Tomato and rosemary focaccia

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So far this year, we’ve had a nice slow transition to fall and I’ve been enjoying the crisp weather.  This past weekend, however, we had a short-lived warm spell, and for about 36 hours we enjoyed sunny 70° temperatures.

Since we were feeling summery, I decided to bake a quick focaccia for brunch topped with a couple of the over-ripe tomatoes from the farmers market.  We bake all our pizzas, flatbreads, and focaccia on a large pizza stone that sits in the bottom of the oven, and use a wooden pizza peel to transfer the dough onto and off of the stone.  The stone is one of our favorite cooking implements and gives the crust great texture, but leaves the crumb perfectly chewy.

I pre-heated the oven to 400°, and rolled out a large hunk of the everyday dough we keep in the fridge at all times.  We sprinkle semolina on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, then transfer the plain, rolled out dough onto the peel.  Give it a little shake to make sure it isn’t sticking.  Brush the dough all over with a little olive oil–we ran out of our usual extra virgin so I broke out this garlic flavored olive oil we’d gotten as a gift.  Sprinkle the dough with about a tbsp of minced fresh rosemary and a healthy pinch of sea salt, then arrange thinly sliced tomatoes over the dough.  Transfer to pizza stone and bake for about 15 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve outside on the balcony, to make the most of any unseasonably warm weather.

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

Rosemary, tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt (dough not pictured)

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A few tips:

I kept this focaccia pretty simple, but it wouldn’t hurt to add a little grated parmesan or crumbled goat cheese.

If you are using a pizza stone and find the bottom just the right amount of browned, but the top needs a little more time, transfer the dough from the stone to a baking sheet and set on a rack higher up in the oven for another 5-10 minutes.  Your pizza crust bottom will stay crisp.

Lots of people use corn meal or flour underneath dough to keep it from sticking to the peel, but we find that semolina doesn’t burn as fast in the oven and sticks less to the dough than either cornmeal or flour.

Again, if you are using a stone, put the undressed dough on the peel first, then add your toppings.  This way you won’t have to worry about anything falling off and can go straight from adding toppings to transferring to the stone.  Using a peel does take a little practice but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly.

Don’t skip the step of brushing olive oil on the dough to save a few calories.  It adds so much flavor, its really worth it.

Instead, try replacing a 1/3 of your white flour with whole wheat flour.  That’s about as much as I would substitute before I find that the dough quality really starts to take a dive.

As always, use dough that’s been aged for at least 24 hours.  Those sour flavors just can’t be beat.

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Nutella banana bread

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The mister and I have very different views on Nutella.  Unlike me, he doesn’t find a multitude of ways to sneak it into various sandwiches (peanut butter/banana/nutella, anyone?) or desserts and sometimes, when I’m oohing and aahing over some new recipe he will wrinkle his nose and remind me that it isn’t really his taste.  My colleagues, on the other hand, love Nutella, and when one of them recently decided to invite us all to an afternoon birthday party for his wife, I decided it was the perfect occasion to bake banana bread with a little something special.

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

Sugar, flour, butter, yogurt, eggs, banana, nutella

I liked this version from Recipe Girl.  Instead of just dumping the Nutella into a cavity or slathering it on top (not terrible ideas), she has you temper it with a little of the banana bread batter, then alternate spoonfuls of the regular batter and the Nutella batter into a bread pan.  Give it a little swirl with a knife, pop in the oven for about an hour, and then you have a delicious loaf, each serving perfectly marbled with Nutella goodness.   The loaf was gobbled up pretty quickly and I enjoyed hearing a little girl and another guest politely argue about who was going to eat more of it.

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A few tips:

I followed this recipe pretty closely.  I even checked the loaf at the 45 minute and, lo and behold, the top was browning a little too quickly.  I covered it with tinfoil, just as Recipe Girl suggested, and the finished loaf came out perfectly.

If your first test with a toothpick comes out a little chocolatey, it may be because you stabbed it in a very Nutella-y area rather than that the loaf is underbaked.  Give it a couple of pokes elsewhere to be sure.

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To make this loaf a little more party friendly, I made a little flag out of a mailing label and half of a barbeque skewer and wrote Nutella Banana Bread on it.  Its a nice idea at parties to warn other guests if a dish may have unexpected ingredients like chicken stock, nuts, or mushrooms.  This way vegetarians and people with food allergies and other dietary restrictions can opt out.  Also, I’m very sorry for anyone with hazelnut allergies.  That must be tough.

Its also nice to not have to worry about keeping track of dishes and utensils you may have brought to a party, so in the case of this loaf, I wrapped it up in parchment paper as though it were a sandwich and secured it with a little bit of colorful string.  Easy to carry, festive looking, and no need to take anything back with me.

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