Friday, May 18, 2012

Focaccia!


A few weeks ago my husband made some focaccia.  I shared it with some neighbors and the secret was out, my husband is an amazing cook and he makes dang good Italian food!  My husband has a passion for food!  He loves the tastes, the smells and the socialization that food can provide.  While he lived in Italy he invited himself into every kitchen he could to find out what was cooking and how they made it.  The pasta mammas of Italia shared their secrets and as a result he makes amazing focaccia bread.  After the neighbors had some, a night was quickly organized and my husband was asked to give a demonstration on how to make focaccia bread. 
  
Key ingredients for the dough:
 When cooking Italian food you only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil! 
(or like Rachel Ray calls it, EVOO)  
 If you use ANYTHING else, it just doesn’t taste the same. 
Salt.  Sea salt is a good choice, but we just love kosher salt! 
For yeast we use the kind that comes in packets.  
 
First you are going to get a bowl and dump 2 packets of yeast in.  When my husband did the demonstration he used a packet and a ½, I like to use both the packets so I don’t have any random left over half used packets.  Your bread will just rise a little bit more if you use both, not a big deal.  
 Then add 2 cups of water.  NOW LISTEN, this is more crucial than you might think.  I have messed this up before.  You DO NOT WANT HOT WATER, but you do not want cold water.  You want luke warm to warm water.  Just get it from your tap but make sure it is not too hot.  

Stir the yeast into the water until it looks like it is a consistent color.  I like to add all my wet ingredients together first.  Next I add in 6 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil.  It is Italian food, you can add that specifically or you can eye ball it.  Even if you mess up and use a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon, it doesn’t matter.  That is the best thing about Italian food is you just kind of improvise.  Then I add in 2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1-1/2 teaspoons of sugar.

Next we are going to add a total of 5 cups of flour.  I like to add 2 cups, get it all stirred in and then add the other 3.  Once you have all of your cups of flour dumped in, you need to knead it.  It will be sticky at first, but the more you knead it, the less it will stick to your hands.  If after about 10 minutes of kneading it is still sticking to you, add about a teaspoon of flour.         

Oh, I forgot to tell you my husband’s theory.  He is convinced, if you listen to Italian music while you are making Italian food it will taste better.  He highly recommends Andrea Bocelli’s album Romanza.  It is his favorite and his secret ingredient!   The food just feels more at home if you create an Italian atmosphere!    

With Andrea Bocelli blaring in the background and your dough all kneaded, it is time to get a towel and cover it.  Let the dough rise for about a half hour.  
Check your bread after 30 min, it will be noticeably bigger.   
Now it is time to punch it down.  
Literally punch it down.  Knead it again and try to get the air out of it.  Once you have finished, place the towel back on the bowl and this time place it in the refrigerator.  It needs to stay in the fridge for a MINIMUM of 2 hours.  The recipe we use says you can chill the dough for at least 2 hours but no longer than 48 hours.  

When it is time, pull the dough out of the fridge and prepare your cookie sheet.  To grease the cookie sheet my husband pours olive oil on the pan and uses a paper towel to push it around making sure he covers everything even the corners. 
Next he sprinkles some flour onto the cookie sheet.  
 Now time for the dough!
Knead it a little bit and if you think it needs some more flour feel free to add a bit more.
 It is going to be cold and stubborn, but the more you work with it the warmer it will get and the easier it will be to form.   
 Don’t worry about a rolling pin, just use your hands and keep working it until you have covered the entire cookie sheet. 
   Now use your fingers and thumbs and poke holes all over the dough. 

 See that little slimy hole, it is optional if you would like you could put extra virgin olive oil on the tips of your fingers as you make the holes.   
Next he takes a fork and stabs the entire top of the dough.
The purpose for making all of these holes is so when we put the oil on top, we have provided a way for the bread to soak the oil in as it cooks.   
Pour some olive oil onto the dough and use the back of the spoon to push it around.  Continue adding oil until you have lightly covered the entire surface of dough. 
 Make sure your oven is preheating at 400°.  
 After he spread the oil all around my husband sprinkled on some rosemary.
Yes, fresh rosemary would taste better, but this works just fine.
Once it is thoroughly covered with oil and seasonings (my husband also likes to sprinkle some kosher salt on top) place it in the oven.   
The total cooking time for the bread is 15-25 minutes
However, 
we like to check ours at the half way point
   and pull it out to spread garlic sauce on top.
No, he did not learn this in Italy, this is just something he likes to do.
Once he has it covered in the garlic sauce, he puts it back in the oven to finish cooking.  

When it is all done, your kitchen will smell divine!
Focaccia is easy to cut with a pizza cutter.

When we eat focaccia we like to dump it in to a mixture of balsamic vinegar and olive oil, or we like to put pesto on top of it.  You can buy pesto in a jar at the store, just stir it up and add it to the top of your bread.  
 Buon appetito!

Focaccia is kind of like a pizza in the sense you can top it with anything you want.   
Most common is olive oil and kosher salt but feel free to try anything:
Rosemary                                 Pesto                                                                                                  Onions                                     Tomatoes                                                                                              Eggplant                                   Margherita Sauce                                                                            Black/Green Olives                  Grilled Green Peppers                                                                                  If you want to add cheese, wait to add it until the bread is almost finished cooking