Simple as Sunshine Focaccia

January 19, 2011

Everyone’s heard of painting yourself into a corner, but how about painting yourself out of a corner? I’m not particular about all my corners, just the one my computer is in. And yes, in painting the floor (with primer, to seal the um… funk into well-aged press board before we put new flooring down), I cut myself off from my computer and all the pictures that make a blog more pleasant to read. Well, even a wet, Oregon winter can’t keep paint from drying or me from posting a blog, albeit a few days late…

Focaccia. In America, it almost always seems to be billed as a bread. In Italy, however, it’s more like a thick-crusted pizza and often served like an open-faced sandwich. The focaccia I’ve been served here is more or less plain with a an herb or two sprinkled on top, and it’s lovely just like that. But in Italy, there’s much more variety: thinly sliced potatoes seasoned with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil; sweet, browned onions or, my personal favorite, soft stracchino or crescenza cheese melted into a speckled brown and creamy crust.

Focaccia with Potatoes and Rosemary

I have yet to make cheese focaccia here in the states. The one time I found imported crescenza cheese in an uppity New York shop, it was two days past its expiration date and well on its way toward wedding-mint pastel. Maybe the author of this cheese-making blog could help us out with a recipe for a nice, soft, focaccia-worthy cheese, but until that happens, I’ll make do with my usual herbed or plain focaccia. It’s always a favorite, even if it does turn out like the bready, American version.

I never considered making homemade focaccia until I received a recipe book and focaccia pan one birthday. I’m not so good about adhering to recipes, and one of the biggest deterrents is when a recipe gets complicated for something that seems so simple. It was the sponge that turned me off — making a yeasty mix and waiting for hours and hours before I could even start the dough. Years later, I did delve into that yeasty, spongy world with my chewy Italian Ciabatta, but a dozen years ago, I wanted something manageable, quick, and fail safe. Simple as Sunshine Focaccia was born.

Simple as Sunshine Focaccia

This recipe is so easy, even my friends that swear they can’t bake bread can make this. It’s a pretty soft and sticky dough, and I find it easiest to use a kitchen-aid type mixer, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be made without one. You’ll also need a deep dish pan. In a pinch, a large pie plate would work, as would a Pyrex casserole dish. Best is a deep-dish pizza pan like this one:

 

Focaccia Pan (aka Deep Dish Pizza Pan)

As written, the recipe takes about 4 hours between mixing, rising, and baking. But I’ve also made it in barely over an hour. See Speed Focaccia below.

  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups flour
  • olive oil
  • salt, rosemary, or…(see Toppings below)

Kitchen Aid Mixing Method

  1. Pour the water into your mixer’s bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and add the salt and sugar. Don’t worry about waiting for the yeast to dissolve.
  2. Dump the flour in and mix it in with the paddle until all the ingredients are incorporated — a couple of minutes at most.
  3. Remove the mixer, drizzle a bit of olive oil on the walls of the bowl, and swirl the dough around with a rubber spatula until it and the bowl are coated with oil. Cover and let sit for an hour or two in a warm spot.
  4. Punch down with the rubber spatula. Cover the bottom of your baking dish with a table spoon or so of olive oil and plop the dough on top. Use your fingers to spread the dough into a flattish form and let rise for another hour or so.
  5. In the meantime, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  6. Just before placing the pan in the oven, dimple the top with your fingers or with the handle end of a wooden spoon.
  7. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake for 25 to 35 minutes (depending on how hot your oven really is). The sides and bottom should be nicely brown, and the top should be golden — especially where the olive oil was drizzled. If it’s not turning brown after 25 minutes, crank the heat up to 400 degrees. (This can also be baked on a barbecue, but you’ll need to start with a cool pizza stone so the bottom doesn’t burn. See my Chewy Italian Bread post for more info on baking bread on a barbecue.)
  8. Remove from the pan promptly, using a spatula to carefully loosen any area that sticks to the pan. Cool on a wire rack and serve, preferably warm.
  9. Doesn’t keep more than a day or so, but no worries. It rarely lasts that long.

Hand Mixing Method

  1. Pour the water into a deep bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top and add the the salt and sugar. Don’t worry about waiting for the yeast to dissolve.
  2. Add the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Mix with a wooden spoon for as long as you can, then use your floured hands to mix until all the ingredients are incorporated.
  3. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on the walls of the bowl, and swirl the dough around until it’s coated with the oil. Let sit for an hour or two in a warm spot.
  4. Follow from step 4 above.

