I have mentioned this before – but I do love carbohydrates. Bread and pasta are a major part of my diet and I cringe when I hear friends talk about their low-carb lifestyles. How I would miss sitting down with a hunk of freshly baked bread or a steaming plate of pasta. I do admit that my pastas and breads are whole grain whenever humanly possible but to omit this wonderful food group would most likely send me to the edge. The other evening, over a steaming bowl of capelletti with a dear friend, the conversation turned to food (doesn’t it always?). He mentioned that he loves to bake bread and it made me realize that it had been quite awhile since I made fresh bread. So, I decided to try some focaccia this weekend. Now, my attempts at baking bread have not always been met with success – for some reason, yeast and I are fair weather friends. I was determined to produce a fluffy, airy focaccia this time around – so I studied up on yeast-ology and what makes the magic happen. (I found a great tip online – if you put your dough in the oven to rise, turn on the oven light. It will heat up the oven just enough to keep it warm! ) And I am happy to report, as I sit here munching on my fluffy focaccia that this attempt appears to be one that would make my friend proud!
I topped my focaccia with some balsamic caramlized onions, goat cheese and more sun-dried tomatoes but feel free to substitute or just drizzle with a bit of olive oil and coarse sea salt. I also happened to have some balsamic reduction in the fridge so I drizzled my fluffy focaccia with a bit of balsamic reduction to take things up a notch. This also is a great way to serve as an antipasto. So spend a leisurely day making this wonderful treat and enjoy…..
Sun-dried Tomato Focaccia with Balsamic Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese
(Focaccia recipe from Focaccia, Simple Breads from the Italian Oven; Carol Field)
1 3/4 cups water, room temperature
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees F
2 tablespoons olive oil, reserved from sun-dried tomatoes (or extra virgin olive oil)
15 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, pureed in a food processor
5 1/4 cups unbleached bread or all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed
2 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
3 large yellow onions, sliced into very thin slices
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
10 diced sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
5 1/2 ounces goat cheese
5 or 6 basil leaves
For Balsamic vinegar reduction:
1 cup good-quality balsamic vinegar
Make the focaccia:
1. Put 1 3/4 cups of water in a mixing bowl. Allow to come to room temperature.
2. Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer or large mixing bowl. Whisk and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
3. Once creamy, stir in the room-temperature water and the reserved oil into the yeast mixture.
4. If making dough by hand: Add in the pureed sun-dried tomatoes. Mix in the flour and the salt. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 7 to 10 minutes, adding a few tablespoons of flour if needed. Knead until elastic and nice and velvety.
If making the dough with a heavy-duty mixer: Add the flour, salt and pureed tomatoes to the yeast mixture. Mix with the paddle attachment until the dough comes together. Switch to the dough hook and knead for a few minutes on low until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and is velvety and elastic.
5. First rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. (I just use the mixer bowl.) Cover it tightly and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled, about 1 hour.
6. While the dough is rising, make the carmelized onions. In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt and fresh ground pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are carmelized and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Stir in the tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Set aside and allow to cool.
7. Second rise: Divide the dough into two pieces – one twice as large as the other. You will have enough for a smaller loaf as well as a large pan. Place the smaller one in a well-oiled 10-inch pie pan and the other on a well-oiled 10 1/2 X 15 1/2 inch baking pan. Stretch the dough outward to reach the edges of each pan. Dimple the dough lightly. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top, cover with a towel or greased plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 1 hour.
8. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place pizza/baking stone in the oven if you have one. Allow oven to heat for at least 30 minutes. Bake in the lower third of the oven until golden brown, about 25 minutes.
9. Lower oven t 400 degrees F. Arrange onions and sundried tomatoes over the top. Sprinkle with the goat cheese, salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Put back in oven for 10 minutes or until the cheese is creamy.
10. Chiffonade the basil: stack the basil leaves and roll them up. Slice the leaves to make long thin strips. Sprinkle the basil on top.
Make balsamic reduction: Place balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan. Put over low heat and simmer. Reduce until slightly syrupy – do not over-reduce as it will thicken further as it cools. Be careful not to put over high heat or it will taste scorched. You can place any extra in a squeeze bottle and store in refigerator for use later. Note: You will need to let it come back to room temperature before using.
Drizzle focaccia with reduction and enjoy……..