Friday, August 7, 2009

An evening in Liguria

What was in the blurb from the cooking school about last night's class:

"The beautiful strip of Mediterranean coast called Liguria is home to some of the best seafood, wild herbs and olive oil in Italy. These raw materials help inspire a cuisine which features exceptional pesto, focaccia and pasta dishes. With summer in full swing here, now is the perfect time to introduce the specialty items and dishes from this marvelous region."

What was not in the blurb from the cooking school about last night's class:

"When the instructor is pairing up the students that night, the oddest couple of the bunch will be an older woman from Honduras*, in a well worn chef's coat with a few strands of hair escaping from the loose knot she's hastily tied up, and an awkward spiky blond surf kid, perhaps 15 years old, with a freckled nose, and skinny, deeply tanned legs peeking out from beneath his baggy shorts. You will share a table with these two. As they begin the steps toward making some of that exceptional focaccia, poring over the recipe, divvying up the work, consulting with each other with their heads huddled close over the dough, watching this unlikely duo interact over the course of the evening will completely make your day."

Oh, and the food will be marvelous, too. Especially that magical wonderful bread.

Focaccia with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sea Salt

4 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 c. warm water
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 c. fruity extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling

1/3 c. fruity extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt. Pour the water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast in it, stirring a few times until it is incorporated in the water. Let it rest ofr 5 minutes, then add a 1/4 c. of the olive oil. Start mixing on low speed with a dough attachment and slowly add the flour mixture. Increase the speed to medium high and keep mixing until you obtain a smooth, sticky dough. The dough should be rather wet and loose and will stick to your fingers a little. It's almost more like a thick batter than a dough.

Oil a large clean bowl, scrape the dough from the mixer into the bowl, cover it tightly with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425.

Oil a half sheet pan and spread the dough with your hands to cover the surface of the pan completely. Oil the fingers of one hand, and dig a few random dimples on the surface of the stretched focaccia dough. Cover it with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rest in the pan for another 30 minutes, until it has risen and doubled in size once again.

Before baking, top the dough with 1/3 cup of olive oil, spreading it gently with your hands to cover the surface evenly. In particular, make sure it gets into the dimples. At this point, your dough will look very oily, but don't worry, the oil will get absorbed while baking and it will make the focaccia soft and delicious.** Sprinkle the dough with the sea salt and bake 30-35 minutes, or until it turns a nice golden brown and is cooked through. Cut into pieces and serve.

* You will later discover as you devour the results of the class over a glass of white wine that she is Rob Reiner's personal chef. You do not get a back story on the kid.
** It does. I can vouch for that.

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