Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Bacon, and Onions

Brussels sprouts onions olive oil 16Last week, listening to a radio interview with a chef on the cooking trends we can expect in 2013, I learned that Brussels sprouts are on their way out. Once relegated to the same loathsome realm as beets and liver, they had recently become the darlings of trendy restaurants all over the country, cozying up to lardon-encrusted meats and peeking out from under house-made sauces. But in 2013, poor Brussels sprouts will apparently go the way of last year’s prom queen–still with lots of friends in the popular crowd, but probably not invited to the dance.

Big poo, I say. Brussels sprouts are still trending in our house. Fred has only recently recovered from his childhood aversion to the grayish, mushy lumps that appeared on our plates in the 60s and 70s, and we aren’t going back. Plus, there were some gorgeous ones at the Dekalb Farmers’ Market recently, so I had to do something with them.

I’d also been paging through my tattered copy of “Lidia’s Italy,” a cookbook whose recipes I dearly love but whose binding I hate, and once again came across its wonderful tomato and onion foccacia. Lidia gives you license to do whatever you want with the toppings–so it didn’t seem too much of a leap to Brussels sprouts, onion, and bacon.

We were pleased with the results. The focaccia is tender and light, though definitely best served warm. We loved the smoky bacon combined with the slightly carmelized Brussels sprouts. Salt on top is essential. With a salad or other vegetable (buy extra Brussels sprouts & saute them), it makes a meal.

Plan to eat within two to three days and heat up before eating. But please, don’t do this.

A Fred original Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

A Fred original: Focaccia and meatloaf sandwich

Recipe: Focaccia with Brussels Sprouts, Onions, and Bacon

Serves 6 – 8 as a meal

4 tbsp. plus 1/2 tsp. yeastFoccacia  brussels sprouts bacon
2 1/4 c. warm water
5 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
6 – 7 or more large Brussels sprouts (enough for at least 2 cups), halved lengthwise & sliced thin
1 medium onion, quartered and sliced thin
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
Finely ground sea salt, or regular salt, to taste
About 1/3 cup olive oil, enough to coat & marinate sprouts, onions, and garlic
6 slices bacon, cut into 1″ lengths
Coarse sea salt to sprinkle over top

DOUGH: Measure water in spouted measuring cup and dissolve yeast in water for a few minutes. Oil a large bowl with about 1 tbsp. olive oil and set aside.

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour flour into food processor and turn it on. With processor running, pour yeast and water through feed tube. Process until dough pulls away from processor bowl, about 30 seconds. If dough is too sticky (some will stick to sides of bowl, but it should pull away), add more flour, a little at a time. If it is too dry, with crumbly bits in the bottom, add a little more water.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead for about a minute. Place into bowl with olive oil, turning once to coat. Cover tightly in plastic wrap and let sit in warm place until doubled, about an hour.

While dough is rising, prepare remaining ingredients and let them marinate. Coat a broiler pan with about 2 tbsp. olive oil. This makes for a thick focaccia; if you would like something thinner, try a large jelly roll pan (17 1/2″ x 12 1/4″).

Have a glass of wine, make a salad, or read for a little while.

If you have a baking stone, place it in the middle rack of your oven. When dough has risen, preheat oven to 425. Punch dough down. Press it into the pan. Sprinkle marinated vegetables and bacon over top, pressing lightly into dough with fingertips, making dimples. Let rise an additional 10 – 15 minutes. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt to taste. Bake 20 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes or until dough is light brown. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Still No Artisan Bread

Dear readers, I regret to say that I lied to you at the end of my last post: “I discovered that you can make good artisan bread with no recipe at all.” 

I’m not sure why I suddenly took on the tone of a Google sidebar ad (“I got white teeth for only $1. Find out how”), but to be fair things did seem to be heading in that direction. What I should have said was a little less glamorous: You need a recipe, but artisan bread isn’t that hard.

Cleo: “Even I can make artisan bread!” (Note: She was whisked from the scene before she got a chance to prove it.)

Thought it isn’t hard, it involves several steps and takes a couple of days to make–which means that recipe testing is taking longer than I originally anticipated. So it will be a while before I can post on this topic.

I’ll be turning to other subjects in my next few posts. In the meantime, though, check out this fabulous site on artisan bread to learn  from someone who actually seems to know something about it.

