Monday, October 17, 2016

Socca with Butternut Squash

I first heard about the restaurant Sqirl in Los Angeles from a magazine article reporting on the long lines of people waiting for toast. Of course, this wasn’t just any toast, and of course, they serve lots of other things too. Sqirl started as a jam company, hence the amazing toast, and now serves breakfast and lunch. The story of the restaurant and all the recipes are in the new book Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking, and I received a review copy. There’s a mention in the introduction about how guests at the restaurant often order items and request all sorts of substitutions, and as it happens, the dishes adapt easily to various, little changes. Several items are already gluten-free, and adapting dishes to make them vegetarian or vegan is very doable. The recipes cover Eggs and Toast, Grains and Beans, Vegetables, Meat, Fish, Jams, Desserts, and Drinks. For the famous toast, there’s actually not a recipe for the bread itself, but one inch thick slices of brioche are suggested for toasting and spreading with ricotta and jam or ganache and nut butter or almond hazelnut butter and jam. There’s a nice mix of decadence and nutritious options throughout the book. I’ve marked the page for a grain bowl with mung bean sprouts, crunchy buckwheat, and roasted squash with pomegranate seeds, labneh, and cilantro pistou. A few pages later, I’ve marked a salad made with a rich and lovely Southern-Style Fresh Cream and Black Mustard Dressing. Every dish is balanced mix of flavors and textures, and in some cases there are sub-recipes to prepare before pulling everything together. But, you can pick and choose the parts of a dish you wish to make and skip elements if you like. I love the look of the baguette toast shown a few times in the book. It’s a long slice from the full length of a baguette. For the Squid Toast, that long, skinny piece of toast is topped with aioli, roasted tomatoes, and seared squid. It looks pretty and delicious. The first recipe I tried was the Socca or chickpea flour pancakes. They’re made with grated vegetables depending on what’s in season. Winter squash is one suggestion, and I had a local butternut squash ready and waiting. 

Step one is to peel, seed, and grate the butternut squash which looked curiously like a pile of grated cheddar cheese. The grated squash was tossed with a little salt and left to drain in a sieve. Cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds were toasted and then ground in a mortar and pestle. Eggs were whisked and the drained squash was added with minced garlic, chopped oregano, cilantro, and basil in my case since I don’t have any mint growing. Chickpea flour was added with the ground spices along with salt and pepper, and the mixture was stirred to combine. Large pancakes were cooked in a hot pan with melted butter. Meanwhile, some arugula leaves were tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. I had started straining some thick yogurt the day before to make labneh, and I seasoned it with salt and a little sumac. The pancakes were served a dollop of labneh, the dressed arugula, and optionally with a fried egg added. 

This was a hearty and flavorful brunch dish. The herbs and spices in the socca added a lot of interest, and the arugula and labneh were just the right added components. Seeing how well this dish came together made me eager to try more things from the book. I’ve got my eye on the Brown Rice Horchata sweetened with dates to try next.

Socca (chickpea flour pancakes) made with your choice of zucchini, carrot, or winter squash 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Everything I Want to Eat. 

Since Sqirl is open for breakfast and lunch, the majority of our customers order one dish, not an appetizer followed by an entrĂ©e and a cheese course. So we are always trying to come up with ways to create a single dish that really satisfies. This socca pancake stemmed from that quest. It’s traditional in that it is a flat pancake made of gluten-free chickpea flour, but it’s also not so traditional in that it is filled with lots of vegetables and topped with greens and creamy labneh. 

Serves 4 

1 pound (455 g) zucchini, carrot, or winter squash (see Notes), peeled and coarsely grated 
Fine sea salt 
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds 
1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds 
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds 
4 large eggs 
1 clove garlic, minced 
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano 
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint 
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 
2/3 cup (80 g) chickpea flour 
Freshly ground black pepper 
Pinch of ground cinnamon (optional; use with winter squash) 
Pinch of ground ginger (optional; use with winter squash) 
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more as needed 
1/2 cup (120 ml) labneh 
3 cups (60 g) spicy greens (such as watercress, arugula, or baby mustard greens) 
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice 
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 

Toss the grated vegetable with a few big pinches of salt, then put it in a fine-mesh sieve and let drain, squeezing every so often so that the vegetable releases its water, for at least 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, combine the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a dry skillet over medium-low heat. Toast the spices, shaking the pan often, until fragrant but not burned, about 3 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, grind the toasted spices to a powder. 

