08 June 2011

Eats: focaccia

To continue the theme of my recent posts about food and travel, I thought I’d let you know about a kitchen project inspired by a vacation! And there is not a paintbrush or screwdriver to be found, believe it or not.

I have always admired people who make their own bread. There is something so old-fashioned and thrifty and yet gourmet about making bread in your own home. I am not good at making bread, but that’s ok because Mr. P is the breadmaker master capable of making the most incredible loaf of garlic bread. Not only is it tasty but it makes our house smell like Italy, or at least what America thinks Italy smells like, which is like the Olive Garden but better.

Italy in actuality, of course, is way better than the Olive Garden. One of the things we ate there that I enjoyed the most was the focaccia in the Cinque Terre:

It’s mostly just a piece of bread, except it’s the most delicious bread ever. It’s similar to a thick pizza crust, but the chewy sort, not the kind with that crusty shell. The focaccia shops would sometimes add cheese or pesto or sundried tomatoes, sort of like an open-faced sandwich. Here’s Mr. P making our selections:

And it’s one of the many things I’ve wanted to try to replicate back home. So when I came across this easy-peasy no-knead focaccia recipe I had to give it a try. The recipe and directions are excellently detailed on the Budget Bytes website, and I followed them mostly, except I halved the recipe for a loaf and used a trick or two to get it rising more quickly (a bit extra yeast, warm water, keeping the dough in a warm place). Here it is rising, after I stuck my fingers in it to “dimple” it:

And here it is after baking. Gorgeous! I sort of couldn’t believe I made a beautiful loaf of bread, or that I made the house smell so delicious.

The next day I sliced it up and was pleased to find that, even though I did not let it rise the recommended 15 hours (more like eight), it was reasonably fluffy.

But not exactly like the focaccia we had in Italy. It was a bit too crusty and not quite fluffy enough, I think. Still, I was inspired to cut it up and use it to make something similar to another recent craving: stromboli. So I cut it into quarters, and then in half to make what I’m gonna call “stromboli sandwiches”.

I added provolone, mozzarella, ham, pepperonis, and... shhhh... bacon. (It’s hiding under the ham.)

Here they are after several minutes under the broiler. Good grief, look at that melty cheese blob. Mmmm.

And here’s dinner! Yes, I realize the tater tots and green beans are straight out of an elementary-school-cafeteria meal plan, but they’re what I had in my freezer. Making our own bread is about as gourmet as we get around here.

The next week, I tried to use the same recipe to make hot dog buns for our obligatorily-grilled Memorial Day dinner. The results were… okay. I baked a half-loaf at the same time, and for some reason the half-loaf rose and baked well while the little bun-loafs did not.

They were definitely tasty, because how can you go wrong with olive oil and garlic and oregano? But a bit too thin and too chewy for hot dogs. Still, fun to try. And I felt all fancypants with our homemade buns over the normal white-bread ones, and I even made roasted potatoes. It is not all tater tots around here.

So, my quest to replicate Ligurian foccacia is ongoing. But will I re-make and play with this recipe? People, I would make this just to make my house smell like the Olive Garden. Most definitely yes.