Speed Focaccia

  1. Preheat oven to 100 degrees (or the closest you can get).
  2. Mix all the ingredients as in steps 1 and 2 above.
  3. Oil the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in the oven for 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the dough, and raise  oven temp to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, put dough into oiled pan and spread. Drizzle with more oil, sprinkle with salt, and bake as explained above.

Toppings

  • Fancy Salt: whatever you pour or spread on top, don’t skimp on the salt. I like to use some chunky orange salt someone gave me as a gift some years back.
  • Rosemary-Infused Oil: saute a couple of tablespoons of fresh,chopped rosemary in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over low heat for a few minutes and drizzle over dough just before baking.

    Ingredients for Caramelized Onions

    Caramelized Onion Ingredients

  • Caramelized Onions: caramelize onions and spread over the top just before baking.
  • Olive: Use your finger or a small spoon to dunk halved olives in the dough just before baking. My favorite are the black, semi-dry Greek olives. Save a few to scatter on top.
  • Fresh cherry tomatoes: Just spread them on top and sprinkle with salt just before baking. Chopped, fresh basil is a nice addition to sprinkle on top just before serving.
  • Potato and Rosemary: Slice potato into thin rounds — no more than 1/8″ thick, preferably less. Boil for 4 – 8 minutes (depends on how thinly you sliced them) just until a fork pierces the center without breaking it. Strain and fan across dough just before baking. Top with chopped, fresh rosemary, olive oil, and salt.

The possibilities are endless. Travel through the Italian countryside, and you’ll find focaccia with fresh grapes, sweet figs, or savory sage. And every single one of them goes perfectly with a nice glass of red wine.

Go ahead. Experiment.

Buon appetito ~

Puff Pastry is my Friend

November 15, 2010

How about a quickie? Appetizer, that is…

With the holidays coming up, there’s a lot of eating to be done, and therefore a lot of cooking and sharing. One of my favorite and absolute easiest appetizers to make is whatever’s-in-the-fridge-on-puff-pastry. I usually have two or three cartons of frozen pastry on hand this time of year, ready to take out and load up with goodies. In less than an hour, I can have scrumptious appetizers ready to serve.  Anybody can.

Don’t always have an hour’s notice? Defrost some puff pastry sheets, lay them flat between parchment paper, and keep them in the fridge just waiting for those unannounced guests to drop by. I’m guessing they’d keep for at least a couple of weeks, but I’d bet they’ll never last that long.

Puff Pastry Appetizers

While you’re pastry’s defrosting, raid your refrigerator and pantry for goodies, such as:

  • goat or other yummy cheese
  • sauteed greens
  • onions to caramelize
  • artichoke hearts
  • cherry tomatoes
  • pesto
  • leftover pasta sauce
  • olives
  • capers
  • anchovies
  • Artichoke and Chili Dip
  • grilled veggies
  • pine nuts
  • smoked salmon
  • bacon marmalade

Need I go on? The list is limited only by your imagination and the contents of your refrigerator. Go ahead, experiment.

Got a sweet tooth instead?

  • cream cheese, dark chocolate and chopped dried cherries or cranberries
  • any flavor of jam that pleases your palate
  • powdered sugar for dusting (after baked)
  • Hmmm… what about peanut butter and chocolate chips in a Reese’s-like concoction? Topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream? Yep. I could do that… right now!

To Assemble the Appetizers

I used to just unfold the sheet of pastry dough on a floured board, cut it into 9 or so squares, plop some stuff on top and bake. Then my lovely friend Rosa taught me a little trick that kicks the presentation of these beauties — and their ability to hold a good amount of toppings — up a notch or two. It’s as easy as 1 2 3.

Folding Puff Pastry for Appetizers

  1. Cut the thawed, floured pastry sheet into squares — as many as you’d like, but smaller than 2″ x 2″ might be tricky to fold.
  2. Fold the square in half and cut along the two short sides — all the way down to the long end, and almost , but not quite meeting at the point.
  3. Unfold, and cross the cut-through points over to the other side.

Voila! You’ve just made a beautifully shaped appetizer, complete with a cavity to fill and even a handle to hold while eating!