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk to break them up. Add the drained vegetables, along with the garlic, oregano, mint, cilantro, chickpea flour, and toasted spices. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and mix well. If you are using winter squash, stir in a pinch each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger. (The pancake batter can be made up to 2 days ahead and stored, covered, in the fridge.) 

Heat a large skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add the butter, then spoon in two overflowing ½ cupfuls (120 ml) of the pancake batter, pressing each to 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. Cook, rotating the skillet occasionally for even browning, until the pancakes are nicely browned, about 3 minutes. Flip, then cook the second side for another few minutes. Transfer the pancakes to a plate. Repeat to make two more pancakes, adding more butter to the skillet, if needed. 

Season the labneh with salt. 

Just before serving, toss the greens with the lemon juice, oil, and some salt and pepper. Top each socca pancake with a huge dollop of labneh and a tangle of greens. 

NOTE ON THE WINTER SQUASH You can use any kind of winter squash that you like. We usually go for kabocha. If you’re having a hard time grating the squash on one of those handheld box graters, try cutting the squash into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces and then shredding them in a food processor. 

WANT TO MAKE IT HEARTIER? Add a fried egg on top. 

SPICE UP THE LABNEH Have fun with the seasoning. Try mixing in ras el hanout or za’atar. 
I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pineapple Squares

Do you have a favorite homemade treat from your childhood? Maybe a cake your Mom used to make? I was reminded of one while reading my review copy of The Italian Baker: 100 International Baking Recipes with a Modern Twist by Melissa Forti. This book is a collection of sweet treats from Melissa’s Tea Room and Cakes located in Sarzana in northwestern Italy. The recipes have been gathered from all over the world from Forti’s travels and have been adapted to Italian tastes. While reading the book, I couldn’t help feeling more than a little jealous of her life. She bakes wonderful cakes and other sweets, changes the menu daily for a crowd of regulars, and all this happens in a charming area of Italy. It was the recipe for Fette All’Ananas, or Pineapple Squares, that reminded me of a pineapple cake my Mom baked when I was growing up. I haven’t tasted that cake in years, but I was sure I had the recipe filed away somewhere. I started searching for it, thinking I had a hand-written card tucked into my recipe binder, but came up empty handed. Thankfully, a quick text message to my Mom was all that was needed for her to send the recipe to me a few minutes later. I remembered her pineapple sheet cake had coconut in the cream cheese frosting, but I had forgotten that pecans were in the frosting as well. These pineapple squares from the book are a little different and maybe a little less decadent with no frosting, and I’m so glad to now have both recipes in my possession. The book offers a range of sweets from elegant, celebration cakes to cookies and candies. But, the recipes are not difficult to create. I’m so curious to try the Red Wine Doughnut Cookies made with olive oil, red wine, and aniseed and the luscious-looking Semolina and Ricotta cake which is a cheesecake with orange and lemon zest. Also, I’ve done several web searches and made several calls in an attempt to locate the Italian liqueur made with peach leaves called Persichetto. It’s the primary flavoring in a pretty bundt cake, and I’d love to taste it. I have yet to find a way of getting it here, but I’ll keep trying. There are also pound cakes, tarts, and more to try. Of course, the first thing I tried, though, was the Pineapple Squares. 

An eight-inch by twelve-inch pan was suggested for these squares, but I don’t have one that size. Instead, I used a nine by nine-inch pan and lined it with parchment. First, a crumble topping was prepared with flour, sugar, and butter, and sliced almonds were stirred in at the end. I added some unsweetened, grated coconut just to make this more like my Mom’s pineapple cake. Next, a cookie base was made by mixing butter and sugar, and I used coconut palm sugar. Two eggs were added followed by flour, buttermilk, vanilla, and almond extract. This mixture was spread in the bottom of the prepared pan. Next, canned pineapple was supposed to be used, but I used fresh instead. I pulsed chunks of fresh pineapple in a food processor and then transferred it to a strainer to drain away some liquid. If you do this, set the strainer over a bowl so you can drink the drained pineapple juice later. The chopped and drained pineapple was spread over the cookie base. Next, the crumble topping was sprinkled on the top. Because I was using a slightly smaller pan than suggested and because I added coconut, I had plenty of crumb topping. Note: I sometimes double the quantity for a crumb topping to be sure there’s “enough.” This time, that wasn’t necessary. The pan went into the oven for about 40 minutes until the topping was golden. 

