A Tale of Two Focaccias.

My father passed away in the fall of 2007, and, as is customary in these situations, my family was flooded with sympathy food. Meals, snacks, desserts—you name it, our amazing friends delivered it. Through no fault of the kind, thoughtful cooks involved, though, there wasn’t much enjoyment in the majority of that eating.

We had perfect weather the night before the memorial service. Close friends and family members crowded around the patio table as many bottles of wine were opened and stories were told, both funny and bittersweet. Earlier in the day, one of those chef-friends had dropped off a basket of homemade Italian baked goods, which was brought out, passed around, and promptly demolished. I don’t remember eating anything else that evening. I know I did, but that focaccia—dense, chewy, salty, studded with briny kalamata olives and sprinkled with rosemary—was the only thing I really tasted.

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Lucky for me, she shared the recipe; unlucky for me (and for you), it’s been languishing in my email ever since. I couldn’t bring myself to cook a whole lot in the weeks that followed, never mind something that would take me back to that unbearable span of time. But I was reminded of my moment of carbohydrate nirvana a few months later, when a food blogger I most enjoy posted instructions for her own take on the savory treat.

Her recipe calls for fresh yeast; I didn’t have that and substituted an equal amount of active-dry, a conversion that wasn’t quite right. (Half a teaspoon would have been closer.) My finished product was airier than focaccia should be, but it tasted so good that I’ve repeated the mistake each time I’ve made it. It’s simply delicious.

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With oven-sweetened tomatoes and a punch of oregano, this version is pretty far from what we inhaled that evening nearly two years ago. That’s not a bad thing; it’s a step in the right direction.

One of these days, I’ll get to the other recipe.

The Wednesday Chef’s Focaccia di Patate
Makes one 8-inch focaccia

1 medium Yukon Gold potato
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon fresh yeast
A pinch of sugar
1½ teaspoons salt, plus more for salting water
2/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced crosswise
1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
Coarse sea salt

1. Wash the potato and place in a small saucepan along with enough water to cover the potato by an inch. Place the pot over high heat, covered, and bring to a boil. Add a handful of kosher salt to the water. Simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a knife, around 20 minutes. Drain the potato and let it cool. Peel the potato and mash finely with a fork. Set aside.

2. Put the yeast in a large mixing bowl along with a pinch of sugar. Add the warm water in a thin stream over the yeast, using a fork to help dissolve the yeast entirely. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes.

3. Pour the flour into the yeast water and stir with a fork, then add the mashed potato and the salt. The dough will be relatively thick and shaggy. Use the fork to incorporate the potato into the flour. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and begin to knead the dough by hand. It will come together quite quickly. Knead against the bowl for a minute or so, until it is relatively smooth. Add more flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest, covered with a kitchen towel, in the bowl for an hour.

4. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake pan. Using your fingertips, gently release the puffy and risen dough from the bowl and place it in the cake pan. Gently tug and pat it out so that it fits the pan. Cover the top of the focaccia with the tomato halves, distributing them evenly. Sprinkle the oregano and a large pinch of coarse salt over the tomatoes, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and let it rest for another hour.

5. While the focaccia is resting, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the cake pan in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes before removing the focaccia from the pan.

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2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Focaccias.

  1. Aunt Jill says:

    Wow…this one brought tears to my eyes as I remembered those days and eves, Maya…Thanks for writing it.

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