Monday, November 22, 2010

focaccia di patate

Have you guys seen this? I hadn't until yesterday, and now my life will never be the same.

I don't know what (besides procrastination) brought me to this recipe, because until now, I've never really been a fan of focaccia. I like the idea of it, but there are just so many bad ones around that taste like they've been around for a little too long... You know what I mean, right? Like their oiliness, which should be rich and pleasant, is always just, well, oily. I'm guessing poor quality oil is the problem with many of these commercially made focaccia. And what's with taking one of these, filling it with sun-dried tomatoes, avocado and cheese (a combination that really needs to be sent back in time to 1993, FOREVER) and squashing them into oblivion with a 3 tonne sandwich press? It's never as good as you want it to be, and stuffed with 'gourmet' ingredients it always costs more than you expect. RANT. But hey guess what? Focaccia is the absolute bomb, when you make it at home with a potato.

This is Luisa from The Wednesday Chef's recipe, first published at the beginning of 2008, and the bread is so good, that I'm jealous of all those people who've been making it since then. Is has a dense, chewy crumb and is moist and so delicious that you can eat it on its own; this is the marker of a wonderful bread. The magic element here is a mashed boiled potato (really!), which you add to the regular flour, water, yeast mix, enabling you to achieve a superb texture and perfect density. The dough comes together like a dream and needs minimal kneading, so it's great for new and/or hesitant bread makers. I've followed Luisa's example and topped mine with tomato and oregano, adding a brush of garlic oil to up the ante, but olives and rosemary or sliced potatoes and parmesan - or whatever you dream up - would be great too.

One more thing: you need to use good oil here - I don't mean top shelf at Enoteca Sileno, but something with enough flavour to make the bread really shine (visually and flavour-wise). Think about the fact that the flavour of the oil really comes through here. After all, if you wouldn't dip a bit of bread into a little bowl of balsamic and Criso blended vegetable oil, you probably shouldn't put that stuff into your bread, either.

Potato Focaccia
Makes one 8-inch focaccia
Adapted only slightly from The Wednesday Chef

1 medium floury potato
2 cups bread or plain flour, plus more as needed
1/2 tsp dried yeast or 1 tsp fresh yeast
A pinch of sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced crossways
1 to 2 teaspoons dried oregano
Coarse or flaked sea salt

1. Put the potato in a small saucepan with enough water to cover. Place over high heat, covered, and bring to a boil. Add a handful of salt. Simmer until the potato is tender when pierced with a knife, around 20 - 25 minutes. Drain and let the potato/s it cool. When cool, peel and mash finely with a fork. Set aside.

2. Pour the yeast into a large mixing bowl and add the pinch of sugar. Slowly add the warm water in a thin stream, using a fork to help dissolve the yeast entirely. Let the mixture stand for a few minutes.

3. Add the flour to the yeast water and stir with your fork to incorporate, adding the mashed potato and the salt. The dough will be thick and shaggy as in the picture above - don't worry about this! When it is looking fairly even, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and knead the dough by hand, pressing against the side of the bowl, for around a minute, or until it is pretty smooth. It should come together pretty quickly. 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 baking paper to fit the bottom of an 8-inch cake tin. Gently lift the soft dough from the bowl and place it in the cake in, patting it out so that it fits snugly. Cover the top of the focaccia with the tomato slices and sprinkle the oregano and a large pinch of coarse salt over, then drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Let the dough rest for another hour - it should puff up again nicely.

5. Halfway though the resting time, turn the oven on to preheat at 220 degrees. When resting is complete and oven ready, bake focaccia for 40 minutes, turning the pan halfway through. Let cool on a rack for 20 minutes before removing the focaccia from the pan - otherwise it may break.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

lemon and olive oil cake

I know I'm not the only one who loves a plain-ish, not-too-sweet everyday cake. Fancy six layer super-cakes are great and all, but sometimes there's nothing more lovely than a Sunday afternoon cup of tea and an ever so slightly austere yet pretty, slice of home-baked cake. I'd been wanting to try this lemon and olive oil cake for a little while since spotting it on a couple of months ago, so today after a morning of gardening (hard work!), I thought a tea-time treat was in order.

I know it doesn't look like much, but hopefully those of you that understand the charm of the everyday cake will understand just how lovely this one is. It's a little sweeter than some of the other everyday cakes I usually make, but the tanginess of the lemon and the fruitiness of the extra virgin olive oil offset this sweetness nicely, resulting in a wonderfully soft and balanced cake that is perfectly delicious on it's own or warm with cream and/or fruit as a dessert. It contains flour, but no raising agent, relying instead on the fluffy lightness of whipped egg whites which are folded into the batter at the last moment.

The great thing about cakes made with olive oil (besides the delicious taste) is that they seem to stay fresh for a few days longer than those made with butter - and this is a big plus in a household of two where one "person" has four legs and doesn't eat cake. Slices of this cake will make it into the office and to the table for Monday night catch-up with friends over tea. There'll be a slice or two in my lunchbox this week and maybe a piece, rewarmed and served with lemon butter and/or ice-cream if I have a bad day (or a really good one!). If you're not into the idea of olive oil in desserts, try dialing back the olive flavour by using a light olive oil in place of the extra virgin. You'll get all the benefits of the oil with a less pronounced olive flavour.

lemon and olive oil cake

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or light for a more mellow flavour), plus additional for greasing pan
1 large lemon
1 cup cake or "00" flour
5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use (5 yolks, 4 whites)
3/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350° F). Grease a springform pan with some olive oil and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper. Oil paper also.

