Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Can I tell you a secret? The focaccia I made the other day? It wasn't very good. The recipe I used was actually meant for Meyer lemons, which are sweeter than regular lemons, but since I had such an overabundance of lemons from my yard, I thought I'd give it a try anyway. The result wasn't horrible - the bread itself had a delightful texture and a caramelized, lemon-y flavor that was lightly perfumed with rosemary - but upon biting into one of the slices of lemon baked onto the top, I was greeted with an acidic, bitter aftertaste. I would guess that Meyer lemons would have been the better choice.
I quite liked the focaccia base used in the recipe, and I realized that it's just a starting point for endless topping possibilities. So, I decided to give it another go, this time with raisins, a simple topping which happens to be a favorite in my family. It was delicious.
Just look at that sugar-y caramelized sheen. This didn't last long in my house.

I always used to be embarrassed about the way  I pronounced the word focaccia. I know the most common pronunciation is "foh-cah-cha", but my family, who hail from a little village in northern Italy, always said "fi-gah-sa". I used to have to check myself before I said it around anyone outside my family, lest they take me for some impostor Italian who didn't know how to pronounce Italian words. It wasn't until recently that I learned that the way my great-grandmother said focaccia was absolutely correct. It just happened to be part of her regional dialect. Being in the north, and therefore closer to the French border, it makes perfect sense that the word might sound more like the French fougasse. It's wonderful to think about our foods and the words we use to describe them as markers of our culture, changing across space and time like any other tradition. No longer am I self-conscious about the way I say focaccia - it's part of my family's unique heritage, and it's one of the many ways that my grandfather, my great-grandmother, and everyone before them live on through me.

Friday, January 17, 2014

When life gives you lemons

This particularly bountiful lemon harvest has left us with more lemons than we know what to do with. Lemon bars, lemonade, lemon curd, and now lemon focaccia! A sprinkling of sugar on top and the addition of fresh rosemary takes it to the next level.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Boredom strikes...

Craving a virtuous afternoon treat? Have a few final mandarins lingering in your fruit bowl? Have some dark chocolate chips hanging out in the pantry (of course you do!)? Melt some of those chips down in a double broiler or in the microwave, peel those Cuties, and dip the slices in the chocolate. Let them dry on a parchment-lined baking sheet. And hey, why not sprinkle on a little of that fancy sel gris that you bought on a whim a few months ago and haven't used until now? Regular coarse sea salt works just fine too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Taking Off

"To Begin, begin." -William Wordsworth

Things are looking up! Since we last saw each other, it would appear that I've gotten a job at a pizzeria. Well, technically, I haven't started or officially been hired, but after an interview and a visit back (persistence pays off!) I think I'm in! Now, I'll have what's probably the lowest job on the totem pole - what else would they give a 22-year-old just out of school with no experience in the food industry? BUT! I have my foot in the door. This is where you start, right? Right. Humble beginnings. I'm just looking forward to getting into an environment that is focused on bringing people great food. So, to celebrate, I thought tonight I would whip up some pizza of my own!

I have my own wild yeast starter that's been bubbling away for about 16 months (!!!) and aside from using it to make homemade bread, I've also been using it to make pizza dough à la Tartine Bread. It transforms the pizza crust from a mere vehicle for cheese and toppings into a flavor component all its own, bringing a whole new dimension to the finished product.
My starter - looking a little sleepy having just been taken out of the fridge

On to the pizza! Now, I have nothing against store-bought pizza sauce, but I'll usually only use it in a pinch. When making it yourself is so simple, I think it's worth it if you have the time. Heat up some butter and olive oil in a big pot and throw in a diced onion and maybe a clove of garlic. Once they're nice and soft and smelling amazing, dump in a can of tomatoes and give them a mash with your spoon. Let it simmer away for at least an hour, stirring every so often and helping the tomatoes break down. If you don't want a chunkier sauce, give it a whirl in the food processor when you're done.

From there, you don't really need a recipe to make a great pizza. Toss on whatever ingredients you have on hand, whatever's in season, anything that strikes your fancy today. I went with tomato sauce, smoked mozzarella, crispy pancetta and spinach. Excuse the quality of the pictures - I'm still learning the art of remembering to take pictures while you're cooking!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Humble Beginnings

Happy belated New Years! 2014 is almost two weeks old already, and as usual, resolutions are pretty low on my priority list. But on this dreary Saturday with nothing to do but answer the call of the kitchen, I decided to do what friends and family have been encouraging me to do for a while now. I'm diving head-first into the world of food blogging. I have no idea where this is going to go - whether I want to share recipes, writing, or just pictures - but I do know that it's going to be a place to chronicle my various culinary adventures. It's not going to be very pretty at first (i.e. iPhone photos and generic template) but you've got to start somewhere, right? So, in keeping with the theme of humble beginnings, I'm here to share this morning's creation with you.
The branches of our lemon tree bend under the weight of their fruit. So we decided to relieve them of some of their burden. What do you do with a plethora of lemons?

The lemon is a humble fruit - an unsuspecting source of culinary delights. They don't have the eat-right-off-thee-tree appeal of the apple, or the peach, or even their citrus cousin the orange. Like some people, their true nature takes some coaxing to bring out. But a squeeze of lemon juice can instantly bring a savory dish to life, and when a lemon gets together with its friends sugar and butter, amazing things can happen.

Ricotta cheese- a perfect light, creamy foil to the lemon's mouth-puckering acidity. Add some sugar and some eggs and pour it over a crumbly, buttery crust. Bake and dust with confectioners' sugar, and you've got yourself one irresistible dessert. I give you, lemon-ricotta bars. (recipe found on Food52).
And that's all I've got for this first post. Here's to having nowhere to go but up!