Sundried Tomato Focaccia

This recipe is a little luxurious, people.  Bread involves so few ingredients that it's important to use the best ones...

Okay, maybe not the best.  A $200 bottle of olive oil is a leetle excessive (read: very excessive, but maybe someday reasonably excessive, when I'm a famous linguist having discovered the language family to which Basque belongs).   I'm just trying emphasize the notion that ingredients should taste full and honest, like a ripe peach in season or a perfectly toasted almond.  A perfect summer peach will taste of nectar and sun and fragrant, blooming flowers - roasted almonds, of warmth and caramel, of dried leaves stirred by autumn wind.  And you can feel the flavors melding on your tongue, rising and settling into your consciousness as a thought, the thought that peaches and almonds should be this way, that somehow they were meant to be this way, not for any other reason but that they elevate you to this place of simultaneously conscious and carnal pleasure - that they taste wonderful in this complex, intellectual way.


I hope you, reader, understand this, because this is how I feel about food.  This is why I care about cooking for myself and others: I experience food this way and want to share it with those whom I care about.  Sure, I don't subscribe to this intellectual process of eating all the time, nor do I always care so deeply about the fullness and honesty of my food.  After all, I'm feasting on gummy bears as I write this, and I'm pretty sure there's very little that is pure about these.  They're Black Forest gummy bears though, so they're by far superior to all other brands of gummy bears I've eaten.  But you get my point.  Yes?

Back to the focaccia.  My digression is to say that if you're going to go through the trouble of making bread, and focaccia no less, you should splurge a little, a leetle, on some nice olive oil.  I mean, you're going to need a whole cup of it.

A WHOLE CUP?

Yes, a whole cup of delicious, peppery, fruity olive oil.  I had a bottle of Gremolata olive oil, infused with the essential oils of lemon and garlic, from Saratoga Olive Oil Co. which was perfect for such an application as this, where the star of the show is the oil.  And just for kicks, since I happened to have some organic sundried tomatoes, I plopped a few of those on there before baking.  If my whole rant about peaches and almonds and olive oil is already too much for you, but you want to make this recipe anyway, feel free to leave off the accoutrements.  The original recipe from Anne Burrell did not include them, just a [heavy] sprinkle of coarse sea salt.  I ate mine warm and plain for breakfast this morning, without butter or [more] olive oil, and its texture was both crusty and cloudy, its flavor bursting with the lovely fruitiness of olive oil without being utterly saturated or distracting.  I think a healthy slab would be an awesome dunker for a big, piping hot bowl of soup.

Sundried Tomato Focaccia

1 3/4 c warm (90-100° F) water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
5 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
~2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 c extra virgin olive oil
~10 sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly

Bloom the yeast with the honey and water for ~15 minutes.  To this mixture add the flour, kosher salt, and 1/2 c olive oil.  Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until the dough comes together, then knead on a clean, well-floured surface for ~8 minutes until soft and tacky, but not sticky.

Coat a clean, dry bowl with a little olive oil, and place the kneaded ball of dough in.  Turn the dough around in the bowl to cover it with olive oil also, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place ~1 hour until doubled.

Pour remaining 1/2 c olive oil in a sheet pan and tilt to cover the entire surface.  Place your risen dough in the puddle of olive oil and spread it to fill out the entire pan.  As you spread and stretch the dough, turn it over a couple times to coat it with the oil, and dig your fingers into it to create holes in the dough.  This may seem weird, like your hurting the dough or something, but you need to do this to create the characteristically dimpled surface of the focaccia.  Once it's encompassing the entire pan, covered in oil, and properly dimpled, sprinkle the surface with pieces of sundried tomato.  Again, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place ~1 hour.

Sprinkle the suface with as much coarse sea salt as you want.  Bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and delicious.

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