2. Finely grate 1 1/2 teaspoons of lemon zest and whisk into your flour. Now halve your lemon and squeeze out 1 1/2 tablespoons juice; put aside.

3. With an electric mixer, beat together yolks (5) and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until thick and pale (about 3 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (original recipe states that mixture may appear separated at this point; mine was fine). Using a wooden spoon, gently stir in flour mixture until just combined.

4. Clean your beaters to beat egg whites (4) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks (about 3 minutes).
Very gently, fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Your batter will have changed texture now into a foamy, soft mass.

5. Transfer batter to greased pan. Sprinkle top of batter with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean (about 45 minutes; mine took 40). Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan, peel off paper and transfer cake to serving plate.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

frijoles negros, or everyday black beans

I think if you're going to eat something everyday - or quite often, it should be made from the kind of recipe that serves you well every time. I have a bunch of these recipes scrawled out on the back of envelopes and receipts poking out of books and stuck to the fridge; there's my version of Molly's banana bread, the flour/yeast/water ratios for Jim Lahey's no-knead bread and a splotched crinkly print-out of the recipe for classic zucchini slice. One of the other things I make every couple of weeks is a big pot of frijoles negros, or basic black beans soaked and simmered with a dried chipotle chile until inky and creamy and totally delicious. At a Mexican-themed BBQ I had last weekend where I served them alongside charcoal-grilled achiote chicken, pico de gallo, mango salsa, salmon, apple and ginger ceviche, corn tortillas and mint caramel flan, the recipe for black beans was the one people asked for.

But this is a recipe that doesn't exist on any of those bits of paper, actually. It's just a preparation I made up, liked and stuck to - a "recipe" that before now, I've never thought much about. I fell in love with the creamy, rich texture of black beans in Mexico and they've been on high rotation in my repertoire since I got my hands on a source for the dried beans back here in Melbourne. I just soak a couple of cupfuls of beans, then rinse and throw them into my cast iron pot, covered with plenty of cold water. I throw in a peeled garlic clove or two, a peeled whole onion and a dried chipotle chile, bring to the boil and then let the whole lot simmer away until it becomes a thick and dark magic brew that smells wholesome and smoky.

The beans can then be used for a million different things. You can serve them on nachos, or alongside sausages. You can use them, with salsa and queso fresco, to fill vegetarian tacos or empanadas. You can moosh them up, add some stock and serve with crema for a satisfying black bean soup. You could puree them into refried beans and serve as a dip with tostadas, alongside eggs for a traditional Mexican breakfast, or use a thick layer as an additional filling for Sunday morning hangover quesadillas. Or even better - and Aussies might have to trust me on this - you can serve them hot, spooned over the top of a plate of freshly cooked rice, garnished with coriander, chipotle crema, chunks of avocado, hot sauce and lime. It's my most favourite cheap, warming, filling comfort meal, but not something you hear much about down here in OZ.

While there's not exactly a recipe here for these babies, there are some things you should you know about cooking black beans that might help if you've never prepared them before:

1. Dried beans are better than canned. TRUE. I don't care what Jamie Oliver says - I can't afford imported canned black beans (at $5 a pop) and they're nowhere near as good as those you soak and simmer yourself. It may take some forethought, but it certainly doesn't take much time to soak beans while you sleep and to throw them in a pot to simmer for a few hours on a Saturday morning. Save dollars, food miles and packaging - and get compliments from everyone.

2.Good-quality, freshest dried beans are MUY IMPORTANTE, amigo. Black beans are a little hard to come by in Melbourne anyway, but those sold at Casa Iberica in Fitzroy are really worth the trip. Woolworths now sells black turtle beans under their 'Macro' label in the health food aisle; these are ok, but you just won't achieve the creaminess and flavour you're really after.

3. Don't throw salt into that water! At least not for the first hour or so. Word on the street is that this makes them tough as little stones (though I've heard contradictory theories too). I've always seasoned later and never had a problem with tough beans, so I'm sticking to this rule. Salt some after an hour or so of cooking and adjust as necessary when they're done.

4. Flavour as you like. I throw in a dried chipotle chile (also available at Casa Iberica or online here) to infuse the whole pot with a smoky, subtle heat that doesn't interfere too much with the different dishes I add my beans to. But throw in whatever you like; fresh bay leaves, ground coriander or a chunk of smoky bacon.

5. Skim that scum. Shortly after your beans come to the boil, a frothy scum often rises to the surface. You want to skim this off with a big spoon so that the texture and flavour of your beans and their liquid really sing. Once you turn down to simmer, check for more scum every so often and remove as necessary.

6. Add more water as needed and don't let the beans dry out. By the time the beans are tender and creamy, the water will have transformed into a thick black-purple sauce - you want to make sure there's enough of this. If you intend to puree or mash the beans, you may want a even little more liquid.

7. Taste! Cooking time depends on how long you soak and how fresh your beans are. These ones took just under two hours after an overnight soak, but there's only one way to find out if yours are done...
Related Posts with Thumbnails