I should point out that my cookie base is a darker color than what is seen in the photo in the book because I used coconut palm sugar rather than regular granulated sugar. The pineapple bakes into that cookie base and keeps it very tender resulting in bars that are easy to cut. The flavor of the almond extract with the pineapple is lovely, and the crumb topping is just sweet enough. And now, I’ll return to my daydream about baking different things every morning for a tea room in a charming, small town in Italy

Fette all'Ananas (Pineapple Squares) 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Italian Baker

Pineapple is thought to have amazing effects on our body. If consumed regularly it can burn fat and, even better, it contributes to a positive uplifting mood. So, let’s bake a pineapple slice and smile! 

Makes 6 large slices 

170g (3/4 cup) butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing 
170g (3/4 cup) caster (granulated) sugar 
2 eggs 
250g (2 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour 
200ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) buttermilk 
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract 
1 teaspoon almond extract 
450g (1lb) canned pineapple in natural juice 

For the almond crumble 
80g (2/3 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour 
60g (1/2 cup) light brown sugar 
55g (1/4 cup) butter, chilled and diced 
30g (1 1/2 oz) flaked (slivered) almonds 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Butter a 20 x 30-cm/8 x 12-inch brownie tin and line with baking parchment. Prepare the crumble. In a food processor, pulse the flour, sugar and butter until crumbly. Stir in the slivered almonds by hand and set aside. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a mixing bowl and using hand-held electric beaters, beat the butter and sugar together until pale. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour, buttermilk, vanilla and almond extract to combine. Spread the mixture into the prepared tin. Open the pineapple can, drain off the juice and roughly chop the pineapple. Spread the pineapple over the top of the mixture in the brownie tin and sprinkle with the almond crumble. 

Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the almond crumble is golden, then leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack before cutting into squares or slices. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Seared Salmon with Marcona Almond, Olive, and Caper Salsa + GIVEAWAY

I love the simplicity of cooking fish. There isn’t much to it, but as usual when it comes to things that are simple, it has to be done right. Timing is everything, and the timing for cooking fish is directly related to the type of fish and the thickness of the piece being cooked. My preference for most fish is for it to be just cooked through so that the center is less cooked than the edges but not completely raw. Wild salmon is easy to cook because you can keep an eye on the thick edge to see the color change as it cooks through. And, I’m enjoying as much of it as possible right now since the season for fresh, wild salmon is coming to an end. Last weekend, I was thrilled to try a new pan I received from All-Clad that’s perfect for cooking fish. It’s the d3 ARMOR Fish Pan (Retail Price: $199.95), and you could win one of your own! It has a riveted surface on the bottom of the pan that makes it easy for the fish to release after being cooked. It is an oval shape that’s 13 inches long with flared sides to contain splatters, and it has a long handle. I used the pan to sear a salmon fillet and made a chunky, nutty salsa to serve on top. 

I learned a brining tip from the book Ad Hoc at Home that I always use when cooking salmon. It only requires about 10 minutes of brining, and it adds great flavor to the salmon and prevents the white spots of coagulation from forming on the surface when it cooks. You just mix cold water with sea salt at a 10 to one ratio, stir to dissolve the salt, pour the mixture over the salmon, and leave it for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, I dry the salmon, season it, dredge with flour, and it’s ready to sear. After brining, only a very small amount of salt is needed for seasoning, and I also season it with black pepper and piment d’espelettte. For the salsa, I took inspiration from a recipe in The New Spanish Table but made a few changes. I used Marcona almonds, a mix of green and black olives, added lemon zest and juice, and used sherry vinegar. Garlic, parsley, fresh oregano, and olive oil were added to the salsa. Cooking with this new pan was fantastic. It’s just the right size and shape for fish so the heat is focused right where it needs to be. The flesh-side of the fillet released easily after cooking, and turning the piece was a breeze.

