

Rosemary and red wine, my two favorites in my absolute favorite…bread! Gonna bookmark this recipe and try it soon:)

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Percy December 6, 2012 at 11:08 pm

Question: Cara, do I need to use a freshly uncorked bottle? What do you think about wine that has been sitting for a couple days?

ThanksYou’reTheBest(MissedYou)

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yummybooks December 6, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Percyyyyy! I used a bottle that was a couple of days old, but use your nose. If the wine smells overly sweet like it’s gone off you don’t want to use it, only because it will give the bread that same flavor. Missyoumucho xo

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Elizabeth Aquino December 7, 2012 at 3:31 am

Admittedly, I was beginning to despair that you’d ever come back, and here you are! What a wonderful post in every single way — the stories you tell, the beautiful prose, the literary references, the photos and the bread! Oh, the bread! Now I’m going to get my copy of Homer and read, again, of the “wine-dark sea.”

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yummybooks December 7, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I’m so sorry I made you despair, even for a moment, Elizabeth! It’s especially unfair since your beautiful writing is always there for me. Were there ever lovelier words than “wine-dark-sea”?

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campsalett December 7, 2012 at 10:35 am

Whoever said “Man cannot live on bread alone” hasn’t read this beautiful blog. I now think it’s possible.

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Hanna December 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm

So perfect for winter. Thank you!

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Cate December 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm

I love this! It’s perfect for the winter and the holiday season in general. Your writing is beautiful!

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TJ December 7, 2012 at 7:34 pm

love the way you write. bread looks heavenly.

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Chris December 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I want to make this but I don’t really like rosemary, would anything else work?

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yummybooks December 7, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Hi Chris!
Lots of things would work nicely–fresh thyme, basil or oregano would all be great (although I would use less if you choose oregano, it’s strong). You could also leave out the herbs completely, or add parmesan cheese–the recipe is flexible, have fun!

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Sherry H. December 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm

I’ve always been afraid to bake bread but i am tempted to try this. For some reason you make it seem easy! I’ll keep you posted!

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Beth December 7, 2012 at 7:44 pm

I missed you!! So happy you’re back!

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smschoenfeld December 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

I love bread, great recipe! Yum!!

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Matteo December 7, 2012 at 8:37 pm

getting this in my email yesterday morning brightened my day considerably, I’m going to make this bread tomorrow!

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India December 7, 2012 at 10:20 pm

That bread looks so bomb.

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Bryn December 7, 2012 at 10:24 pm

You’re such an awesome story teller Cara. You make me want to reread The Odyssey.

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Koi Senderson December 7, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Read this in my kitchen while drinking a glass of vino. Inspired to bake now!! Also inspired to read more. You’re a great influence!!! :)

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jessicabenjestorf December 7, 2012 at 11:06 pm

this looks so good, i wish it was a scratch and sniff. :)

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ren December 8, 2012 at 2:37 am

this is incredible. you’re so talented.

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Jane December 8, 2012 at 9:58 am

Finally! You’re back! You are one of the only people I know who can “curl up” with The Odyssey AND make up a recipe to accompany it. Fabulous post in every possible way. You are so right about the bread and wine references and your bread looks amazing.

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Phoebe Walker December 8, 2012 at 6:08 pm

I absolutely love this. Wonderful post I enjoy your blog so much! Keep going, I want more!!!

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Jack December 8, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Love this article! Keep up the good work, the writing and photography are always so beautifully done!

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Terry & Bill December 8, 2012 at 6:24 pm

someone shared your blog with us recently. we cannot believe I did not know about this sooner… loving it…. can’t wait to share this with all of our family and friends.

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Sandra!! December 8, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Incredibly done.

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Jasper Wilkins December 8, 2012 at 6:36 pm

This bread. Wow. A most delicious sounding recipe. Am very excited to try it out!

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Beans December 9, 2012 at 10:16 am

This post arrived on the perfect day – one of the first true “winter” days in Boston! days like this call for slippers, red wine, a good book and homemade bread! I love how your narrative compliments the recipe so nicely. You have such a knack for combining two of my favorite things – food and reading and making them both fun, and approachable for all. Keep up the great work and keep the amazing recipes and pictures coming!

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Lillian December 9, 2012 at 3:30 pm

I wish I could comment on every single one of your posts, but that would probably be too much. This bread looks unbelievable. Keep posting! What kind of camera do you use for you pictures? They are stunning!!!

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stephanie December 9, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I cant even bake the “break-and-bake” cookies without having them taste a little off, but for some reason this post is giving me (albeit probably a false sense of) confidence that I will be able to actually make this bread. I think that it just sounds and looks so delicious that I want so badly to be able enjoy it myself. I will let you know how it goes….

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sarah December 9, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Fantastic recipe to one of my favorite books! Enjoyed reading about the inspiration behind this one!

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baconbiscuit212 December 10, 2012 at 2:06 am

Great post! I love how you were inspired by the Odyssey to add wine and yeast together for bread. Very New Testament-y too, I might add.

I agree 100% that this has been such a strange season. I had this idea after my PhD in September that I would have all this free time to cook and blog. Nope. I too was completely paralyzed by the election which managed to be a nail-biter and anticlimatic at the same time. Then Sandy. Then Thanksgiving. Now Christmas. It goes by so fast.

But I am glad to see what you came up with in the kitchen. Thanks for the update and for another great recipe!

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Emily Kropp December 10, 2012 at 11:27 am

I am hosting a course at a progressive dinner party this Christmas, and I can’t think of anything that would impress more than this bread! Can’t wait to serve it, crusty and steamy, with a couple (okay maybe SEVERAL) bottles of good wine.

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Nicki Mok December 10, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Goodness gracious, this loaf looks spectacular! Love the photos and narrative as always :) Would this recipe work with a sourdough starter instead of instant yeast?

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Jane! January 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Late to the party, but I’m doing this this weekend.

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Nico April 30, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Excellent recipe!

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