Around the World #2: Italy – Focaccia and Pizza

sliced focaccia

Freshly baked focaccia

Focaccia is a popular type of bread in Italy and can be found in bakeries everywhere.  Although the appearance and ingredients may vary, focaccia is usually dotted with wells across the top and seasoned with olive oil, herbs and salt.  The same dough can be used to make pizza base.

Although pizza is found throughout Italy, each region has its own specialties.  Pizza Napoletana traditionally has tomatoes and mozzarella and Viennese adds sausage, oregano and oil.  Pizza Capricciosa is usually topped with tomato, fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts, ham and olives.  Pizza Bianca has no tomato sauce and could have pesto as a substitute.  Wherever they are made, the best are baked in a wood fired oven.

 Dough Recipe

 4 cups of flour (I usually mix 3 parts all-purpose or bread flour with 1 part whole wheat)

2 teaspoons dry instant yeast

1 cup hot water

1 cup cold milk

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Sift flour into a large mixing bowl to incorporate air and add yeast to flour.  Mix with a spoon.

Blend water and milk in a measuring pitcher and test the temperature with your finger.  It should be warm to the touch but not too hot.  Add salt, sugar and oil.  Mix liquid into the flour and yeast and stir well.

I use a Kitchen Aid mixer to knead the dough – you can also knead by hand on a floured surface until elastic.  You can tell when the dough is ready by forming a ball and poking lightly with your finger.  The surface should be smooth and spring back lightly when touched.  After kneading, place in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, until doubled in size.

This is enough dough for a large pizza and a loaf of focaccia.

Tuscan herbs

Drogheria Alimentari Tuscan Herbs

Focaccia

Bread dough

Tuscan herbs (a blend of rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, bay and marjoram)

Olive oil

Kosher salt

After the dough has risen, take one half and form a ball with a smooth top.  Oil baking sheet and place dough on the sheet.  Poke deep holes around the dough with your finger or the end of a wooden spoon and grind Tuscan herb blend over the top.  Pour olive oil into the holes and top the loaf with a sprinkling of kosher salt.

Bake at 450° for 12 minutes, until golden brown.

focaccia baking

Focaccia baking in the oven

Pizza

Form a ball with the other half of dough and roll out dough thinly for crust and place on an oiled pizza pan.  Spread pizza sauce and top with cheese and your choice toppings (suggestions below).

Bake at 450° for 8-12 minutes (depending upon size).

Top with any combination of the following:

Tomato/pizza sauce

Basil pesto

Shredded Mozzarella or Italian Blend cheese

Fresh mozzarella, sliced

Chopped or thinly sliced onion

Chopped bell pepper

Sliced mushrooms

Zucchini, thinly sliced

Sliced tomatoes

Fresh oregano

Fresh basil

Pepperoni, ham, sausage (if desired)

Red pepper flakes

Parmesan

veggie pizza

Veggie Pizza

Around the World #1: Germany and Swabian Apple Bread Pudding

The journey begins where it ended this summer:  in the beautiful Black Forest and Swabian Jura of Southwestern Germany.

While in Stuttgart, we stayed at Campingplatz Cannstatter Wasen, a convenient site wedged between the Neckar river and a vast fairground to the east.  All was quiet when we visited in June, but now it’s festival time and in September and October the Cannstatter Volksfest is in full swing.  The event started in the 1800’s as a one-day harvest festival, but has evolved into a three-week celebration considered to be the second largest beer festival in the world after Munich’s Oktoberfest.

Cannstatter Volksfest near Stuttgart

Cannstatter Volksfest near Stuttgart

It was in Stuttgart that I met Silvi and family for the first time, and when we said goodbye she presented me with a small gift – a cookbook that featured traditional Swabian recipes so that I could remember our visit.  In honor of new family and fond memories, my first recipe is a perfect way to celebrate autumn’s apple crop.

Swabian Apple Bread Pudding (Ofenschlupfer)

4 apples

3 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon rum

1 teaspoon cinnamon

6 bread rolls or 4-5 slices white bread

1½ cups milk (approximately)

4 tablespoons butter

5 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons sugar

pinch of cinnamon

1/4 cup raisins (optional)

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

3-4 tablespoons ground almonds

butter to garnish, or 2 egg whites and 3 tablespoons of sugar

Ingredients

Preheat oven to 375°.

Peel, quarter and slice apples.  Mix with 3 T. sugar and rum and leave to allow flavors to blend.

Remove crusts from sliced bread or slice rolls into thin slices and moisten with milk.  Beat butter until fluffy and then blend in egg yolks, remaining sugar, cinnamon and ground almonds (I use a mini food processor).  Whisk egg whites separately until stiff.  Fold apple slices and raisins and egg white into the butter/egg yolk mixture.  Grease an 8″ square oven proof pan with butter or cooking spray and sprinkle with bread crumbs.  Layer the bread slices and apple mixture and dot with butter on the top.  Bake the apple pudding for 30-40 minutes at 375° until golden brown.  Serve with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.

