Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

The Guardian - Feast - - News - Rachel Roddy

Milk rolls

Mum re­mem­bers her aun­tie May buy­ing milk loaves from Hough’s Bak­ers and Con­fec­tion­ers on Moss Road in Stret­ford. I re­mem­ber Great Aunt May in her bib apron, slic­ing bread in the kitchen of her sister’s (my granny’s) pub in Old­ham. The white tin loaf was usu­ally so fresh that the in­sides hadn’t firmed up, so May would stand it on one end, cut the crust off the other, then but­ter the end of the loaf. Dad says she then tucked the loaf un­der her arm like a news­pa­per and sawed off a ready-but­tered slice, while Mum says she kept it end-up on the board and sliced like that. We have sim­i­lar dis­cus­sions about how May fried chips, and her stew with half a cow’s heel. Hum­drum con­ver­sa­tions that are full of im­por­tant bits: May, who was al­ways “our May”, is not just re­mem­bered, but seems alive when we talk about how she sliced bread.

I also re­mem­ber May and Granny slic­ing oven-bot­tom cakes in the pub kitchen. These were not cakes at all, but saucer-sized bread buns with firm, flat bot­toms be­cause they were cooked at the bot­tom of the baker’s oven. They also had floury tops, which meant you got floury fin­gers, which you inevitably wiped on your trousers, so got floury trousers. At the pub, oven­bot­tom cakes were split and filled with ba­con, flash-fried steaks or slices of cheese. As kids, my brother and sister and I would sit on high stools up at the bar, shuf­fling beer mats or rum­pling beer tow­els, then squash­ing the two halves and the fill­ing of our lunch to­gether so the ba­con with its fat, the hot beef or slices of cheese sank into the crumb. As we ate, the floury tops would stick to the roofs of our mouths, un­til we washed them down with lemon­ade.

It is the same stick­i­ness with the brash and sat­is­fy­ing boiled beef panini at Ser­gio’s Mordi e Vai stall on Tes­tac­cio mar­ket, which you wash down with Peroni. Or with San­dro’s moz­zarella and to­mato cia­batta at his Fraschetta, which you wash down with half a litre of func­tional vino. The same kind of sticky comes with ev­ery three-cor­nered, whites­liced, tuna-and-to­mato tramezzino all over Italy. In fact, I have come to the con­clu­sion – and you may not agree – that all sand­wiches should stick to the roof of your mouth, even if just for a mo­ment.

Then there are the panini al latte

– milk buns – from the peren­ni­ally good Ro­man bak­ery Passi. Or your own oven, if you dis­solve 10g fresh yeast in 250ml warm milk, then mix it with 500g plain flour, an egg, and a ta­ble­spoon each of su­gar and salt. You then knead ev­ery­thing into a smooth dough and leave it to dou­ble in size – about two hours. Then just roll the dough into buns and rest for an­other 45 min­utes, be­fore brush­ing with a glaze made from an egg and a tea­spoon of milk, then bake at 200C/390F/gas 6 un­til golden.

The Ital­ian cousin of the English milk loaf May bought from Hough’s, these buns are slightly sweet and creamy in­side – un­doubt­edly child­like, but not just for chil­dren. Like the tin loaf, they de­mand to be eaten fresh from the oven, split and filled with any­thing you fancy – a slice of pro­sciutto and some cream cheese – which might just stick to the roof of your mouth.

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