Maryetta's Italian Sausage Bread

Maryetta Moose, one of San Francisco's greatest cooks, gave us this meal-in-itself from the oven. Her recipe calls for freshly-made Italian sweet sausage, which she buys across the street from her North Beach apartment. If you suspect your sausage contains too much fat, see the instructions below. And while you're shopping for fresh Italian sausage, try to get fresh yeast from an Italian bakery.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage
  • 1¼ cups lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package dry active yeast or ½ ounce fresh yeast Small pinch of saffron
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • Scant ⅛ cup olive oil
  • Cornmeal

Method

If you think your sausage has too much fat, simmer in shallow water in a frying pan, pricking the sausage with a sharp knife to allow the fat to escape.

Combine the lukewarm water, salt, yeast, saffron, and fennel seeds in a metal cup and maintain a lukewarm temperature to keep the yeast active. Sift the flour into a large bowl, and make a well in the center of it. Pour in the yeast mixture and mix well (you will have to use your hands). Knead the dough until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes), then pour the oil over the dough and knead until no longer sticky (about 5 minutes). Place in a large bowl, cover with a towel, and put in a warm place until it doubles in size. (Press the dough with your fingertips; if they leave a stubborn imprint, it has risen enough.)

When the rising time is almost over, presoak a clay pot, top and bottom, for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough out to a thickness of 34 inch. Place the sausages (about 5) on top of the dough, wrap each in its own pocket, and pinch the ends closed. Place each pocket side by side to form one loaf. Trim a piece of aluminum foil, cover the bottom of the bottom of the presoaked pot and sprinkle with cornmeal. Add the dough to the pot and put lid on, then put the covered pot in a warm place and let the dough rise until doubled in size (about 60 minutes) .

Cover the pot and place it in a cold oven.

Set the oven temperature at 450 degrees.

Bake for 45 minutes, then check the bread and let it continue, uncovered, in the oven to brown for an additional 15 minutes (total cooking time about 60 minutes). The bread will be done when a finger thump on the loaf's surface sounds hollow.

Allow the bread to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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