Brining makes the salmon deliciously seasoned all the way through, and the nutty olive salsa was crunchy and zesty on top. Now, for a chance to win one of these pans, just leave a comment on this post including your email address so I can contact you. A winner will be randomly selected on Friday October 14th, and the winner must be a US resident. Good luck, you’ll love this pan! 

Seared Salmon with Marcona Almond, Olive, and Caper Salsa 

For the salsa: 
1/3 cup Marcona almonds, chopped 
1/3 cup mixed green and black olives, pitted and chopped 
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained 
2 garlic cloves, minced 
1/4 cup parsley leaves, chopped 
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped 
Zest and juice of one lemon 
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar 
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 
Black pepper and piment d’espllette to taste 

For the salmon: 
1 lb. fillet of salmon, bones removed 
Sea salt and cold water for brine 
Salt, black pepper, and piment d’espllette for seasoning 
All-purpose or rice flour for dredging
Olive oil for searing 

To prepare the salsa: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and allow to rest at room temperature while the salmon is brined and cooked. 

To brine the salmon, place the fillet in a baking pan. Combine enough water to cover the fillet with 10% by weight sea salt. I use a digital scale and place a measuring pitcher on the scale and zero it out. I add enough cold water that I’m sure will cover the salmon and check the weight. Then, I add 10% of that weight of salt and let it dissolve in the water. The salt-water mixture is then poured over the salmon, and it’s left to brine for about 10 to 15 minutes. After brining, remove the salmon and pat it dry. Season very lightly with salt, normally with freshly ground black pepper, and to taste if using piment d’espelette. Dredge the top of the fillet with flour and shake off excess. 

Heat the All-Clad d3 ARMOR fish pan over medium heat with enough olive oil to barely, thinly cover the pan. After a few minutes, when you’re sure the pan is hot, carefully place the salmon flesh-side (the side that was dredged in flour) down in the hot pan. Leave it to sear for about five minutes. Shake the pan gently to see if the fillet is loose enough to turn. Use a wide spatula to turn the fillet and guide the cool side of the salmon with your free hand to carefully turn it to skin-side down. Let cook for another four to five minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Remove from heat and let the salmon sit for a few minutes before serving. 

Transfer the salmon fillet to a serving platter and spoon the almond and olive salsa over the top. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush

A new book from Martha Stewart always gets my attention and so do books focused on vegetables. I was delighted to receive a review copy of the latest, Martha Stewart's Vegetables. This brings together dishes for every season with all sorts of vegetables, but it’s not a vegetarian cookbook. The recipes highlight what’s great about the vegetables, and in some cases the star vegetable isn’t the only player in the dish. The chapters group types of vegetables like Bulbs, Roots, Greens, Pods, Fruits, etc. In this case, Fruits refers to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and cucumber because they are technically fruits due to the seeds held within the flesh. Each chapter begins with an introduction to its type of vegetable with good information about how the plants are grown, their growing season, and some general tips for buying, storing, and preparing. This book is a little breezier about the vegetable information and doesn’t go quite as deep into the taxonomy of the plants as does Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison, but it offers a very good overview of the different kinds of plants we include in our meals. And, page after page reveals beautiful dishes ranging from stir-fries to sandwiches to soups, salads, and pasta with inspiration from several types of cuisine. The Herb-and-Scallion Bread Pudding would be perfect for Thanksgiving, Beet Risotto with Beet Greens would brighten a winter table, and Twice-Cooked Potato and Leek Casserole looks like a comfort food dish no one could resist. I want to try the Fried Rice with Collard Greens, Fennel and Smoked Salmon Salad, and Moroccan Vegetable Soup. Right away, I was intrigued by the Green Bean and Shell Bean Fattoush, and all the main ingredients are in season here right now. 

In the book, the recipe name is Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush. But, I have an onion thing. I only use onion if it’s minced or if it’s in pieces large enough that I can easily scoot them out of my way on the plate. So, in my version, the onion was minced and whisked into the dressing for this salad. But, the important parts of this dish were the green beans, shell beans, and cucumber. I found all of those at Boggy Creek Farm. For green beans, I used purple and green long beans that I cut into two-inch lengths before blanching. The shell beans were fresh, golden creamer peas that cooked quickly with just about 15 minutes of simmering. Both kinds of beans were shocked with cold water after cooking and left to drain. The dressing, in my case, was made with minced onion, lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic. Olive oil was whisked into the mixture. Pita was grilled and broken into shards. The cooled and drained beans were tossed with chopped cucumber, parsley, and homegrown basil rather than mint. Crumbled feta was added along with the dressing, and the pita pieces were added to each serving. 

