I am prone to nostalgia. Routinely caught in inappropriate New York daydreams while stuck in mundane meetings. Lately though, thoughts of Italy have been the reason for loss of productive work hours. Maybe because my life is especially hectic as of late, and I crave the humble, unpretentious lifestyle Italians so gracefully embrace.
I find food to be a healing remedy for times past. Specifically, recreating a meal that reminds me of the faraway place. This time, it brings me to focaccia bread, the staple of life in Cinque Terre.
Almost one year ago, Alejandro and I arrived in Cinque Terre after spending the night sleeping in a tiny Italian rental car. We were on our honeymoon, clueless that the Assumption of Mary was one of the biggest Italian holidays. We learned quickly as every hotel was booked solid, and we were relegated for the night to the backseat of a Micra. We have no regrets – the next morning we arrived in Vernazza early enough to snag the best room in this picturesque fishing village.
Pesto, anchovies, sardines, foccacia – the flavors of Italy are fully saturated in Cinque Terre. While my focaccia is similar to what we remember, I used local flavors, making it distinctly Californian. Fresh figs, Sonoma County goat cheese, pine nuts and California olive oil. One bite replaces nostalgia with delight.
8 green Figs, sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
5 oz. Camembert-style goat cheese, cut into one inch cubes
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup organic, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 1/4 cups organic, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
Sprinkle yeast in the warm water and whisk to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes, until creamy. Stir in flour, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes.
Sprinkle yeast over warm water, whisk to combine, and let stand for 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to stir the yeast mixture and olive oil into the Starter. Whisk in one cup of flour. Stir in salt and the remainder of flour. Mix well. Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Don’t skimp on kneading – if you don’t do it for the full ten minutes the bread won’t have the right texture. It should feel soft and velvety when you’re done kneading.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled glass bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise for 1 1/4 hours – it’ll double in size.
The dough should now be light and full of air bubbles. Flatten it on an oiled 11 x 17 baking pan. The dough may not make it to all the edges, so let it relax for 10 minutes. After this, stretch it again until it fills the pan. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 hour.
Dimple the bread with your fingertips, and drizzle with olive oil and seat salt.
At least 30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 425F. Place the focaccia in the oven, and spray the oven walls with water. Do this again in five minutes.
In 15 minutes, take the bread out of the oven and lower the heat to 375F. Arrange the cheese, figs and pine nuts on top of the bread. Bake for another 13 minutes, or until top is slightly golden.
Where I Shopped:
Fresh Figs: Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Kaki Farms
Camembert Goat Cheese: Berkeley Farmers’ Market, Camellia from Redwood Hill Farm
Pine nuts and St. Pierre Olive Oil: Monterey Market, Berkeley