According to a note I made on my calendar, a week ago Saturday marked the festival of Saint Francis and also, perhaps not related, the International Day of Older Persons. Sounded like a night to have our oldest friends to dinner – but then I forgot to even mention these special events!
Oh well – along with black beans we had treats from the farmer’s market – fresh corn picked the day before in Eastern Washington, a new potato and leek gratin, pepperonata with yellow-green sweet peppers, a big salad with fresh tomatoes, and – celebrating Italy yet again – focaccia.
In “Everyday in Tuscany,” Frances Mayes shares a recipe for focaccia describing “simplicity of preparation, small number of ingredients.” She writes of making it often with her grandchild (that sounds like fun).
I’ve made it five times since we came home – with different results each time (is that the living nature of yeast and flour and weather?). It’s always good, even on the summer day when we went to town with guests leaving the dough to rise nicely and collapse into the bowl. Now that autumn is here, I need to pay more attention to warming cold bowls and pre-heating the oven a bit to make a warm place for rising.
Following Mayes’s recipe you put two packages of yeast into two cups of warm water in a big bowl and let it stand for 10 minutes. Add four cups of flour (Mayes doesn’t specify – I used three of white and one of wheat – and mix well. Then knead the dough for 10-15 minutes on a floured surface (each time I have added at least another cup of flour while kneading). Focaccia has texture – little air spaces – that must come from the kneading (I set the timer so I’d keep it up). The goal is smooth and elastic dough.
In an oiled bowl, put the dough to rise in a warm place for an hour, covered by a tea towel. It will double. Punch down, then on a baking sheet (covered with parchment paper) shape into a flat rectangle.
Allow the dough to rise for another 45 minutes under a tea towel. Then make dimples with fingertips all over the dough and sprinkle olive oil (I used about a tablespoon and a half and tried to get it widely dispersed). Sprinkle coarse salt and about a third-cup just-minced rosemary on top.
Baked in a 400° oven for 25 minutes, focaccia turns a beautiful golden brown – and is fragrant, chewy, and substantial. At the table we passed extra-virgin olive oil (last of the Italy stash) and balsamic vinegar for dipping.
Rain was in the forecast if not yet on the roof or on the bald pate of Saint Francis out in the garden, as we sat by the first fire of the season and enjoyed the last of our farmer’s strawberries with ice cream.
A fitting celebration of Saint Francis, and a small feast for the older persons!