I’d been wanting to make pretzel rolls for a while, and finally decided last week that I’d give it a go. But that day I bought a bunch of tomatoes, found myself thinking about them off and on during the day, so I took a detour, and decided I wanted to make tomato pecorino-romano pretzels instead. I had no idea how well that would work, but I figured it was worth a try.

I heated up some tomato sauce (the heirlooms I bought that day were ear-marked for pasta sauce – I used canned sauce for the pretzels), put the yeast in, and waited to see if it would actually bubble like I wanted it to. Fortunately, it did indeed! I added a bunch of finely grated pecorino romano, and used my favorite white whole wheat flour. I let it rise for about an hour, kneaded it very briefly, divided it up, and formed the pieces into pretzels.

The first time I made this I didn’t roll the pieces out long enough, so the pretzels were quite puffy. Obscenely puffy perhaps (but rather amusing, I think).

Round One - Overly Puffy Pretzels

Round One – Overly Puffy Pretzels

I did a second round a week later, adding some basil and oregano to pump up the flavor. I ended up making a larger batch, and figured out why my Dad used to recruit my mom and I to help shape crescent rolls and such when he made them. It definitely takes a bit of time to make 24 shaped pieces (or 23 if you can’t count well while you’re dividing the dough up). Not that making the ultimate Play-Doh shape for anyone who is inartistic (the SNAKE!) is difficult, it’s just time-consuming. But I powered through, and had some lovely looking pretzels to show for it. I made sure to make the ropes longer than the last time so there’d be less puffiness.

Round Two - Much More Normal-Looking Pretzels

Round Two – Much More Normal-Looking Pretzels

I’m really pleased with the color of the finished product. Plus they’re yummy. Definitely a recipe to keep!

Tomato Basil Pecorino-Romano Pretzels
makes 24 (or 23) pretzels

1+1/2 c tomato sauce
1+1/2 packages yeast
1 Tbsp tomato paste
60 g finely grated pecorino romano* (about 2 cups)
1+1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp oregano
3 to 3+1/2 c flour
1 egg, beaten
coarse salt

* You can substitute parmesan if you’d like

Heat the tomato sauce to about 110 degrees (aka ‘warm’ in most recipes – I used a glass measuring cup in the microwave, and used 20 minute increments, stirred it, then put my thermometer in to check. You want to be sure to get it fairly close to 110 degrees, because too cold and the yeast won’t activate, and too hot and you will kill it). Once it’s at the right temperature, stir in the yeast, and let it sit for about 10 minutes, until it’s bubbly.

In a large bowl, combine the tomato sauce/yeast mixture, tomato paste, pecorino romano, sugar, basil, and oregano. Once everything is well mixed, add the flour 1/2 cup at a time. The amount to add will vary depending on your altitude and humidity. You will probably have to mix in the last 1/4 to 1/2 cup with your hands. Basically you want the dough to have a consistency that is smooth, but not sticky.

Form the dough into a ball shape, put in a lightly greased (or cooking sprayed) bowl, turn to coat, and then cover with a slightly damp towel (use warm water). Here is where I’m supposed to say ‘let rise until doubled in size’, but honestly – I haven’t seen ‘doubled in size’ in my bread dough for decades. Lets go with ‘let rise 40-60 minutes, until you can tell that it has increased in size quite a bit’ – but if you really get double the size, kudos to you!

Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Punch the dough down to release the air, then divide the dough into 24 pieces. As you are shaping each piece, keep the others covered with the damp towel so they don’t dry out. For each piece, roll into a rope 12-14 inches long. Form into a pretzel shape:

Forming the Dough into Pretzels

Forming the Dough into Pretzels

Arrange the pretzels on two baking sheets sprayed with cooking spray. Brush each pretzel with egg. Now sprinkle with coarse salt.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack. Obviously since the pretzels are orange, you won’t be able to determine their doneness by a ‘golden brown color’. So you kind of just have to go by the outside texture.

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