This was a light and fresh take on using shell beans for me. Each year when their season arrives, I usually add them to a summery stew with chunks of summer squash and tomato. This herby, lemony salad was a delicious way to highlight their mild, buttery flavor. I know I’ll be reaching for this book often as different vegetables appear throughout the coming months. 

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fattoush 
Recipe courtesy of Clarkson Potter/Publishers, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2016 by Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. Photographs copyright 2016 by Ngoc Ming Ngo. 

In late summer, fresh green beans and shell beans make a wonderful pair, one sharp and crisp-tender, the other buttery and plump. They’re the beginnings of our version of fattoush, a Middle Eastern bread salad that’s a fine way to enjoy summer produce. You can blanch the beans in the same pot: first the green beans, and then the shell (and not the other way around, since shell beans release a lot of starch). 

Serves 4 

2 lemons, 1 zested and both juiced 
2 garlic cloves, crushed 
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing 
1/2 pound haricots verts, trimmed 
3/4 cup shelled fresh shell beans, such as limas 
3 pita breads (6-inch) 
1/2 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped 
1 English cucumber, quartered and cut into 1- inch pieces 
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled 
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish  
1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley 

1. Whisk together lemon zest, lemon juice, and garlic, and season with salt. Whisking constantly, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream and whisk until emulsified. Season with pepper. Let stand 15 minutes; discard garlic. 

2. Blanch haricots verts in a pot of salted boiling water until crisp-tender and bright green, about 1 minute. Transfer beans to an ice-water bath (reserve pot of water); let cool, then drain and pat dry. Place in a large bowl. 

3. Return water to a boil. Blanch shell beans until just tender, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to ice bath; let cool, then drain in a colander and pat dry. Combine with haricots verts. 

4. Heat a grill (or grill pan) to medium. Split each pita in half. Brush both sides of pita halves with oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill pita, turning once, until golden and crisp, about 1 minute per side. Let cool, then tear into 1-inch pieces. 

5. Add onion, cucumber, feta, herbs, and pita to the beans; drizzle with ½ cup vinaigrette; toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper; garnish with mint. Let stand at least 10 minutes and up to 1 hour before serving. 

TIP The pita is charred on the grill (or under the broiler) to make it sturdy enough to soak up the vinaigrette without falling apart. The longer the salad sits before serving (up to an hour), the better the flavors and textures will be. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Bean Salad

It just happened again. You know when you pick up a new cookbook, start looking through it, and quickly realize you want to try everything you see? I do mean everything. Every page of A Modern Way to Cook: 150+ Vegetarian Recipes for Quick, Flavor-Packed Meals has something I want to try. This is the new book from Anna Jones, and I recently received a review copy. The recipes all offer fresh, pretty combinations that are plant-focused for eating well. The colors alone in the Bloody Mary Salad with Black Rice made with heirloom tomatoes, celery, and olives, drew me to it. And, the Avocado Fritters with a polenta crust just sound like a delicious idea. The convenient thing about this book is that the recipes are organized by how long they take to prepare. If you’re short on time, stick to the first couple of chapters, and when you’re planning a more elaborate meal look to the Forty-Minute Feasts. There’s also a chapter called Investment Cooking for things to make in advance like nut butters, homemade chickpea tofu, vegetable stock, dips, and more. Last, there are also breakfast recipes and desserts. I plan to try the Salted Almond Butter Chocolate Bars soon. I had two reasons to try the Squash, Roasted Tomato, and Popped Black Beans first. One reason was that I just received a couple of little acorn squash from my CSA, and they were perfect for this salad. And, the second reason was: popped black beans. I thought, what are popped black beans? I love all things popped. I’m a complete popcorn addict, I was delighted to try popped sorghum for the first time and have made it several times since, and I’ve experimented with popped amaranth with less success. But, popped black beans was new to me. A quick online search informed me that this is something that Jamie Oliver has included in a couple of recipes in the past, and I managed to never hear of it. I couldn’t wait to give it a go. 

