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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Pizza with figs, Roquefort, and caramelized onions

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All week long I’ve had figs on my mind.  I spent hours pouring over new recipes to try, and daydreaming ideas to improve old favorites.  Figs come twice a year, but are at their best in the later summer and early fall.  To me they are the perfect kind of sweet, not too sugary, not too tart, the way I imagined nectar tasted to bees when I was child.  Like a with a good cheese, your first taste of a ripe fig should be held on the tongue for a moment, taking time to appreciate its subtle flavors before it melts away in your mouth.

Figs, flour (for dough), sweet onion, Roquefort blue cheese

Figs, flour (for dough), sweet onion, Roquefort blue cheese

I like to get to the market early on Saturdays.  There is always something delicate that comes in small quantities and is gone if you sleep in, even just a little.  For me its worth it to give up a little sleep to have a chance to grab green garlic, the first pears, or a handful of mushrooms.  This week we were running a tiny bit late and when we arrived I headed straight to the back to look for figs.  To my delight, there was one carton of half a dozen figs left.  As soon as I’d set them in my basket, a well-dressed man came rushing up, asking if they were the last ones, and I was sorry to tell him I thought they were.

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Years ago, I had an internship in the mountains in eastern South Africa, and next door to our lodge was a tiny little gift shop called Nina’s, that also sold the most amazing light lunches.  They had a fig and Roquefort pizza that was a hit with my fellow interns.  I’ve never forgotten those amazing flavors and decided to try to make something similar.

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Caramelizing onions

Caramelizing onions

On the pizza stone

On the pizza stone

The result was better than I remembered.  I used far less Roquefort than I would mozzarella on a typical pizza (about an tablespoon and a half vs 1/2 a cup).  The Roquefort melts and spreads out thinly over the other ingredients, it’s sharp salty flavor mellowed by the sweetness of the figs and caramelized onions.  The mister is not a fan of non-traditional pizza (he loves a good red sauce), but even he wolfed down a few slices and tried to describe how the flavors interacted.

Outside it was sunny with a cool breeze, and I took the entire pizza board outside with a glass of sparkling vinho verde; the perfect lunch for an early autumn day.

A few tips:

Consider a pizza stone.  We keep one in the bottom of our oven at all times.  Pizza stones help your oven retain heat that is usually lost when opening the oven door.  This use of high, even heat combined with the kind of wet, aged dough we use, results in a crust that is crunchy on the outside and chewy within.  I’ve mentioned that we use the dough from this book, but here is a similar recipe from Food Wishes.

Aged dough already has really amazing flavor, but I think that brushing a little olive oil over your dough before adding any ingredients really adds another level of amazing flavor.  A tablespoon should be enough for the whole pizza.

Caramelizing onions takes a while.  I usually start well before I’m ready to make the pizza, and they are easy to keep in the refrigerator if you want to make them ahead of time or even the day before.  Just be sure to set the container out when you begin working on dinner; they’ll be easier to spread over the dough if they’ve had a chance to warm up. I caramelized two medium onions for this pizza.

Roquefort and other blue cheeses aren’t the easiest to crumble, but its easier if they are cold.  Keep the cheese in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

You can quarter the figs if you’d like, but I find thin, even slices make for easier eating.

I think that a light sprinkling of salt over the assembled pizza really helps bring out the flavors.  I take just a pinch of good sea salt and hold my fingers high above the pizza while sprinkling.  This helps get a more even distribution so no one part is too salty.  In the case of this pizza, I salted it just before adding the figs.

A perfect weekend lunch

A perfect weekend lunch

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