Artisan Bread

It seems everyone these days is making artisan bread. I thought I was on the right path by making five minute no-knead boule dough, whose proponents claim for it the quality of artisan bread without the starter and all the effort. Recently, though, I received a 20-year-old starter from a bread-baking neighbor–and now everything has changed.

The starter, housed in the bowl my grandmother used for making cornbread for my grandfather’s nightly supper.

Suddenly, I had a heavy responsibility in my hands. The starter was born around the time I began graduate school, possibly just as I was leaving Durham for Wisconsin. It sat in my neighbor’s kitchen as I meandered across the United States for 20 years, perhaps waiting for me to return to Trinity Park. Worse, it was the beloved child of a man with a structure behind his house dedicated entirely to a wood-fired oven–a wood-fired oven for baking loaves of bread.

David, the starter’s parent, delivered it on a day when Fred was at home. When I got back, it was in a jar on my kitchen counter. David had provided a spreadsheet for the baking process too. He told Fred to let the starter sit out for a couple of hours and then put it in the fridge. “She’ll know what to do with it after that,” he said.

This was a grave error. Glancing over the spreadsheet, I might as well have been reading a formula for making rocket fuel: “The column to the left has the refreshment regime. Line 4 is the variable; fill it in with the amount of starting levain and it calculates the flour and water you need to make a 66% levain from a 66% levain.”

I felt just as I had when I first read postmodern literary theory, around the time that damned starter had emerged from a combination of flour, water, and whatever yeast and bacteria floated around Trinity Park circa 1990: “How the heck had I never learned any of this?” My mastery of the bread baking techniques outlined in my 4-H Club booklet had failed me. I could not bear to tell David that he had turned a portion of his precious 20-year-old starter over to the bread baking equivalent of a crack-smoking nanny who’s never changed a diaper. Especially a man who had spent tens of thousands of dollars on an oven just to bake bread.

In desperation, I turned to the internet, where my complete ignorance of the bread baking process was further reinforced. It turns out (and this won’t be news to artisan bread bakers) that bread made from this kind of starter is fundamentally different from the yeast breads you find in your average recipe book. The basic technique for these breads is this:

  1. Proof yeast in warm water (optional)
  2. Mix ingredients
  3. Knead
  4. Let rise in oiled bowl until doubled
  5. Punch down and shape into loaves
  6. Let rise until doubled again
  7. Bake

This process takes anywhere from three to six hours, depending on the type of yeast you use. Yeast is a living thing, and the gasses it produces as it feeds make the bread rise. With commercial yeast–a product that was developed in the relatively recent past (a hundred years or so)–that process is relatively fast. 

In contrast, bread made from the kind of starter that I was given takes two or three days. The yeast and bacteria that create the rise come not from commercial starter, but from the air. The process looks more like this.

  1. In the morning, take a small amount of starter and add enough water and flour to double. Let rise, covered, until bubbly.
  2. Add water and flour to double starter again. Let rise again until bubbly.
  3. Repeat. This rise will be overnight.
  4. Knead in salt. Knead a lot to incorporate air.
  5. Let rise in bowl lined with lightly floured towel, covered. Fold once or twice during rising.
  6. Shape into round loaf or loaves. Bake on stone in hot oven.

Though the rising time is slower, there are advantages. Yeast in each part of the world produces a unique flavor (hence “San Francisco sourdough”), and so this technique is the best way to get that “bite” you find in a traditional sourdough bread. It’s hard to match this type of bread for flavor and texture.

But there are additional disadvantages to this method–the biggest one being that artisan bread bakers are a fussy, persnickety lot, agonizing over issues such as oven spring, crumb, exact baking times, and so on. And there is an impenetrable chasm between those who measure their ingredients and those who weigh them. Measurers see weighers as inflexible, unimaginative dilettantes; weighers turn up their noses at haphazard cooks who treat recipes as culinary free-for-alls.

This meant that there was no guidance on how to transform the weight-based percentages on David’s spreadsheet into cups and tablespoons. I ran the amounts through a converter, but I was still faced with the problem of the levain (yes, it’s the starter)–I couldn’t find a reliable way to determine its weight without a scale. And the amount of all the other ingredients–the flour, water, and salt–depended on that weight.

To solve the problem, I ended up getting a scale, but the good news is that I also discovered that if you are not one of the fussier types you can make good artisan bread with no recipe at all. I’ll post on this next time.

