Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Corn and Quinoa Breadsticks

We're at the mad dash to the finish line, with just two weeks left in Rome. I'm filled with that bittersweet feeling I get before I leave a place. While I'm trying hard to empty my cupboards without wasting anything, I am also shopping for things I've never made, with some less common ingredients. On Friday I bought one small sheep's brain from the butcher. It looked so strangely cute and curiosity got the best of me. I shared half of it with my father in law who gobbled it down. I had to practically choke down my half because I'd hate to think that poor sheep gave his brain to be thrown out, but I was too grossed out to even wash the pan.

Then in the market last week I saw a man selling fresh black truffles and though I've had them in restaurants, I had never actually seen them for sale. Black truffles. Fresh pasta. Oil, garlic, hot red pepper, and the aromas of Umbria rose from the pan in a dizzying haze of aromatic steam.


And although the aroma blew me away, the taste did not. I followed the instructions of the man I'd purchased them from. Heat olive oil in a pan with garlic and hot pepper, shave in some of the truffle, remove garlic and hot pepper, cook pasta, toss in pan, shave over the rest of the truffle. When we sat down to eat, P took a taste and jokingly said "Maybe they were just rotten acorns" because the rich truffle taste we were so looking forward to took a distant back seat to the pecorino romano we sprinkled on top, that saved the day. I can accept a little disappointment when the fresh pasta is really good.


Another night we had risotto with zucchini flowers. Risotto is a regular at our dinner table, most frequently made with usually with porcini mushrooms. For two years I had been eyeing the zucchini blossoms and for some reason I had never purchased any. I grilled the guy at the store for ideas that did not involve frying. "You can also make them with pasta or risotto," he told me, the other Italians within hearing distance shaking their heads in agreement.


Beautiful little specks of orange, but for some reason, my risotto turned out less creamy than usual. Fine, I can deal with less than perfect.


The idea for these grissini (breadsticks) came from some that I purchased from a fair trade store here in Rome. They have quinoa flour, corn flour, sesame seeds. I'm always eager to try alternatives to white flour especially when it's something Roman might like to nibble on. So I found a simple breadstick recipe and went ahead at converting it to use the flours I wanted to use. The result was very close to what I had purchased and the flavor even better. The dough was sticky to roll out and I had to give up a good portion of the "control" I tend to like to exert over everything in my universe. This was a good exercise for me.


I guess the point of all this is that sometimes despite my best intentions, my best efforts, things come out just OK. Pretty good. Good enough. Edible. And I have to accept it and let it be. It's all still worth the effort and chances are, it will turn out better next time. No one's perfect, right?

Corn and Quinoa Breadsticks
Loosely based on this recipe from

Stored in an airtight container, these should keep for a few days, but mine were best once cooled out of the oven. These are full of iron (corn flour and quinoa are both high in iron.) And I love the unique flavor of the sesame seeds combined with these flours.

1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
a pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cup corn flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour (I ground quinoa in my coffee grinder)
1/2 cup unbleached flour (amount will vary)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and let sit for about 5 minutes until foamy. In a large bowl, combine the corn flour, quinoa flour and unbleached wheat flour along with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds. Add the yeast, the 3/4 cup warm water and the olive oil. Stir until combined and then turn out onto a floured board or countertop to knead. Add additional white flour if it is too sticky to work with your hands. (Mine was.) Knead until well incorporated. Oil your bowl and place the ball of dough in the bowl, covering it with saran wrap or a moist dish towel. Let this sit for about 2- 2 1/2 hours until it has tripled in size.

Turn the risen dough out onto your board again and divide it into six portions, then cut each portion into 4 or 5 pieces. Cover the unused portions with a dish towel to prevent drying.

Preheat the oven to 400 (f) and grease 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Place the remaining cup or so of sesame seeds in a plate with some additional salt. Work one piece at a time, rolling it on the countertop into a strand about 12- 14 inches long and place each one on the oiled baking sheets rolling to coat in the oil. When they are all made, one at a time, roll them in the sesame seeds. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn them over to brown on both sides.


  1. Nicole, you are a woman after my own heart! I love that you bought sheep's brain just because! I always want to buy unusual things I find in the markets and sometimes I do...but not always! Too bad about the truffles...who knows?

    I'll say you're doing a great job getting a lot of cooking in before it's time to bid Rome farewell! Did you say you guys were moving to the DC area??? (Love the breadsticks!)

  2. Design, Wine and Dine- Yes, we'll be just outside DC in Arlington after a much needed break with family in the Massachusetts!

  3. Ahhhh, yes. I was recently scheming up a post about imperfection. I have to think that even the great food bloggers (which is to say the popular ones)wind up with mediocre food lots of times. It's just that their pictures are really nice, so they fake it;) Out of any blog I read, yours is the one that has the food I most want to eat!

    My sister is moving to Arlington next week. Maybe you'll be neighbors.

  4. You summed it up perfectly. Oh, just outside of DC (us too—Baltimore). We'll almost be neighbors :)

  5. Jessica- It does bother me to think that they fake it! Let's be real, people! :)
    Let me know if you come visit your sister in Arlington!

    Tracy- Nice to know I'll have (almost) neighbors with good cooking skills :)

  6. sounds amazing..gorgeous clicks..
    first time your space...very interesting posts..
    Am your happy follower now..:)
    do stop by mine sometime..

    Tasty Appetite
    Event: Letz Relishh Ice Creams

  7. I'm definitely going to be visiting her. We should meet up for lunch and talk foooood! And toddlers ;)

  8. I love breadsticks and always buy them at the middle-eastern store, as they make them with mahlab and coat them in sesame seeds; next time I will make them and use your method as a guide.

  9. Taste of Beirut: Welcome :) I am curious to try mahlab- I'm sure it would add an interesting flavor!! I'd also be tempted to roll the breadsticks in za'atar!

  10. Nice to see hear about your near successes too--I feel like I've been missing the mark recently. But I'm sorry to hear about your truffle experience. Last weekend we bought white Oregon truffles from the farmers market and shaved them over fresh pasta I made. So delicious. If they are still in season when you are in MA I'll try to send some.


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