Thursday, December 9, 2010

Onion Focaccia with Pan Seared Red Bell Peppers and Basil Leaves

     Onion focaccia was the house focaccia at a very nice Northern Italian Restaurant that I worked in several years ago.  When onion focaccia bakes, the aroma is mouth watering!  Olive oil should drip from a well made focaccia.  Italian cooks that I worked with would say "Focaccia is no good unless olive oil is dripping over the customers chin when it is eaten!" 
     Focaccia can be made about 3 inches thick or it can be made very thin.  Focaccia must be brushed with olive oil or have olive oil poured on it while baking.  Focaccia dough is the same as Italian pizza dough.  The better you can make pizza dough, the better your focaccia will be.
     Pizza dough is made with just a few basic ingredients.  Making a good pizza dough comes with experience.  Most people can make a good pizza dough after three or four attempts at making the dough.  So, don't give up trying and buy a pre-made focaccia.
     Focaccia Dough Recipe:  
     If you have dough making experience, then this will be easy.
     High gluten flour is best for this recipe, but bread flour can be used.  Pizza dough is focaccia dough or Italian bagette style bread dough.    
     Focaccia style doughs require enrichment with fat.  Olive oil is a fat!  Oil strengthens and elongates the gluten strands of the dough.  It only takes a very small amount of oil to produce a nice texture.  The elastic gluten strands give pizza dough the ability to be stretched and tossed in the air!
     Add 2 tablespoon of fresh yeast or 1 tablespoon of dry yeast to 16 ounces of tepid luke warm water in a mixing bowl.
     Place the mixing bowl in a luke warm place like on top of a warm oven.
     When the yeast activates, add 2 teaspoons of sugar to proof the yeast.
     Add about 2 cups of flour.
     Add 2 teaspoons of sea salt.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil.
     Stir the mixture with a spoon, till a very loose wet dough is formed.
     Start adding a little bit of flour at a time,while stirring, till a loose dough is formed.
     Add a little more flour at a time, while mixing with your fingers, till the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
     You will be able to feel when the dough is starting to get elastic.  It will stick to your hands when made correctly, but that will change after rising twice.
     Add flour, while hand mixing, till the dough can pull away from the sides of the bowl.
     Cover the dough in the mixing bowl with a dry towel.
     Set the bowl on top of an oven in a luke warm area, with a second towel underneath the bowl to protect the dough from too much heat.
     When the dough rises more than double, beat it down with your knuckles and gather the dough like a ball in the bowl.
     Cover the dough with a towel and let it rise again.
     When it rises the second time, beat the dough down and knead firmly with your hands for 1 minute.
     Place the dough on a floured counter top.
     Roll the dough into a large ball.
     Cut the dough ball in half for two medium size focaccia portions or into four portions for small focaccia bread.
     Roll and tuck each dough portion with with your hands to make smooth dough balls.
     You can cover and refrigerate each dough ball for a few days or freeze the dough portions for later use.
     Onion Focaccia:
     Pat 1 focaccia dough portion into a flat round shape with your finger tips.
     Brush the dough generously with olive oil.
     Sprinkle some very thin sliced onions on the dough.
     Allow the dough to rise and proof.
     Pop any large bubbles that form on the dough.  (Focaccia is an airy kind of dough.)
     Bake the focaccia on a sheet pan in a 450 degree oven, till it is half way done baking and still white in color.
     Remove the focaccia from the oven.
     Sprinkle virgin olive oil over the focaccia.
     Return the focaccia to the oven.
     Bake until golden brown highlights appear on the bread and the onions become caramelized.  
     Remove the focaccia from the oven.
     Drizzle a little more virgin olive oil on the focaccia.
     Cut the focaccia into square or pie shaped slices.
     Pan Seared Red Bell Peppers and Basil Leaves:
     Heat a saute pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 small splash of olive oil.
     Add 1 whole clove of garlic.
     Add 1 small handful of red bell pepper strips.
     Pan sear the peppers, till they become caramelized on the edges.
     Discard the garlic clove.
     Add 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves and toss the ingredients together.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Set the pan aside.
     Onion Focaccia with Pan Seared Red Bell Peppers and Basil Leaves:
     Set a slice of the focaccia on a plate.
     Place the seared red bell pepper strips and basil leaves on the plate beside the slice of focaccia.
     Drizzle some high quality virgin olive oil on the plate.
     Garnish the focaccia with a small basil sprig.
     Delicious, simple and healthy!  The health benefits of olive oil are well known.  In Italian cooking, it is not how many ingredients that are in a recipe that makes it great.  It is the skilled techniques that bring the most flavor out of food that make Italian cooking great.  Yummy!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna

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