Best Bread in the World on a Snowy Weekend

Go ahead and mock us Southerners for shutting down over the 6 or so inches of snow that fell here on Saturday. We’re happy to take a sabbath, close up, hunker down, tuck ourselves in and enjoy a pleasant winter day snugged up in our house, baking, reading, and napping.

Cleo, never satisfied just to stay safe in a warm house, mewed so desperately to get out on Saturday that I decided to let her venture forth.

Obviously, she didn’t get far.

And anyway, I don’t understand why anyone would have wanted to leave the house this weekend. I baked like crazy, including this loaf of bread.

The recipe claims that this is the “best bread in the world.” That depends on what you like in a bread, of course. If you like a crusty loaf this one won’t satisfy, but its soft and tender crust makes it perfect for sandwiches. I find its sweet and nutty flavor very appealing.

The recipe is quite forgiving in the portion of wheat to white flour. In fact, I accidentally reversed the portion of white and wheat flour in the original recipe, and I like the change so much I kept it here. 

Best Bread in the World 

Makes 2 loaves

2 cups boiling water
1 cup uncooked oatmeal
1/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. salt
1/2 cup honey
2 tbsp. butter
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup white flour
1 egg yolk plus 1 tsp. water

Pour boiling water over oats in large bowl. Add salt, honey, and butter, and stir. Let stand until softened, butter has melted, and mixture is lukewarm.

Stir yeast into lukewarm water and let it dissolve. (I usually give it a stir until the lumps are gone.) Add to oat mixture. Gradually add flour, stirring with wooden spoon, until a soft ball of dough forms. It should stay together easily when you gather it together with your hands.

Generously flour kneading surface with white flour. I like to use a non-fuzzy cotton towel, like the ones made from flour sacks. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. The instructions say to do this for 10 minutes but it never seems to take me this long. Dough will be ready when it doesn’t “fold” over easily during the kneading process and it springs back in your hands. Don’t clean kneading surface unless required for another task–you will use it one more time.

Oil a large bowl and add dough, turning it to coat with oil on all sides. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Oil 2 loaf pans. Punch down dough and divide in two. Knead each half briefly and shape into loaves. (You can clean your kneading surface now!) Place loafs in pans. Cover and let rise until pans are full. Preheat oven to 350.

Beat egg yolk lightly with the teaspoon of water. Brush surface of each loaf with egg mixture. Bake 35 or 40 minutes.

Turn loaves onto rack and let cool slightly, if you can resist, before slicing. Loaves will freeze well.

Quinoa, the Outcast Indian Maiden

The increased budgetary restrictions imposed by our unwilling ownership of two houses are leading us down some interesting culinary paths. Our latest discovery is quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah), a South American seed that cooks up into a nutty, flavorful, and filling side dish. I’d heard of it for years but never ventured into making it myself until recently. We found a supply at Costco, ample evidence that it’s made the leap from the Birkenstock and brown rice crowd into the Land of Wal-Mart.

As for the taste, if couscous and brown rice got married and had a baby, it would be quinoa. When cooked, the seeds are roundish like couscous, but the flavor more closely resembles brown rice. We’ve taken to calling this grainy love child “Quinoa, the Outcast Indian Maiden” in honor of Eudora Welty’s bizarre little short story, “Keela, the Outcast Indian Maiden,”  and it’s made many an appearance on our dinner plates as of late.

Here’s a recent, simple version with just onions and garlic, served with a smoked paprika fish.*

*Unfortunately I can’t reproduce the smoked paprika fish recipe, which was thrown together using the juice from Rick’s Pick’s Smokra, a spicy pickled okra heavily infused with smoked paprika. With Smokra at $10 a jar, I try to use every bit of it the few times of year we indulge. A cheaper version of the fish with smoked paprika, garlic, and vinegar is in the works but is not ready for publication.

Like its imaginary parent couscous, quinoa seems to be a very forgiving grain–that, or I’m cooking it badly but liking it anyway. The basic cooking method is two parts water to one part quinoa. You put it in a saucepan, cover, bring to boil, then simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes. Taking the lid off and checking it on occasion does not seem to hurt it, nor does my occasional obsessive-compulsive stirring. The instructions on our bag tell you it’s done when “a white spiral-like thread appears on each grain,” and they  also suggest toasting the seeds in a dry skillet before cooking to bring out the nutty flavor. I tried both the toasting and the non-toasting methods and was fine either way. The recipe below omits the pre-toasting.