To begin the recipe, the squash was sliced, tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, topped with ground seeds from a cardamom pod, and roasted until tender. Meanwhile, cherry tomatoes were halved, tossed with olive and salt and pepper, and topped with grated fresh ginger. The tomatoes were roasted for the last 20 minutes or so of the squash cooking time. Just before the squash was finished roasting, the pan was removed from the oven and flaked coconut was sprinkled on top. The pan went back into the oven until the coconut was toasted. The dressing for the salad was a simple mix of yogurt, lime zest, lime juice, and ground cardamom with salt and pepper. And, at last, it was time to try popping black beans. Black beans from one can were rinsed and drained, and the beans were left to dry on paper towels. A skillet was heated over medium heat, and the dried beans were added. The beans were dry fried until the skins popped and became crisp which takes about five minutes. I sprinkled on a little salt as they crisped. The salad was served on a platter with the squash, coconut, and tomatoes scattered about. The beans were added on top, and the dressing was drizzled over everything. 

Now, first, I have to say that the “popped” black beans were tasty, and they’d make a great snack. The edges do become crispy, and that’s always a welcome texture. But, I’m not sure I agree with the name “popped.” The beans don’t transform the way a popcorn or sorghum kernel does. They just become dry and the skins crack. They do, however, work very well as one of the many varied elements of this flavorful salad. There was so much texture from the vegetables and the toasted coconut, and the flavors of cardamom, ginger, and lime combined nicely. Now, I have several more recipes to try from this book. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Schiacciata all’Uva

It’s no secret that I love Italian food. And, I love learning more about the food from each and every region of the country. I was delighted to read a review copy of Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies. Of course the subject matter made me happy but so did the pretty color marbling with bright orange on the book cover and the full-page photos inside of both life and food in Florence. The recipes are grouped by where you would find these types of food in the city. The Pastry Shop, The Bakery, and The Trattoria are some of the chapter names. Right away, I wanted to bake Sfogliatine or Budini di Riso or Bomboloncini to go with a morning cappuccino. There are stories along the way about how different foods became traditional like the Pane Toscano, the bread made without salt because it was too expensive. I enjoyed reading about Pappa al Pomodoro and how it originally would have been a porridge-like soup made with bread and no tomatoes prior to tomatoes being introduced from the New World. Naturally, there are pasta dishes, and one I want to try this fall is a pear, pecorino, and ricotta-filled ravioli. There are also several versions of crostini toppings and panini fillings as well as chicken and meat dishes, and every dish is simply prepared with proven, time-honored flavor combinations. The Schiacciata all’Uva is a grape focaccia made with wine grapes harvested in September and October. This slightly sweet rendition of the chewy flatbread appears just briefly in bakeries in the fall, and it’s typically made with concord grapes or more traditionally with canaiolo grapes. Sadly, I didn’t have access to either of those varieties and used black grapes instead. Usually, seeds are left in the grapes and give the bread some crunch, but the grapes I bought were seedless. It is noted that standard, red grapes aren’t deeply-flavored enough to be a good substitution here. You want a dark grape that will stain the dough. 

I began the recipe the night before I intended to bake. Flour, yeast, and water were combined and mixed. Olive oil was added, and the sticky dough was left in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. I let the dough come back to room temperature for an hour or so while washing the grapes, removing them from the stems, and drying them. I borrowed a couple of tips from the Wild Yeast blog. Rather than adding anise seeds to the bread, I opted for fresh rosemary as seen there. Also, the recipe in the book suggests spreading about half the dough on a baking sheet, adding some of the grapes, then topping it with the remaining dough and the rest of the grapes. Given how sticky and difficult to maneuver this dough is, I went with the technique from Wild Yeast instead. I folded some of the grapes into the dough while it was still in the bowl. Then, I spread the dough onto the baking sheet and topped it with the remaining grapes. I dimpled and flattened the dough without crushing the grapes, drizzled on top olive oil, sprinkled on chopped rosemary, and I added just a little turbinado sugar and flaky sea salt. The flatbread baked for about 30 minutes until golden. 

