Focaccia

I love homemade bread, but I really am not patient enough to make it myself. Believe me, I’ve tried. No luck. However, I was recently gifted a copy of My Bread by Jim Lahey, a cookbook full of no-work, no-knead bread recipes. I knew I had to try the focaccia recipe. Boy, am I glad I did!

Focaccia has to be my favorite Italian bread because it is so versatile. You can top it with just about anything. I have tried to make focaccia before, but it turned out dense and bland. Nothing like the light and flavorful focaccia I had seaside in Liguria. Jim Lahey’s recipe was just what I was looking for. It produces an excellent focaccia time after time. Making this takes a bit of planning, but is virtually no-work and there is no-kneading involved. Try it for yourself and see!

Taken from My Bread by Jim Lahey
Ingredients:
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
2 1/2 cups cool water
4 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place potato pieces and water in a small sauce pan, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook potato until chunks fall apart when pierced with a fork or knife tip.

Use an immersion blender or a blender to puree potatoes with the cooking water until smooth. Let the mixture cool to 120 degrees F; it will feel very warm to the touch but not scalding.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, sugar and half the salt. Add the potato puree and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough is tripled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

Lightly oil a 13-by-18 inch rimmed baking sheet (I line the baking sheet with parchment paper to make for an easier clean up). Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the baking sheet; it will be quite loose and sticky. Gently pull the dough and stretch it across the surface of the pan, then oil your hands and press the dough evenly out to the edges. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with the remaining salt. Use your fingertips to create dimples all over the surface of the dough. Let the dough rise in a warm draft-free spot until it has risen just over the edges of the pan, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, with a rack in the center.

Top the foccacia with your desired toppings, such as onions, tomatoes, fresh herbs, etc. (I used fresh rosemary and thyme). Gently place the focaccia in the oven on the center rack (the risen dough is delicate; a bump going into the oven could collapse it) and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top is evenly golden brown. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool, and give it at least a few minutes before slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

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A New Favorite in Boerum Hill

Rucola, a rustic Northern Italian restaurant in Boerum Hill, has only been open for about a year, but has quickly became one of my favorite restaurants. Our first visit came immediately after our trip to Piedmont and I was thrilled to see a menu with Piemontese touches so close to home.

Heirloom carrot salad

The menu isn’t huge, but it features a nicely edited selection of appetizers, a couple of homemade pastas, a few entrees, and sides. All make use of fresh seasonal ingredients: VERY Piemontese. I always go for the homemade rigatoni in a meat sauce that has a touch of nutmeg. The mini cast iron pan of baked polenta is not to be missed either. All of these dishes are paired with an impressive wine list featuring all of your favorite Piemontese wines.

Homemade rigatoni with meat sauce

Lastly, you can’t beat the atmosphere at this cozy joint. Quiet street? Check. Soft lighting? Check. Stylish rustic decor? Check. Cool crowd? Check. Rucola only takes reservations for parties of 5 or more and can get crowded, so there could be a wait. Grab a spot at the bar and have an Italian aperitif. It’s worth the wait.

Torta Verde

Torta verde (green pie) is a traditional Piemontese dish to have at Easter. We first experienced a torta verde at a Pasquetta celebration (the day after Easter) when we were in Piedmont. I’ve combined a couple of recipes and received a little help from a culinary tour guide and cookbook author in Piedmont, Paolo Ferrero. Torta verde uses fresh greens and herbs and is perfect for any springtime celebration. The resulting dish is pretty close to what we enjoyed on a vineyard in the hills of the Monferrato.

Ingredients:
1 cup short-grained rice, such as arborio
1 1/2 pounds fresh greens, chopped (I used spinach, chard, kale and celery leaves)
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
3 eggs
1 bunch scallions, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup grated parmesan
1 cup grated fontina
Fresh herbs for seasoning, chopped (basil, thyme, rosemary, mint, etc.)
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a large pot and saute the greens and rice for a few minutes. Pour in the broth, season with salt and mix well. There will seem to be too many greens and not enough rice. Don’t worry, the greens will reduce and the rice will become more prominent. Cover and let the greens reduce. Check the pot every couple of minutes and give it a few more stirs. Once the greens are reduced and the rice is almost done, remove from heat and let the mixture cool.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Once the mixture has cooled, add the scallions, garlic, cheese, herbs of your preference, a dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Taste the mixture for seasoning. Add the eggs. Pour the mixture into a 8×8 baking dish or a pie plate that has been buttered and coated with bread crumbs. Bake for 15-20 minutes until the torta is set. Let cool and eat warm or at room temperature. Buona Pasqua!

Crazy for Moscato d’Asti

In my opinion, if there is a white grape that can rival the most popular black grapes of Piemonte (Nebbiolo and Barbera), it is Moscato. Most people will know this grape in the form of Asti, the sparkling white wine formerly known as Asti Spumante. Although Asti is an excellent wine, I prefer Moscato d’Asti. Also made from the Moscato grape, Moscato d’Asti is sweeter and has a lower alcohol content (usually between 5.5% and 8%).

I have introduced many people to Moscato d’Asti over the last few years. The reaction is always the same. “What is this and where can I buy it?” The production of Moscato d’Asti is much smaller than its cousin, Asti. Unfortunately this means it may be a little harder to find, and could be a tad more expensive, though you can usually find a bottle of good quality Moscato d’Asti for less than $20. Look for Moscato d’Asti near the other sparkling wines in your local wine store.

Usually sold with effervescence, this sparkling bottle of gold is sweet with usual flavors of Elderflower and fruit. It is the perfect accompaniment to any dessert. A bottle of Moscato d’Asti DOCG from La Morandina paired perfectly with cupcakes to celebrate my recent birthday!