Quinoa also appears to be a versatile grain, capable of functioning as a breakfast cereal with fruit and nuts or as a vegetable side dish, but not being breakfast eaters we’ve tried only the latter. My favorite has been the recipe below, which is a heavily modified version of the one on the back of the bag. This makes a gentle and unassuming side dish; in fact, if your favorite chicken soup could be transformed into a solid, this would be it. (The chicken broth helps.) It’s a nice accompaniment to just about any basic dish, from roast chicken to broiled fish to pork chops.

Quinoa is an outcast no longer. 

Quinoa with Carrots, Celery, and Onion 

Serves 4 as a side dish

1 tablespoon oil (olive or vegetable)
1 medium onion,  chopped
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup carrots, peeled and minced
2 stalks celery, chopped fine
1 tbsp. thyme or herbes de Provence
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups homemade chicken or turkey broth
Salt to taste

Heat oil in large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add carrots, celery, and thyme and saute until just tender, about 5 – 10 minutes. Add quinoa, water, and salt and stir. Cover and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until water has evaporated and quinoa is fluffy, with white spiral-like threads on each grain.

Pizza Pizza

Pizza has single-handedly transformed our food life over the last couple of months. We’ve gone from a diet of vegetables and meat served over pasta to a diet of vegetables and meat served on bread, occasionally mixed with vegetables and meat rolled into a burrito. But vegetables mean variety, and the more vehicles you have for delivering them, the more exciting your menus seem.

For us, the revolution started with the amazing chicken liver pizza I made in June. But the dough, though excellent, was a barrier. Like most of us, I don’t have the time or the patience on a weeknight to wait for all that rising and resting.

That’s where five-minute no-knead boule dough comes in. Quietly gurgling away in the fridge most days of the week, this dough is ready to leap into action whenever pizza is called for. You just pull off a chunk, roll it out, and have homemade pizza in just a little more time than it takes for the oven to heat up.

Be forewarned that if you are a pizza snob, you won’t find perfection in this crust. It lacks the tender softness of the best doughs and often veers too far into the realm of the crispy. But if you are looking for a quick and better than average supper on a pretty darn good crust, this dough is your faithful friend.

A side note: Don’t be intimidated by the amount of writing in the recipe below. It takes only a couple of times through to get the technique down and do it from memory.

Here’s the basic dough recipe again.

Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

NOTE ABOUT FLOUR: The important thing is not so much the amount of flour but the final consistency of the dough. The range given here should allow for the many different types of flour you might use at home. Note that bread flour will also work in this recipe. The amount used will tend toward the lower end of the range.

6 1/2 – 8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. lukewarm water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 1/2 tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

Add yeast and salt to water in a 5 quart bowl and stir. Add 6 1/2 cup flour with a wooden spoon and stir until uniformly moist. Dough should be soft and conform to container. If it is too thin (e.g., the consistency of thick cake batter), add more floor until it just holds together into a ball but is still soft. Cover loosely with towel and let rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flatten on top, 2 – 5 hours. At this point you can refrigerate dough in lidded but not airtight container for up to two weeks. (Refrigerated dough is easier to work with.)

Topping Preparation

Have toppings prepared and oven preheated before working with dough.

It’s a good idea to roast vegetables that are “wet” ahead of time (squash, broccoli, zucchini, etc.)–and all other vegetables are good roasted as well. To roast, cut up vegetables to desired size and put in a bowl. Add a couple of teaspoons of olive oil, salt and pepper. Scatter over cookie sheet and place under broiler, on top rack, on high for 10 – 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Vegetables are ready when they have begun to brown.

Here are some favorite combinations we’ve tried lately.

Anchovies, onions, chopped fresh cayenne or other pepper, and a mix of gorgonzola and cheddar cheeses

Roasted squash, onions, garlic, red pepper, and Parmesan cheese

Sliced leftover steak, chopped fresh jalapenos, onions, and white cheddar cheese

Baking

Place baking stone on bottom rack of oven and preheat to hottest temperature possible. (In the case of my oven, this is 550 degrees.) Sprinkle cornmeal on pizza peel. Dust a rolling surface with flour. (I use a non-fuzzy kitchen towel.) Dust your hands with flour and pull off a piece the size of a small grapefruit. For very thin crust, pull off a smaller piece; for thicker, pull off a larger one. Sprinkle dough with flour and roll out to desired size.


Rolling out pizza dough. If you’d seen my hair in the original photo you’d understand why I cropped my head off.


