Thursday, July 1, 2010

rosemary focaccia

more times than i can remember,
i've thought that it would be nice
to make focaccia.
and like most things in my life,
and like most things in my kitchen,
once i did,
it was so not a big deal.
why didn't i just do it sooner?
i think it's because, although i often spend
undivided time inside the house,
the idea of having to commit to
a couple hours for first and second
rises just feels overwhelming.

and the other thing is this -
sometimes i make dinner
and it's not so great. something
just didn't come together and it's
missing a squirt of lemon juice
or an herb or it's slightly overcooked
or really, it's a recipe that was never
meant to be. and, for me?
it's unfortunate.
but, it's ok.
i make dinner quite often.
i'll just try again tomorrow.

but baking - i love it,
yet i'm so hesitant to commit.
having to face an entire so-so cake
or a dry tasteless loaf of bread
that i've spent a lot of time on
just hurts.

so, even though i made focaccia
once - in culinary school - i've always
opted for garlic bread, or no bread,
when the occasion strikes.

on sunday, though, jenn was coming
for dinner. she hadn't seen the house
since one day after we closed and
the walls were still painted crazy colors
(seriously, watermelon, brick red and pea
green do not belong in the same room.
especially when all three face a yellow hallway).
i was torn between wanting everything to look
nice and wanting to cook a great meal.
after thinking for about 30 seconds,
i went for the latter: this place,
although now decked out with grey walls,
is not nearing finished readiness. there was
little i could do in five hours to prove
otherwise. instead, i knew i should focus
on what i could potentially
make presentable: dinner.

i decided pretty quickly to try
my hand at absorption pasta, which
i've been meaning to make. normally,
i would not risk attempting a new dish
for company, but jenn knew me in college
when i would invite her over and
cross my fingers that tonight was one
of those nights that i didn't burn the onions.
but, because i was already taking a chance
on the main course, i figured this was the time
to jump in headfirst for the focaccia.
i didn't even think about it:
i grabbed a packet of yeast.
well, kind of.
i needed a recipe.
again, reviews for everything was mixed.
but, then i saw anne burrell's version.
anne burrell. i think she's kind of kooky.
and i love her.
i met her for the first time years ago.
i was working for the magazine and
often attended press events that took
me all over nyc to different restaurants
and sometimes, odd places. but, many - it
seems in retrospect - were at the
culinary loft in the city, a very cool space
with a kitchen area in the back.

in my memory, no matter who
the main attraction was, anne burrell
and her shock of blonde hair was
behind them, moving swiftly around
the kitchen - chopping, boiling,
skimming and plating - as they spoke
about their dishes. they were the face
of the night, anne was the muscle.
after the first time, i went back and
told my editor about this speedy
woman. she knew immediately
who i was talking about.
we googled her and pulled
up a picture. from then on, while
everyone was focused on the "star,"
i found myself watching anne. when larry
put on an episode of iron chef,
i noticed that my eyes were always on her.
i just found her fast. and talented -
her food was always delicious.

when she got her show on the food network,
i knew i would watch. and i do, often,
even though i'm often amazed at how
intensely she's obsessed with food.
i mean, i love food.
and ingredients.
and cooking techniques.
and food blogs.
but anne? she takes it to the next level.
sometimes i think she forgets
cameras are there. she loves it all.
times ten.

but you know what?
it's ok. almost all of her recipes
are reviewed amazingly high.
everything that food network
fans make of hers, they love.
and that's why i knew that if
i was going to make focaccia,
i'd want to make hers.

she may be kooky.
but, she knows her food.
olive oil
the recipe was simple -
water, yeast, sugar,
flour, olive oil, salt.
i wanted to add rosemary.
sugar, water, yeast
so here's how it went down:
the hardest part came 10 minutes
in. the flour, salt
and olive oil were sitting in the bowl
of the mixer. the yeast was very
foamy. but the recipe specifically
said to wait at least 15 minutes
before mixing the two. so, i waited.
mixer on the move
and then, when it came time to
turn the mixer on, i stayed near.
the dough nearly rocked the
ridiculously heavy kitchen aide
off the counter. i stopped it before
it fell to the floor, but it was brutal
in its mission, taking out a measuring cup
and pushing foil to the side, in its fury.
before the rise
those were the most difficult steps.
after that, the dough came together
beautifully, it kneaded without a problem
and i before i knew it, the smooth round
was sitting in a greased bowl, set off to
the side. it was at that point that i decided
that i needed to make a dessert.
that last minute activity was enough
to get me through that hour and suddenly,
it was time to press the dough
into the pan. it was at this step that i made
my one mistake.

remember that time in culinary school
that i made focaccia? our instructor told
us to load up the pan with olive oil
before adding the dough, to drizzle well
before baking. right before it went into
the oven, she told my group that ours
looked perfect. it was really, really oily.

so this time, i was determined to be
reasonable. focaccia is an oil-laden
(deliciously oil-laden) bread. but, i
didn't want it dripping. i didn't want
jenn's hands to be shiny and have
her wonder why i would serve her
such a grease trap. so i cut back from
what i thought was an overly generous
one cup to about whatever 1/2 cup
plus 1/3 cup comes out to be. and after
it was flat and rose a second time,
there was plenty of oil still dotting
the surface. so just before putting it
in the oven, i tossed on some rosemary
and sprinkles of salt, but i passed on
the extra drizzles of olive oil.
ready for a second rise
when i checked the bread at
about 20 minutes, it smelled
amazing, but it looked dull.
i wanted to add an egg wash
to make the pale crust glisten,
or maybe while i was making wishes,
go back in time and add the
extra olive oil.

but, you live, you learn and you
serve the bread next to
a salad that has maybe just a little
too much dressing so that people
can dunk their still-pretty-tasty
squares into a
balsamic-laced mixture
and pretend that that's how it
was all supposed to go down,
rosemary focaccia
adapted from anne burrell
the only thing that i can really say is that i know this is a lot of olive oil, but that's what focaccia is - a dough that is made with the golden liquid, squished into the dough before it rises a second time and drizzled on top before baking. it's excessive. but, it's what makes it focaccia. just embrace it.

1 packet active dry yeast
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus coarse sea salt for sprinkling
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary

fill liquid measuring cup with 1 3/4 cups warm water. sprinkle with yeast and sugar; stir to combine. place cup in warm place; let sit 15 minutes or until the yeast is foamy and aromatic.

coat large bowl lightly with olive oil; set aside.

in bowl of electric mixer, add flour, kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and yeast mixture. combine on low speed just until dough has come together. increase speed to medium and mix 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and soft. if you find the mixture to be extra sticky, sprinkle in a touch more of flour.

transfer dough to a clean lightly floured surface; knead by hand one or two times, or just until the mixture smooths out. place in reserved oiled bowl; cover with lightly greased plastic wrap and place in warm place for 1 hour, or until dough has doubled in size.

coat a jelly roll pan with remaining olive oil. turn dough out onto jelly roll pan, pressing to fit. turn the dough over to coat both sides and continue to press until the dough fits the pan. using fingers, make holes all the way through the dough. cover dough with plastic wrap. place in warm place and let sit 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

meanwhile, heat over to 425˚f.

sprinkle dough with coarse salt and rosemary. drizzle with olive oil. bake 25-30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. cool on rack. transfer focaccia to cutting board and cut into squares.

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