Ciao Italia: My Lifelong Food Adventures in Italy
Mary Ann's newest book contains over 150 recipes, 60 gorgeous food photos, and many scenic pictures of Italy taken by Mary Ann on her travels through the years.
Makes One 15—1/2-Inch Deep-Dish Focaccia or Two 13 1/2—14-Inch Focacce
I must give credit to my maternal grandmother, Anna Galasso, for the trick I have used on my series to demonstrate how to make a good, light-tasting yeast dough. Grandma always saved potato water - either the water potatoes had been boiled in or the water that peeled, uncooked potatoes had been held in. In either case, the potatoes release plenty of starch, which yeast just loves to feed on.
When I boil potatoes I make sure to drain off the water into containers that I can freeze. That way I always have potato water on hand, to crumble yeast into.
This dough is what is referred to as a straight dough because it uses just water, active dry yeast, unbleached all-purpose flour, salt, and a little olive oil. To give the dough an added boost when rising I add wheat gluten, available in the baking section of most supermarkets. This is optional, and half a crushed chewable vitamin C tablet will have the same effect.
When I knead the dough I embed it with toasted pumpkin seeds for a nice look, nutty flavor, and texture. I top the dough with onions, paper-thin slices of potatoes, and fresh thyme. For an impressive look I use a deep-dish 15 1/2-inch pizza pan, but you can make two free-form focacce about 13 1/2 inches and bake them on preheated baking stones, which give a nice crisp texture to the crust. Or simply use standard pizza pans.
This is a great starter for a rustic Italian dinner.
1/2 cup hulled, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 cups warm (110ºF) potato water
1 package active dried yeast
3 to 3 1/2 King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
1 tablespoon wheat gluten, or 1/2 crushed vitamin C tablet (optional)
1 teaspoon Filippo Berio Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 large Russet potato
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet red onions (2 large), peeled and thinly sliced
4 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup balsamic or red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 325ºF.
Spread the pumpkin seeds on a cookie sheet and toast them for 10 minutes. You will hear a popping noise as they toast. Remove the seeds to a dish to cool.
Make the dough in an electric mixer, food processor, or by hand. Pour 1/2 cup of the potato water into a mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir it with a spoon. Allow the yeast to "proof", or get bubbly. This will take about 5 minutes. Pour in the remaining water. Mix in one cup of the flour along with the wheat gluten or Vitamin C. Stir in the olive oil and the salt. Continue adding enough of the flour to create a dough that moves away from the sides of the mixing bowl and is not sticking to your hands. The dough should be slightly tacky but not sticky or gooey feeling. Knead the dough a few times on a lightly floured surface. Round the dough into a ball and place it in a large bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to rise until double in bulk. Or make the dough a day ahead, and after it has risen, punch it down and place the dough in a vegetable-oil-sprayed plastic bag. Refrigerate the dough. When ready to use, transfer the dough to a bowl; cover it and allow it to come to room temperature, and rise.
Meanwhile make the topping. Peel the potato, and cut it into paper-thin slices. (If you want to prep them ahead of time, place the slices in a bowl and cover them with cold water to prevent them from discoloring. Be sure to dry the slices before sautéing them.)
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat. Cook the potatoes, turning them frequently, until they just start to brown around the edges. Remove the potatoes to a paper-towel-lined dish. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, stir in the onions, and cook them until the onions begin to soften. Stir the sugar into the onions and continue cooking them for 2 or 3 minutes. They should look soft and glazed. Raise the heat to high and stir in the vinegar. Continue cooking and stirring until all the vinegar has evaporated. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool.
Punch down the dough with your fists, and transfer it to a lightly floured work surface. Stretch out the dough with your hands into a rough looking round. Spread the pumpkin seeds on top of the dough. Fold the dough over the pumpkin seeds, and knead the dough until the seeds are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
To make one deep-dish focaccia, roll the dough into a 15Ã—11 1/2-inch round, and place it in the pan. To make two thinner and smaller focacce, divide the dough in half, and roll each half into roughly a 13 1/2Ã—14-inch round. Place the rounds on each of two baking-parchment-lined peels.
If making the deep-dish focaccia, spread all the potato slices over the top of the dough. Spread the onions evenly over the potatoes, and sprinkle the thyme and pepper over the onions. Cover with a clean dish towel and allow to rise for 20 minutes. If making two smaller ones, divide and spread the potatoes, onions, thyme, and pepper over the top of each focaccia. Cover them with a clean dish towel and allow them to rise for 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF if making deep-dish focaccia or using conventional pizza pans; preheat the baking stones at 450ºF for 25 minutes prior to baking the smaller focacce. Then lower the temperature to 400ºF.
Bake the deep-dish focaccia for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bottom crust is nicely browned. Use the same baking temperature and time if using conventional pizza pans. Remove the focaccia from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack.
If using baking stones, slide the focaccia with the parchment paper onto the stone. You may need to bake one at a time if you do not have a double oven and two baking stones. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the bottom crust is nicely browned. To remove the focaccia from the stone, slip the peel underneath the parchment paper and slide the focaccia onto the peel and transfer to a cooling rack.
Cut the focaccia into wedges with a scissors and serve warm.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.