Ready to Bake!

In this batch, I made two kinds:

I grated a bit of Parmigiano over the top, baked them in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, and wow! I would have no problem making a meal out of these. Maybe I’d add a side of soup for nutrition’s sake, but the smallest bowl I could find. Special thanks to my friend Helene who turned me onto the bacon marmalade!

Yum! Yum! Yum!

Serve warm, and don’t forget the wine!

Enjoy~

Sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do what you’ve got to do. Lately, this seems to be happening ALL the time.

The sun was shining this morning in Elmira, Oregon. Anytime that happens after, say, October 1st, the locals ought to take it as a gift and cancel any plans that didn’t have something to do with the great outdoors. I chose to be a devoted Oregonian rather than a devoted blogger. Once we cleared a new patch of the back-forty, planted our new fall-color trees, and set aside the tender perennials in preparation for the first frost (can’t be more than a week or so away), there wasn’t a lot of time or energy left for blogging.

The View From Here

I did manage to experiment tonight, with a recipe I found for a spiced rub in the Costco Connection (of all places). It called for anchovies, which I discovered I was out of; but I went ahead and mashed together some garlic, lemon zest, fresh oregano, fresh mint, olive oil, pepper and salt. No lamb chops on hand, so I rubbed it into some pork chops. I’m not fond of pork chops on the grill as they always seem to have the density of shoe soles once they’re cooked. Although I have had some success with brining chops lately, I didn’t have time to brine and then marinate with a rub, so I decided that oven-baked chops was the way to go.

After leaving the chops to marinate for an hour, I sauteed a sliced onion in olive oil and butter until it was nicely browned, removed the onions, and then used the remaining oil to brown the chops. Before gathering the herbs, I’d already decided that I’d bake the chops in coconut milk, so I couldn’t resist picking a handful of lemon grass as well. I layered the lemon grass, chops, and sauteed onions in the dish; topped it off with a can of coconut milk; and baked it for an hour at 350.

Well…. can’t say the rub was anything special. I suppose the missing anchovies could be to blame, but I’m not convinced. However,the pork chops were as tender and moist as can be, and the coconut milk sauce was soooooooo good, I was spooning it out of the baking dish and eating it like a soup! It would have been fantastic over rice as well. This is the first time I’ve baked pork chops in coconut milk, and I’m already looking forward to the next time. My husband cooks shrimp in coconut milk all the time, but it’s time to give some other proteins a chance. Chicken is probably next. And I will definitely experiment with other marinades.  The lemony flavor–whether from the lemon grass and/or lemon zest–was yummy, but I couldn’t discern any of the other flavors over the mint, which wasn’t even that strong. Probably will forgo the mint next time…

I’ll keep experimenting and will post anything that seems worthy. Any suggestions very welcome!

In the meantime, how about a quick appetizer recipe that always pleases a crowd. Not only is it wonderfully edible, these are ingredients I almost always have on hand, so it can be whipped up in no time at all. The first time I had this Artichoke and Chile Dip was at a friend’s summer party. The person who brought it was not too keen on sharing the recipe, but she did give me enough information to work it out on my own. And here I am posting it on my blog. (Honey, if it was a secret, it’s not anymore.)

ARTICHOKE & CHILI DIP

  • 1   14 oz can artichoke hearts (or 2 6.5 oz jars)
  • 1   7 oz can diced green chilies (or 1 to 2 fresh green chilies, diced small)
  • 1   8 0z brick of cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 375. Drain the artichoke hearts and chilies. Add everything to a mixing bowl and blend well. You don’t need an electric mixer, but do make sure the artichoke hearts are completely broken apart. Use a rubber spatula to scoop out of the bowl and into a small oven-safe dish (pie pans work well). Bake for 20 – 25 minutes, until the top is speckled nut-brown. Serve with crackers, corn chips, or a nice loaf of crusty bread.

Yum, yum, yum! The last time I brought this to a dinner party, I couldn’t even get a picture before a third of it was devoured (the pile of chips is covering the damage).

Artichoke Chili Dip

Quick! Get some while you can!

A few minutes later, it looked like this.

The Disappearing Artichoke Dip

This dip is so easy and so good, it’s due for some more experimentation. I’m a big fan of puff pastry, and I bet a dollop of this baked on squares of pastry would be crazy good!

Enjoy ~