My grandfather Nonno Corrado's bread is simple: simple to make, simple to eat (with anything really.) It's five ingredients and hardly any work. And he taught it to me, so when I make it, I get to think about him.
A mischievous and headstrong kid, he grew up in a small town called Oliveto, in the outskirts of Bologna. He was always full of elaborate, almost unbelievable, stories from his youth, like recapturing Nazi-occupied grain mills when fighting with the resistance during WWII, or riding the length of Italy on a motor scooter with my mom and uncle strapped to his back. That sort of wild, colorful past instilled in him a profound respect for the steadfast things in his life, like teaching math, growing plants, and making bread.
Some may say he channeled his youthful energy into a fanatical obsession with these simple pleasures. For instance, Nonno grew tomatoes, his pride and joy. He would sit in his backyard and watch the sun, marking with chalk its trajectory, so that he knew the location in the yard which received the most exposure for his beloved plants. That same meticulousness reared its head when he set his mind to recreating his grandmother's bread.
The testing phase alone lasted years. He weighed materials and mixed them in different stages. He tried different brands of yeasts, flours, olive oils. At one point someone bought him a grain mill, which he used until, with utter certainty, he told us that supermarket flour was better for this recipe.
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Several years before he passed away, he made it his mission to pass on his bread recipe. He flew to America to teach us exactly how to make it, which he didn't need to do because the instructions were characteristically precise. To this day, when I stare down at a misshapen attempt at his loaf, I can still hear his voice saying, “The oven makes everything beautiful”.
He was right, the recipe could take a little heat. It was his simple legacy to us. A simple bread recipe to make every single day, just like he did for years, right after a trip to pick the snails off the tomato plants.