Pane Nero and Contented Melancholy

Having just seen the brilliant film Inside Llewyn Davis, I, as yet another unknown artist who also knows what it is to be told (again and again), “this won’t sell,” feel more contently misunderstood. Llewyn Davis, as a character, is good company to the starving majority of artists out there wandering the planet. Further, the film does what most today fail to do, and that is, bear direct semblance to real life with myriad loose ends, characters who don’t resolve their roles, questions that remain unanswered, and in how tragedy is not necessarily compensated by joy. The narrative is not the popular restitution story where the underdog gets his day, has his revenge on the Man. In this film I think the Coen Bros have made characters truer to life than most novels achieve—brilliant, brilliant work. I hope it gets an Oscar. The Coen Bros, along with Cormac McCarthy, are the only living artists for whose dark work I actually crave to have my heart broken.

This delightful melancholic mood I am in after the film would go well with a dark, winter rye bread. This Pane Nero is the Italian equivalent of the French pain de siegle. It is the perfect thing to sop up that Hungarian Stew I made  ALL last week for dinner.


Pane Nero

Adapted from The Italian Baker


2 cups sourdough starter

1½ cups warm water

2 cups plus 2 tsp (250 grams) rye flour

Stir the starter into the water. Stir in flour until completely incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 3 hours or up to overnight. The longer it ferments, the stronger the taste will be.


1 cup water, room temperature

1 Tbsp malt syrup

2 cups plus 2 tsp (250 grams) rye flour

3¾ cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 Tbsp salt

2½ tsp caraway seeds

Mix all the ingredients, including the sponge, until fully incorporated. Finish kneading on a floured surface. Shape into a boule and let rise, covered, until doubled in shape – 1½-2½ hours.

Divide in two and shape into oval loaves, or like I did, a boule and several rolls. roll in cornmeal lightly and let rise, covered, until doubled – about 1½ hours.

Preheat oven with baking stone to 425°F.

Slash loaves with a lame.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Cool on racks.


5 thoughts on “Pane Nero and Contented Melancholy

  1. I have been following your wonderful meanderings through life for several weeks now! Your open and honest self reflections are a breath of fresh air. Today’s “meanderings” were especially encouraaging to me. I no longer feel quigte so alone! Your light shines through well when things are dark and dreary!

    1. Thanks Mickey– I believe tragedy is an important part of life that much popular (American) art likes to gloss over rather than engage. Llewyn Davis, as a tragic character, will accompany me for years to come. What a treasure— go see the film! And thanks for following along with me on this fun little side-venture. It has been a fantastic impetus to write over the last year, and I am always enthused to engage with the audience I often don’t know I have!

  2. Hooray for the Coen Brothers! Did you know they hail from St. Louis Park, Minnesota? 🙂 Glad you two got to see their latest – it’s on my list, even more so now after reading your beautiful words about it.

    1. Such a beautiful film. Llewyn Davis is, for the time being, my favorite fictional character. And the guy who played him in the film has a gorgeous voice. Sounds like Amos Lee.

      1. An Amos Lee-esque voice, ahhhh 🙂 That and the other reflections you’ve shared on this film have inspired me to write it in my calendar for next weekend – I am not going to miss this one!

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