Rita Faragasso, a homemaker, lives in Miller Place with her husband of 58 years, Alfred.
How did you learn to cook?
As a young girl, I was at my mom’s elbow whenever she was in the kitchen. I loved being there while she created fresh pasta, homemade bread, cakes, pies, cookies, all from scratch. How shocked I was when I married and discovered that there were no written recipes.
She had her recipes in her head since she was a girl in St. Andrea, Italy. No problem, I thought. Whenever we visit her home, I will get there early and copy what she does and write down my version of her recipe to mimic a handful of flour, a splash of olive oil and an almost-full scoop of sugar. It wasn’t easy, but I did manage to transpose some, though not all, of her recipes.
How is your cooking different from your mother’s?
She was the prize baker in the family. I guess that’s where I get it from. When I cook, I do follow recipes, unlike my mother. I get recipes from the paper. I watch the food channels. We’ve taken 11 river cruises in Europe and lots of times the chefs would give demonstrations, and I picked up recipes that way. I enjoy trying different things.
Why do you love baking bread?
To me, baking bread is one of the most elemental forms of food preparation, following just tossing meat into a fire. Bread has always been an essential food staple for our civilization, and home-baked bread has no peer when it comes to simplicity, aroma, and taste.
Bread making has given me the opportunity to spend prime time with my granddaughters right from their earliest years. They loved working with yeast dough because of the way it doubles in size, getting their hands in the dough and kneading it. Now they are 14 and 10. Whenever they come over we try to bake something. Nowadays, I mostly stand by while the granddaughters follow a recipe and measure and create on their own. I just supply the raw materials. It feels as though a legacy is being created. I hope it sustains itself for the next generation.
When did you start making multigrain breads?
About 25 years ago. This one is my favorite because I love the combination of flours and the molasses and caraway seeds. It is really a nice, tasty bread, the one people ask for all the time.
Why do you like baking bread in a cloche, a stoneware baking dish with domed lid?
Our many trips to Europe helped me appreciate the breads there. I got my first cloche 45 years ago. Now I’m using one from Emile Henri. I just enjoy using it. It makes wonderful breads because of the steam that builds up inside the cover. It allows the bread to develop a wonderful crust.
Any advice for inexperienced bread bakers?
Follow the recipe, but feel the dough as you are working it. It needs to be elastic, not too hard and not too soft. You might have to add more or less water or flour. It may not be perfect the first time, but you will improve each time you bake. And use a cloche. If you want a crusty loaf of bread that’s the way to go.
RITA’S CRUSTY MULTIGRAIN BREAD
1 1⁄2 packages (1 1⁄2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup warm water
3⁄4 cup rye flour
3⁄4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 cups semolina flour
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
3 tablespoons molasses
2 1⁄4 cups water room temperature water, plus more if necessary
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1 cup warm water.
2.In a large bowl, combine the rye flour, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, semolina flour, salt and caraway seeds. Make a well in the center. Add the molasses, most of the 2 1⁄4 cups of room-temperature water and the yeast mixture, stirring to make a rough dough and adding more water if necessary.
3. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until flexible and smooth, about 10 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel, and let stand until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
5. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface again and knead for another 3 minutes. Shape into a round.
7. Sprinkle cornmeal into bottom of cloche and then place dough on top. Use a razor blade or sharp knife to slice a cross on top of the dough. Cover with cloche lid and let stand 15 minutes.
8. Place the covered cloche in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 400 degrees and continue to bake for another 40 minutes. Uncover the cloche, transfer the bread to a wire rack, and cool completely before slicing and serving. Makes 1 large loaf.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect amount of caraway seeds and molasses in the ingredients list. Also, the directions for when to add the yeast mixture were omitted.