Ligurian Focaccia

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I surprised myself when I ordered Samin Nosrat’s cookbook soon after I heard about it. I usually take the wait-and-watch approach, like I did with Ottolenghi. That worked out well for me! I missed out on a few years of fabulous recipes. Maybe I’ve learned my lesson?

No, most likely it was because I happened upon Salt Fat Acid Heat the show on Netflix, that endeared me to Ms. Nosrat so much that I just had to have her book. I’d also like her as a friend, cause she gives great hugs and says “wow” a lot!

The title of this cookbook, which is the 1918 James Beard award winner, among others, is all about using four elements in order to create great food. “Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat, which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food.”

Her introduction begins, “Anyone can cook anything and make it delicious.”

When you buy this cookbook, if you haven’t already, read the introduction. It tells the story of how she became an employee of Alice Waters, working at the famous Chez Panisse, after saving money for months in order to dine there. And the rest is history.

In this post, I’m making focaccia the Ligurian way, which Ms. Nosrat learned herself in the first episode of Salt Fat Acid Heat. Oh, and she speaks fluent Italian.

In the episode, she visited olive orchards in Liguria, watched an olive harvest, the pressing of the olives, followed by an olive oil tasting.

Then she met with a focaccia expert, Diego, who walked her through the traditional recipe. This recipe isn’t in the cookbook, but it intrigued me because of a surprise step at the end.

Ideally you’d need some Ligurian olive oil, but I had to substitute what I had opened presently, which is Cortina, from Puglia, Italy.

Ligurian Focaccia
Adapted from Diego with the help of Josey Baker
printable recipe below

For the dough:
2½ cups (600 grams) lukewarm water
½ teaspoon active dry yeast
2½ teaspoons (15 grams) honey
5 1/3 cups (800 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (18 grams) Diamond Crystal Kosher salt or 1 tablespoon fine sea salt
¼ cup (50 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan and finishing
Flaky salt for finishing

For the brine:
1½ teaspoons (5 grams) Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt
⅓ cup (80 grams) lukewarm water

In a medium bowl, stir together water, yeast, and honey to dissolve. In a very large bowl, whisk flour and salt together to combine and then add yeast mixture and olive oil.


Stir with a rubber spatula until just incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl clean and cover with plastic wrap. Leave out at room temperature to ferment for 12 to 14 hours until at least doubled in volume.

Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons oil evenly onto a 18-by-13 inch (46-by-33 cm) rimmed baking sheet. When dough is ready, use a spatula or your hand to release it from the sides of the bowl and fold it onto itself gently, then pour out onto pan.

Pour an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil over dough and gently spread across. Gently stretch the dough to the edge of the sheet by placing your hands underneath and pulling outward.

The dough will shrink a bit, so repeat stretching once or twice over the course of 30 minutes to ensure dough remains stretched. Dimple the dough by pressing the pads of your first three fingers in at an angle. Make the brine by stirring together salt and water until salt is dissolved.

Pour the brine over the dough to fill dimples. Proof focaccia for 45 minutes until the dough is light and bubbly.

Thirty minutes into this final proof, adjust rack to center position and preheat oven to 450°F (235°C). If you have a baking stone, place it on rack. Otherwise, invert another sturdy baking sheet and place on rack. Allow to preheat with the oven until very hot, before proceeding with baking.


Sprinkle focaccia with flaky salt. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes directly on top of stone or inverted pan until bottom crust is crisp and golden brown when checked with a metal spatula. To finish browning top crust, place focaccia on upper rack and bake for 5 to 7 minutes more.

Remove from oven and brush or douse with 2 to 3 tablespoons oil over the whole surface (don’t worry if the olive pools in pockets, it will absorb as it sits). Let cool for 5 minutes, then release focaccia from pan with metal spatula and transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

To store, wrap in parchment and then keep in an airtight bag or container to preserve texture. Gently toast or reheat any leftover focaccia before serving. Alternatively, wrap tightly to freeze, then defrost and reheat before serving.

This focaccia? Outstanding. It’s like none other I’ve eaten or made myself. It has a crunchy crust, and a soft interior. I was so excited to try the brine, but concerned about the total salt. Not an issue.

And all of the olive oil on this focaccia? It’s just meant to be! I even dip a quick olive oil dip for it. Without balsamic, cause my husband….


I truly can’t get over how good this is. You’ll have to try it…

 

 

Basil Pesto

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Basil pesto is such a huge deal in my house. Mostly because my husband could eat it on ice cream, practically.

To me, pesto is an extremely versatile ingredient. This flavorful, emerald-colored paste can be added to soups, breads, meat, seafood, salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and so many other dishes.

The only thing is, you have to make it. You can buy prepared pesto, but it’s expensive; home made is better.

All you need are a few basil plants, some dirt, a little water, and lots of sun. I’ve been growing basil for over 35 years in Texas and Oklahoma, and I don’t end up with basil plants – I have basil bushes. And the weather in these states can be brutal. So trust me – there’s no green thumb requirement for growing basil.

Today I’m making a batch of traditional basil pesto based on how it’s made in the Ligurian region of Italy where basil grows in abundance, called pesto alla Genovese.

I’ve always heard that the best Italian pesto is made only from baby basil leaves, but I use the larger leaves as well, as long as they’re not “leathery.” And I just buy domestic basil plants locally.

The only other thing I do when I make a batch of pesto is not add cheese. Omitting cheese saves space in my freezer; it probably cuts the pesto volume by 50%. Then when I use pesto and want cheese, I freshly grate it.

Also, with having non-cheesy pesto, it is basically another ingredient than the cheesy version. For example, the non-cheesy pesto can go in soups, in a vinaigrette, or a marinade, where cheese isn’t a necessary component.

