A jar of summer

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Over the years we’ve had fun teaching ourselves to preserve our favorite summer foods with a little help from Youtube and my grandmother’s Ball Blue Book.  We’ve canned peaches, jammed and jellied strawberries and cherries, and had fun pickling cucumbers and red onions.  However much fun, canning can also be a lot of work, and over the last couple of summer seasons, we decided that biggest pay-off came from canning tomatoes.

There is nothing as wonderful to me as a summer tomato, and canning means that even in darkest winter, when all the tomatoes in the grocery store are mealy and flavorless, we’re able to open up a bright, delicious jar of summer.  We usually set aside a Saturday, order a bushel of seconds from our regular farmer, and roll up our sleeves.

Last year we were caught up in so much summer travel that we decided to skip canning, and as winter wore on and on (and on and on), we grew sadder and sadder that we hadn’t made the time to put up our usual jars.  That was a mistake we didn’t plan to make again, so on one of the only weekends we spent at home this summer, we spent the whole day blanching and peeling and boiling and sealing.  This year, a friend who wanted to learn came and pitched in.  We wore him out, but in the end we are ready to take on the winter armed with 24 jars full of summer goodness (and 12 for our friend).

Do you ever can your favorite summer foods?

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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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