September 17th, 2012 § § permalink
The grape harvest is an exciting time of year in northern California so I am once again revisiting Tuscany for another culinary inspiration. I found this dish, grape focaccia, while perusing Nigel Slater’s new book, Ripe, which horrified me from the first few pages: pheasant with apples, blood sausage with apples, guinea fowl with sausage and apple… let’s just say that it took a few chapters before I was convinced Nigel was capable of writing recipes for the vegetarian in me. Don’t get me wrong, I think meat tastes great, but I don’t eat it so after 310 pages, I was glad to have found this focaccia recipe, and it’s a great one.
The best part about this classic harvest bread is that it can be subtly adjusted for a more savory flavor. Here, Nigel uses sugar to make a sweet caramelized grape crust, but I have also seen grape focaccia with rosemary and fennel toppings. I’m sure they are all amazing.
My first focaccia attempt earlier this summer was a recipe from a lovely book, which I have otherwise found many treasures… but a whole grain focaccia as a basal effort? I should know better than to start running before I learn to crawl. Working focaccia dough is like quicksand, the more you struggle, the more you sink. This was a hard lesson for me after some sticky, disastrous attempts until I tried the stretch and fold method for kneading bread. Don’t get me wrong, I love kneading bread and all of its glorious exercises but sometimes, it’s worth abandoning for the sake of sanity.
Schiacciata con l’uva (grape focaccia) inspired by Nigel Slater’s Recipe
3 1/4 c. white bread flour
1 package of yeast ~2 ts.
1 ts. sea salt
1 tB sugar
1 1/2 c. warm water
14 oz black seedless grapes
2 TB olive oil
2 TB raw sugar
confectioner’s sugar for dusting
+ Mix yeast and sugar in warm water (115°F) and allow to sit for five minutes until it begins to bubble a bit. In a large bowl, mix salt and flour together and stir in yeast water once yeast is finished activating.
+ Once the dough has been mixed in very well, allow to sit for five minutes and dump the dough onto a floured surface and stretch dough out using this method: The stretch and fold technique from Peter Reinhart.
+ Allow folded dough to sit for 45 minutes and repeat stretch and fold. Allow to sit another 45 minutes, but on the last dough stretch, fold in half of the grapes and allow dough to rise until doubled in size.
+ Preheat oven to 425°F. Top dough with olive oil, the remaining grapes, and place into the oven to bake for about 35 minutes. Once finished, dust the top of the focaccia with powdered sugar. Serve with butter.
September 6th, 2012 § § permalink
I’m really late to the bean parade. It’s just that I am a lady if you know what I mean – but there’s one exception, and I will often make such and exception if the cause is beauty. So let me introduce you to the most beautiful bean I know. It is called Borlotti, or cranberry or sometimes even French Horticultural beans despite being quite Italian. I’ve never cooked dried cranberry beans because I will most certainly burn them. I burnt the last batch of dried beans and caused a minor uproar when everybody thought the house was on fire. I have this way of making a mess of the least persnickety things in the kitchen. So, the most convenient solution to this is to gorge on fresh beans while they last. That time is now – the cusp of summer and fall.
Fresh Borlotti beans are like little dinosaur eggs that range from creamy white with little red and pink speckles to solid bright pink; although their coloring is quite fleeting because once you cook them, they all turn white. This is sad, but hey, they taste amazing when fresh. If you’ve eaten dried and canned beans all of your life, this is the time to stop and try some fresh beans. They are creamy and delicate, unlike anything you’ve ever expected from legumes. Plus, they cook in about 20 minutes.
This Tuscan dish is vegan and uses five very simple ingredients: beans, tomatoes, garlic, sage, olive oil. You’ll be tempted to augment it with all sorts of creative and mundane things, but just try it and see what I mean; its comfort is simplicity. All’uccelletto in Italian means “a small bird” so to cook in this fashion is to use the same ingredient, though the bird here is replaced by Borlotti beans. If I ever find myself in Tuscany, I hope an Italian family takes me home and serves me a heaping bowl of this.
1 1/2 c. fresh Borlotti beans*
4 c. roasted tomatoes**
2 TB fresh sage or 2 ts. dried sage
1/4 -1/2 c. olive oil
3 cloves of minced garlic
+ Cook beans in salted water until tender – about 20 minutes, taste for softness. Save cooking water.
+ Heat 1/4 c. olive oil on medium heat and add garlic, cooking until soft. Add sage and stir to heat for about a minute. Add tomatoes and cooked beans and bring to a simmer. Cook, covered for 25 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, adding more oil and reserved water to acquire a nice sauce consistency. I never skimp on the oil…
+ Serve over pasta such as ziti for a vegan meal or as a side.
* You can also use dry beans, just be sure to soak them overnight and cook with more care than I do.
** I roast large batches of tomatoes and keep them in the fridge to use as needed. If you have fresh ones, you can certainly put in 2lbs of fresh ripe tomatoes in lieu of roasted ones.