Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer Vegetable Focaccia

Left with 2/3 of a block of pizza mozzarella and somewhat afraid to attempt a pizza in my 1970's-era oven (it's bright turquoise), I settled instead for a pizza-style focaccia. In other words, focaccia bread but covered with cheese and whatever vegetables I happened to have on hand.

For this particular focaccia I used zucchini, green pepper, black olives, and a small red onion. The onion and olives worked particularly well, and I'm thinking of doing another focaccia with just onion and maybe some rosemary, but only once I've used up all my mozzarella!

Here's what I used:
About 250 g flour (whole wheat as it's all I have)
Water - as much as needed to give the dough a smooth, workable consistency
1/2 packet yeast
Small spoonful of sugar
Small spoonful of salt
About 50 g pizza mozzarella
Half a zucchini
Half a green bell pepper
A handful of kalamata olives
One small red onion
1-2 spoonfuls of olive oil, depending on how oily you like your focaccia

As with most other breads, you'll need to prepare the dough several hours before you're actually going to serve the focaccia. I was busy doing things the day I made this and somehow didn't get around to starting the dough until about 5:30, so it wasn't ready until 9:30 that evening, but luckily at that point I was so hungry I was able to pretty much polish off the entire thing!

Just like with the pizza dough, you add the (activated if necessary) yeast to the flour. Then add a small spoonful of salt and another spoonful of sugar, start to stir everything together, and gradually add in water until you have a nice doughy ball. Focaccia dough should be somewhat wetter than pizza dough, although I didn't make mine too wet and it still turned out fine. I think the more important ingredient here is time. After you've kneaded the dough for roughly 10 minutes, let it sit in a covered bowl in a warm non-drafty place for at least 2 hours and preferably 3. My first rise this time lasted about 2 1/2 hours because I was getting hungry and didn't want to wait any longer!

After the first rise comes the part that really makes what would otherwise be normal bread into focaccia. Set the dough onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, punch it down, and shape it into a big, flat rectangle*. Using your finger, punch little holes all over the flattened dough. Then mix a spoonful or 2 of olive oil with about the same amount of water and spread the mixture over the dough so that it forms little puddles in the holes.

Let the dough rise again for a minimum of half an hour. After the half hour is up, preheat your oven to 400º F/200º C. Chop up the vegetables, slicing the pepper and onions into long thin strips, and the zucchini into paper-thin little rounds. Pit the olives by crushing them with the flat side of the knife until they give and the pit comes out easily, and then chop them in half.

Chop or grate the pizza mozzarella into little bits and distribute it evenly across the focaccia. Then distribute all the vegetables evenly, pop it into the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes. Let the focaccia cool until it's just warm enough to handle and then eat eat eat!!

*Another option is to make the focaccia in an oiled loaf pan. This will give you a crustless focaccia, which you will then be able to cover entirely with onions, or rosemary, or cheese or whatever else. I think this technique is better for focaccia that doesn't have too many toppings on it. If you're going to cover it with all sorts of goodies the way I did here, it's probably better to have a nice solid crust to hold on to while you're eating!

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