Transfer dough to peel and repair damage than will inevitably ensue until you get more practice. Make sure there are no holes in the crust and that the shape roughly conforms to what you imagined (e.g., round or square). Brush surface of crust with a tablespoon or so of olive oil. If using tomato sauce, spread sauce over surface. Add toppings.

Slide pizza onto baking stone–a few forward shakes, and pretending that you are trying to pull a tablecloth out from under a table loaded with dishes, might help. And remember that even disasters like this still taste good.

If you don’t have a pizza peel or a baking stone, transfer the pizza dough to a cookie sheet, add your toppings there, and cook on the bottom rack of the oven.

Bake for 8 – 10 minutes. Add cheese toppings. Bake 2 – 3 minutes more. Remove from oven and let cool a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

With my friendship bread starter now sitting forlornly in the freezer, my colleague Carol must have sensed that I needed a new project. A bread fan, Carol used to make her own on a regular basis when she was a stay-at-home mom–a feat that to me sounds only slightly easier than baking a souffle during the Allied bombing of Dresden, or maybe wrestling sharks.

Now that Carol works full-time and has two teen-agers, baking bread from scratch has been relegated to the same status as enjoying a peaceful dinner or reading a book from start to finish–a rare event to be celebrated and enjoyed. But a few weeks ago, she seemed to have found a solution in several recipes from Mother Earth News featuring “five-minute bread.”

I’d first heard about this phenomenon on NPR’s The Splendid Table with Lynne Rossetto Kasper, in which she interviewed Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francois, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking. Though I generally avoid cookbooks written by doctors, on the theory that they’re less about food and more about promoting the doctor’s latest theory, I was intrigued.

Google soon let me know that once again I was on the trailing edge of culinary trends. Apparently the New York Times published a “no-knead bread” recipe in 2006 that made the rounds of the internet and spawned a host of knock-offs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were earlier versions.

I read this news with a sense of pleasantly smug, self-righteous superiority. It seems that Dr. Herzberg’s “discovery” is that you make extra no-knead bread dough and use it any time over the course of two weeks. (His other tip is to add hot water to a pan in the oven during baking, which also does something important but I’m not sure what.) You just store it in the refrigerator and pull off chunks when you want to bake it.

I could have thought of that, I sniffed haughtily to myself. Of course, Lynne Rosetto Kasper is interviewing Dr. Hertzberger. I’m still waiting for her to call me.

And the bread has been a boon to Fred and me. We’ve had fresh-baked bread with several meals, and the recipe can also be used for pizza dough. I’ll share that technique in a future post.

Five-Minute No-Knead Boule Dough

The recipe below is a mishmash (hence the name), cobbled together from the Hertzberg/Francois five-minute bread, the recipe Carol gave me, and various internet sources. The original amount of flour in several of the recipes, 6½ cups, has not worked for me in all circumstances. It’s probably because I’ve been trying several varieties of flour. The important thing is not so much the amount of flour but the final consistency of the dough. The range given here should allow for the many different types of flour you might use at home.

Note that bread flour will also work in this recipe. The amount used will tend toward the lower end of the range.

6 1/2 – 8 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 c. lukewarm water (test on the inside of your wrist)
1 1/2 tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt

Add yeast and salt to water in a 5 quart bowl and stir. Add 6 1/2 cup flour with a wooden spoon and stir until uniformly moist. Dough should be soft and conform to container. If it is too thin (e.g., the consistency of thick cake batter), add more floor until it just holds together into a ball but is still soft. Cover loosely with towel and let rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse or flatten on top, 2 – 5 hours. At this point you can refrigerate dough in lidded but not airtight container for up to two weeks. (Refrigerated dough is easier to work with.)

On baking day, sprinkle cornmeal on pizza peel. Dust surface of dough and your hands with flour and pull off a piece the size of a large grapefruit or small cantaloupe. Hold dough in your hands; add flour as needed to keep from sticking. Gently stretch dough and turn ends under to form a ball. Stir in any flour remaining on top of dough and return to the refrigerator.

Place ball on pizza peel. Let rest uncovered for 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 450 with a baking stone on middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on lower rack. Slash 1-2 1/4 inch deep marks on top of dough. Sprinkle top with flour if desired.

Slide dough onto baking stone. Quickly pour 1 cup hot water into broiler tray and close oven door to trap steam. Bake 30 minutes or until crust is browned and firm. Cool before slicing.

Dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and thawed in refrigerator before baking.