The Staff of Life

The Staff of Life
Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Sun-Dried Tomato and Mozza­rel­la Bread, Mandola's Italian Market

All the breads that emerge from the Italian stone-hearth oven at Mandola's Italian Market are exceptional, but in my opinion, the best (and certainly the most unusual) is the amazingly flavorful, beautifully textured sun-dried tomato and mozzarella loaf ($5.25) developed by Mandola's head baker, Jesus "Chuy" Guevara.

Guevara began his career at his father's bakery in Puebla, Mexico, before immigrating to Houston, where he worked at some of that city's best bakeries. He studied artisan-bread baking at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and moved to Austin three years ago to open and run the bakery at Mandola's.

To create this bread, Guevara started with a sourdough base. "I added olive oil and extra salt, and that was good," he recalls. "Then I thought about sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary, and it was better. Next, I put mozzarella in the bread dough, but it changed the texture. So I put all the cheese on top instead, and everybody liked it. That was about a year and a half ago," he says, and it's been a popular item on the bread menu ever since.

The result is a supremely moist, herby loaf, infused with rosemary, laden with small chunks of sun-dried tomato, and supporting a wide, mozzarella-filled fissure along the top. Either room temperature or warmed, it's practically a meal by itself, but it also makes a nice accompaniment for a salad or an Italian-esque meal. I've used slices to make stellar roast-beef sandwiches, and I bet it would make beautiful sliced-pork, turkey, or meatloaf sandwiches, too. – MM Pack

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