I know everyone is really busy right now, with all this snow to play in, and with Christmas right around the corner, and with all those nostalgic cookie recipes to crank out.
But please, carve out an hour or so to make some focaccia. You won't regret having fresh and crispy bread to make you pine for Italy. Invite some hungry people over that have been skiing all day, and they will love you for it.
Focaccia con salvia. Focaccia con salvia. Just saying it makes me miss the soft golden light of Tuscany, the bright green gardens of sage and fennel, and the crispy, olive oil-laden rustic flatbread.
The view from Veronica's kitchen window in the Chianti region of Tuscany.
When I was in Tuscany last month, I took a cooking class from a woman named Veronica, who showed me how to make this focaccia. We made lots of other rustic Italian foods that day, but I was most swept away by the focaccia.
Veronica says not to cook if you are stressed out, that the food will not be good.
Maybe it was the olive oil that it was brushed with before baking, which was freshly pressed from the olive trees in Chianti. Maybe it was because we went out to Veronica's garden to pick the sage while the yeast was proofing.
Sage grows like a weed in Wyoming, but my herb garden has never looked quite like this.
That's me with Casey in Veronica's garden. We wanted to putter out there all day.
Maybe it was the Doppio Zero flour that Italians favor for focaccia and pizza dough, which made kneading a pleasure not a chore.
Doppio zero flour, imported from Naples, has the perfect protein content to make focaccia and pizza dough that is supple and elastic, with a fine crumb.
Maybe it was the wine, the 3 bottles (or so) of Bianco Trebbiano, that we effortlessly imbibed during the class, that paired perfectly with our meal and was produced right in Veronica's backyard.
Casey and Chris enjoy a little wine with their cooking class, from Veronica's farm, La Quercia.
Once back home in snowy Jackson Hole, I was curious to see if I could replicate Veronica's focaccia con salvia, and all the warm, fuzzy feelings that went along with it.
Doppio zero flour, Double "0", is not so easy to find in my small town. Luckily, I had a bag of it leftover from the "pizza on the grill" phase I went through this summer, that I had ordered through http://www.markethallfoods.com
. King Arthur Flour
also carries an "Italian style" flour that is essentially double "0", and it is much less expensive. See Sources at the end of this post.
If you can't get your hands on some Double "0" flour, all-purpose flour is the best substitute. If you sift the flour twice, it will be similar to the talcum powder-soft, finely ground Italian import.
Veronica calls her flatbread a schiacciata, which is essentially the same as a focaccia, except that she doesn't just sprinkle the sage on top, she incorporates it into the dough. Schiacciata is fun to say and delicious alongside gnocchi di patate con sugo di pomodoro (potato gnocchi with tomato sauce). (I don't really speak Italian, but I can skillfully decipher an Italian menu.)
Fortunately, we have an abundance of good quality sage here in Wyoming.
Veronica says that you shouldn't cook if you are stressed out, that the food will not be good. The next day I had my only bad meal in Italy, a sad and lukewarm pappa di pomodoro (bread and tomato soup) prepared by a sad little man in Panzano who was obviously irritated that we had ambled into his bar, and were hungry. Veronica is a wise woman, indeed.
Focaccia with sage, with cipolline onions, and with black olives. Unfiltered Olio Nuovo is perfect for dipping.
You can top focaccia with whatever you like. I made a double batch of dough, so I had lots of room to play with toppings. Focaccia con salvia (sage) was the classic. Focaccia with black olives was also a big hit, but I must say my favorite was the focaccia with onions. I used a jar of cipolline onions in balsamic vinegar, sliced thin, but you could just saute thinly sliced onions in olive oil until caramelized and golden, and drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar at the end.
Focaccia con salvia
Leftover focaccia con salvia makes a great stuffing. The next day I roasted a turkey, with focaccia stuffing on the side, by toasting the bread in the oven to dry it out, adding sauteed onions, celery and apple, and moistening it with chicken broth.
- 500 grams (1.1lb.) Double "0" flour, or all purpose flour. Sifted and measured, this is 3 level cups plus 1 almost full cup
- 1 packet of yeast, or a 25 g. cube of fresh yeast
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water (for proofing the yeast) and 1 cup warm water for the dough
- 7-8 Tbsp olive oil
- 30 sage leaves, cut into small pieces
- 1 tsp. coarse salt, such as kosher or Maldon salt flakes (you'll use 1 tsp. for the dough, and then you'll need about 1/2 tsp. more for the topping.)
When baking at altitude, it is important to be precise, so I like to weigh my flour. If you don't have a little scale like this, sift then spoon flour into a measuring cup and level off with a knife.
I like to use my big red scissors to cut up the sage. This is a great job for a kid.
- First, proof the yeast. Place a packet of yeast into a 2 cup measuring cup, add 1/2 cup of warm water, and the teaspoon of sugar. Gently stir, cover, and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes.
When your yeast is ready, it should look like this. Keep in mind that this is enough yeast for a double batch of focaccia, and I should have used a bigger cup!
2. If you are using all purpose flour, sift it again. Otherwise, add the flour to a large, preferably stainless-steel bowl, and pour the yeast into the middle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil, half the sage, and 1 tsp. of salt.
3. Mix with a fork, slowly adding 1 cup of warm water to form a wet dough.
To pass the time while I knead, I like to listen to music, or I recruit a kid to come into the kitchen and tell me jokes.
4. Knead the dough on a floured surface for about 10 minutes. You will feel the dough become more smooth and elastic as you work it. Make sure the sage gets evenly distributed throughout the dough.
5. When you are done kneading, your dough should look like the photo above. Place it in a bowl that has been drizzled with olive oil, and cover it with a damp kitchen towel. Place it in a cupboard to rise for about 1 hour.
6. When the dough has doubled in size, transfer it to an oiled (olive oiled, that is) baking pan. I used a 9 inch by 12 inch rimmed baking sheet.
7. Spread the dough out evenly over the baking pan. Make indentations with your fingers to give it a pocked appearance.
8. Let the dough rise again for another hour or so in the pan. Keep it someplace warm, such as close to the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
9. Brush the dough with more olive oil, and sprinkle it with the rest of the sage and 1/2 tsp., or more, of coarse salt. I like Maldon sea salt, which comes in big, crunchy flakes. If you are using other toppings, go ahead and distribute them evenly over the focaccia.
10. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes. When the top is golden brown, it is done.
11. Once cooled, turn it out onto a cutting board and cut into small squares, or long thin slices. Serve alongside your favorite olive oil for dipping. I am currently hooked on the peppery, unfiltered Olio Nuovo from California Olive Ranch. My 2.5 gallon box is quickly disappearing.
Focaccia con salvia. Don't make it if you are stressed out!
King Arthur Flour
. They call their double zero flour "Italian Style", and it costs $6.95 for a 3 lb. bag. If you are a baker, be forewarned, you will find lots of other stuff you will need to order, like hard-to-find baking chocolate, vanilla bean paste, Fiori di Sicula extract. Market Hall Foods
. Again, you are forewarned. You can find Caputo Doppio Zero flour imported from Naples ($5.25 for a 1.1 lb bag), and so much more: farro, Umbrian lentils, Maldon sea salt from England ($7.50 for an 8.5 oz. box), Venchi chocolates from Italy, spices, Marcona almonds.... California Olive Ranch
Olio Nuovo is the next best thing to bringing back a first-pressed olive oil from Tuscany. Local distributor Joe Quiroz
can help you get it.
"Don't leave the food to cook by itself. You should always be watching it, touching it, attending to it."
Veronica Clemente, of The Studio at La Quercia