Here’s my recipe for a batch of pesto, when you have an abundance of fresh basil. There’s no exact recipe, and you’re welcome to alter it to your own tastes.

After I pick the basil branches in the morning, I set them outside to let the creepy-crawlers escape. I don’t know if it really works, but it makes me feel better.

Basil Pesto (Cheeseless)
Makes about 72 ounces

4 ounces of pine nuts, I toast mine
Approximately 10 ounces of good olive oil
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
Basil leaves – from a giant armful of branches

Place the pine nuts, olive oil, and garlic in a large blender jar. Blend until smooth. This is an important step so the rest of the pesto-making process is only about adding leaves.

Then begin adding leaves, making sure they are soft, and void of damage, bugs, or webs.

There’s a point when you can barely blend in the last leaves, as in the photo above. If you must, add a tablespoon of oil, and play with your blender to get the pesto nice and smooth. Then you will end up with this.

Spatula the pesto into sterilized jars. The pesto can be refrigerated but I freeze until needed, and thaw one jar at a time.

Now to the pesto pasta. Choose a 1-pound package of pasta, and cook it to the package directions.

Drain the pasta, then place it back the still-hot pot. Add some pesto, I used about 1 cup of what I’d just made, but we like it strong. Add about the same amount of grated cheese, or to your liking. Then gently stir.

Serve the pasta while it’s nice and warm and the cheese has melted. You can also add some evaporated milk, goat milk, or cream to the pesto for a creamier pasta dish.

If you’ve never made pesto, this one would be a good recipe with which to start.

Pesto oxidates easily, but just on the surface area. Stir it up and the pesto will still be emerald green.

To prevent this in the jar, pour a little olive oil on top of the pesto.

Once you get the hang of pesto, it’s fun and easy to switch out the herbs, and use different nuts and even seeds, to create unique pestos.

Here are some other ways I’ve made and used pesto.

Socca

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When I travel, I like to try local specialties. It’s just part of the fun of eating and drinking in other countries. But learning about different foods and experiencing them is also a huge part of becoming a better cook.

I’ve had haggis in Scotland (a bit bland), banana beer in Rwanda (terrible), conch in the Cayman Islands (incredible.) Two foods I’ve refused to try were Casu Marzu in Corsica, a cheese covered in live maggots, and red-sauced, still-moving snails in Spain.

I’ll probably never eat fried spiders, grilled grasshoppers, and definitely not barbecued guinea pigs. So I guess I’m not the most adventurous when in comes to experiencing local food, but I do my best.

In the fall of 2015, my husband and I traveled to France, to begin a magical two-week road trip. Our guide was the incomparable Stéphane Gabart, from the blog My French Heaven. This was my third time visiting him. He knows and loves France, and he has great passion for French food and wine. He’s a professional chef, photographer, he’s really funny, and best of all, he’s my friend.

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On this trip we traveled throughout Provence, stopping in quaint villages. Stéphane planned lunch in Castelnaudary, just so we could experience authentic cassoulet. And when we reached le Côte d’Azur, we enjoyed traditional bouillabaise in Cassis. In Avignon, I ordered pieds paquets, or veal toes, after treating myself to snails (the kind that are not alive).

Before leaving Nice to return home, I wanted to try a local specialty socca. I must have seen it in a cookbook, but had no idea what to expect. I expected socca to look more like cornbread, but it was more crêpe-like.

What makes socca different is that it’s made with garbanzo bean flour and not wheat flour.

The restaurant where we lunched in vieux Nice is at the left of the plaza.

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At our final lunch together, I ordered socca with a Salade Niçoise and this is what it looked like.

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Just for fun, I thought I should recreate socca at home. I am using a recipe from the blog Foodie Underground, written by Anna Brones.

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Mine don’t look quite the same as what I had in Nice, but they were good!

Here’s what I did.

Socca
Makes 8 – 6″ in diameter

1 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup garbanzo bean/chick pea flour
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt

This is the garbanzo bean flour I used for the socca.

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk well.

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At this point, the batter is watery. Cover with a dish towel and put the bowl in the refrigerator for one hour minimum. The batter will thicken, but still be a “thin” batter.

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Lightly oil a large round flat skillet. I used my Le Creuset crêpe pan that came with a little wooden tool. I’ve never used it for crêpes, just flatbreads!

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Turn the heat to high. When the oil is smoking, gently pour a scant 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet, much as you would a crêpe.
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The high heat really grabs the batter. You can see little holes forming around the edges.
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Wait just until the middle of the socca has firmed up, then flip it over. To best assist with flipping the socca, I used a giant spatula that I usually only use for moving pastry. It’s really thin.

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Flip over and cook for just about 30 seconds. This one got a little too browned on the first side.

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While still warm, I folded the socca into quarters. My French socca were definitely more pliable than these.

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To serve with the socca, I put together a green salad with some fun goodies.

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The vinaigrette is a creamy lemon and parsley.

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The socca were fantastic. I really loved the flavor of the Herbes de Provence.

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Other recipes for socca list cumin or rosemary.

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I’ve also seen recipes for socca that are thicker and cooked in the oven, served in wedges. I’m definitely going to experiment more because there is obviously more than one way to make socca. Plus, there are Ligurian recipes for the Italian version, called farinata, which makes sense since Liguria is so close to Nice.

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Notice the lacy look of my socca.
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The taste is really lovely, and there was no bitterness from the garbanzo bean flour. Their look is so-so, but I’d definitely make these unique pancakes again!

If you’re interested, check out highlights of our trip here Je Ne Regrette Rien.

Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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