The grapes added plenty of juicy sweetness with very little additional sugar, and I liked the hints of savoriness from rosemary and sea salt. As I cut the bread into pieces, they quickly disappeared. There was an addictiveness to the chewy texture and pop of the grapes. Now, I want to try making the same dough into small rounds topped with vegetables as it’s also shown in the book. And, I want to go to Florence and eat all of these things right where they were invented.

Schiacciata all ’Uva 
Recipe taken from Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781743790038, $39.95 hardcover. 

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting 
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/2 1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast 
400 ml (13 1/2 fl oz) lukewarm water 
75 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing 
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape; see note) 
80 g (2 3/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar 
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional; see note on following page) 
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional) 

NOTE Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or wine grapes, or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes. 

Born in and around the wine-growing areas of Florence and the Chianti, this delicious bread is a tradition governed by the very seasonal nature of grapes in Italy, and one that also has an extremely close tie with the wine harvest in autumn. For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them. And then, as suddenly as it appeared, the grape focaccia is gone, not to be seen again until the following September. These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) but sometimes you’ll still find it made with native Tuscan wine grapes known as canaiolo – the small, dark grapes make up part of the blend of Chianti wine, playing a supporting role to sangiovese. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. 

PREPARING THE DOUGH This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time. Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre. Dissolve the yeast in about 125 ml (4 1/2 fl oz/1/2 cup) of the lukewarm water. Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water. Add 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine. 

This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight. 

ASSEMBLING THE SCHIACCIATA Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way (see note). Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°). 

Grease a 20 cm × 30 cm (8 in × 12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread the dough out evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick. 

Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the aniseed, if using. Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the bottom surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. 

Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil. 

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. 

Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice. This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Pecan, Oat, and Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies

A few weeks ago, Kurt and I had a conversation about sports drinks. We’d both been out in the hot weather and were feeling dehydrated, and Kurt asked if a good, all-natural sports-drink type of product exists. My short answer was no. But, the more I thought about it, I decided the best option might be coconut water. I personally have not conducted any scientific tests, but I do find coconut water to be very refreshing and hydrating after working out outside in the heat of summer. And, incidentally, when I choose a brand of coconut water, Harmless Harvest is my favorite. I want to point out that this conversation and the beginning of my preference for Harmless Harvest all happened prior to that company contacting me about their Harmless Movement campaign. I was delighted to receive gifts of a branded mason jar and espresso cup and coupons for samples of coconut water. My reasons for choosing Harmless Harvest are: they use organically-grown, special green coconuts and never use ultra-processed mixes or blends; their farmers use traditional cultivation methods ensuring unique coconut flavor goes directly into the bottle; rather than pasteurizing the product, they use a special multi-step micro-filtration process to protect flavor; their product contains no GMOs, no additives, and no preservatives; and theirs is the first-ever Fair for Life-certified organic coconut water. It’s very rare that I’m approached by a brand that I am so happily willing to promote. I was able to sample a flavor option I hadn’t tried before as well. Harmless Harvest makes a coconut water with Fair Trade coffee and a little caffeine boost. I thought a snack with some dark chocolate in it would be a good match for coffee-flavored coconut water. I pulled a recipe from my files from the May 2015 issue of Living magazine, and this not-too-bad-for-you cookie with no butter, no flour, and no sugar quickly became my new favorite treat. 

Not often do I shout from the rooftops about a vegan cookie with no flour in it, but this really is a delicious cookie. First, pecans are finely ground, and that’s what gives the cookies body and great flavor. To the ground pecans, oats, baking powder, salt, cornstarch, olive oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract were added. The mixture was stirred to combine, and the dough was ready to portion and bake. Keep in mind that this dough doesn’t spread or settle as it bakes, so after placing mounds on a cookie sheet, press each to the thickness you prefer before baking. The cookies baked at 325 degrees F for about 20 minutes. 

Kurt’s favorite cookie is oatmeal-chocolate chip, so he was excited to find these cookies in the kitchen. He took a bite and declared them fantastic before I let him know they contained no butter, no sugar, and no flour. None of that mattered. They’re rich from the pecans and olive oil, nicely sweetened with maple syrup, and the big chunks of dark chocolate don’t disappoint. And, they go perfectly with Harmless Harvest coconut water with Fair Trade coffee. 

Blogging tips