Apple Bread Pudding

 

From My Bookshelf: Cooking Classics

Some weeks I use a meal planning program to map out every night’s menu and develop a shopping list and life is easy.  Other times I let spontaneity take over and I’ll buy something from the farmers market and figure out how to use it later or look in my fridge, Google a few ingredients and see what recipes come up in the search.  In either case, getting to the point where I can confidently whip up something on the fly came years of knowledge stemming from a handful of cooking classics that are still on my shelf.  The following are more than books – they have guided me and shaped my cooking style over the years and their recipes have become a part of the fabric of our family memories.  Online blogs, websites and databases are definitely a great development and some may argue that books have become obsolete, but don’t forget the well-loved classics that have helped many lifetime cooks like me.  Call me old school, but inscriptions,  flour and torn pages are all part of the experience and stains are like clues on a treasure map.  The more you find, the better the recipe in most cases.

Joy of Cooking

Even Julia loved it! Well-worn copies from the library of Julia Child

Joy of Cooking (1985 edition by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker)

I am constantly surprised by the breadth and depth of this all-inclusive volume.  With hundreds of recipes, thorough and simple-to-understand instructions and many favorite basics, the Joy of Cooking is a must have.  My copy is falling apart at the seams and its pages carry the stains of many haphazardly joyful cooking experiences.  I’ve often thought that the only thing missing was nice photographs, so a recent series of JOC books that focus on a particular area (breakfast, soups, vegetarian, etc.) and feature full-color photography might be worth checking out.

American Wholefoods Cuisine (by Nikki Goldbeck and David Goldbeck)

I discovered this cookbook when working at a natural foods cooperative and authors Nikki and David taught me use new and unfamiliar ingredients to build a new repertoire of favorites.  Life has come full circle and I find myself referring to this cookbook again to support a whole foods lifestyle.

Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking (1982 edition by Janet Johnson Nix)

This book was a gift from my grandmother, and the front page bears the inscription “To my dear granddaughter, hoping this book will help a bit in your ‘domestic’ interests”.  Well, it did and this book is still a good reference for dishes such as basic bread, quiche, pancakes, crepes, apple crisp, soups, salad dressings  and many others.  The 1987 edition by Jerry Anne Di Vecchio was updated to include more low-fat recipes and this book features “how-to” photos illustrating technique for those new to a recipe or cooking in general.

Eater’s Choice (1987 edition by Dr. Ron Goor and Nancy Goor)

Unfortunately, high cholesterol seems to run in our families.  This book was helpful when I became aware of this health issue and my ability to control it to some extent and lose weight by making healthier food choices.  Good basics and simple ingredients form the basis of the Goors’ recipes and I appreciate the simple, clear directions.  I haven’t looked into the newer editions but would recommend their books for those interested in a lifetime of health.

The Art of Baking

When my first daughter was a baby, I tried my hand at baking bread.  I loved the smell of bread in the oven, loved the taste of a warm slice spread with butter.

Homemade Bread

We didn’t have much money for cookbooks then, and didn’t have the internet with its millions of recipes.  So I went to the library, checked out books on baking, and set to work.  My first attempts weren’t too bad, but the results were irregular.  Sometimes the dough didn’t rise well, sometimes the finished bread was dark brown and hard.  I tried white loaves, healthy whole wheat, and even attempted to make French baguettes.

I continued baking over the years, and then met my friend Carlo.  Carlo was Italian, and returned from visits to his family with olive oil his father had pressed and jars of tomato sauce from his mother’s kitchen.  Carlo’s family often ate pizza, and he told me how his mama made the dough for the pizza crust.  “She has the touch.  Not everyone has it, you know.”  I knew what he meant, and I listened carefully as he shared her dough-making secrets.

Every Friday I made pizza.  I had cheated for a couple of years and used a kit bought from the grocery store.  The pizzas were fine, but I wanted to have the touch like Carlo’s mother.   I followed the directions that had been given like a gift to me.  The ingredients were simple, but it was the technique that counted.  Week after week I mixed and kneaded and baked, and as I worked with the dough I connected with generations of women all over the world who made bread with nothing but flour, yeast, water, salt and oil.  With the same ingredients I learned to make pita bread and foccacia, and with extra eggs, milk and butter I braided challah.  After many years of practice, I, too, had the touch.  I learned that I had to feel the dough and know what it needed.  The process became so familiar that I didn’t even have to think.

Now I am someone’s mama, and I bake bread.  Two of my daughters have already left home, and sometimes they miss our weekly tradition.  Every once in awhile on a Friday, one will call and ask, “Are you eating pizza?”  She may even tell her friends, “My mother has the touch.”  Not everyone does, you know.

Challah Bread

Homemade Challah