Friday, 15 July 2011

Bread bakin' in the heat

I have come to the conclusion that I am a masochist. Just in the kitchen mind you. Who else but a person with masochistic tendencies would decide to bake three trays of focaccia when it's twenty seven degrees outside and thirty degrees inside?
I could have made something summery like potato salad or gazpacho to bring to this BBQ. But noooo I decided to not only bake 18 little focaccia buns for my friend Kate's thirtieth birthday BBQ but also to make a pesto bean dip to be slathered on them as well (the focaccia buns not the party-goers). The buns are pretty great on their own but the dip sends them over the edge - if I do say so myself. At least the white bean and pesto dip requires a minimum of cooking.
This dip is is great with veggies, pitas, crackers, or even spread in a sandwich. You could even make it  vegan friendly by omitting the cheese from the pesto - but that would be a shame as most things are improved by cheese.

Focaccia Buns
Makes 9  - 4 inch buns or 2  loaves

I baked these as buns using my original recipe for focaccia and they turned out a little crispier then I would have liked so I have changed the recipe so that the oven temperature is turned down halfway through baking. Make sure that you don't skip brushing olive oil on the just baked bread as this will also help prevent them from getting to crispy.

3 1/2 cups / 875 ml. All purpose Flour( or 00 Italian pizza flour)
2 tsp / 10 ml Kosher salt
1 1/4 cup / 310 ml warm water
2 1/2 tsp /12 ml dry active yeast
1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil ( half extra virgin and half regular olive oil) + extra olive oil for brushing
1/3 cup / 80 ml caramelized onion, pitted chopped olives or even chopped dried fruit (optional) - the dried fruit option is great with a cheese plate
1 1/2 Tbs / 22 ml chopped fresh herbs - such as tarragon, rosemary or thyme
Kosher salt (or rock sugar if using dried fruit) for sprinkling ( optional)

  Proof yeast in small bowl with 1/4 cup of the water. Sift flour and salt together in bowl of standing mixer. Add the remaining water and the 1/4 cup of olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir. With the paddle attachment and the machine running slowly add the yeast mixture to the flour mixture. Mix until just blended. Take off the paddle attachment and  attach the dough hook. Knead dough for 5 minutes in mixer. This is a very wet and sticky dough. Don't worry - it's supposed to be like this.
Place dough in a large well oiled bowl and rub extra olive on the top of the dough. Cover with a clean dish towel. Let rise for 30 to 60 minutes or til doubled in size.
Remove dough and place on a clean floured work surface. Lightly knead in olives and herbs(or whatever it is you choose to use) using a plastic dough scraper. Form dough into 8 to 10 balls or a 1 1/2 inch thick rectangle and place on an oiled baking sheet. If making buns make sure that they are placed at least 3 inches apart (you may need 2 baking sheets). Cover tray with a clean dish towel and let rise for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile heat oven to 425 degrees. Uncover baking sheets and using a clean finger make 1/2 inch indents(or dimples) in the dough about 2 inches apart. Brush generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt if using.  Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees and rotate the tray in the oven. Turn down oven to 375 degrees and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes or til golden and the bottom of the bread is a uniform brown. Brush with olive oil and cool. If making a loaf of focaccia let the bread cool for 5 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a cooling rack.
This bread is best eaten on the day it was baked. If you are going to eat it in the next day or 2, keep it wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. Reheat it ,wrapped in aluminum foil, in the oven before serving.

White Bean and Pesto Dip
Makes 2 1/2 cups / 375 ml

This dip is a staple party food at the stately manor of Lord Clarington and The Golden Giddle (sorry that's what my buddy Ashlee has christened my apartment and it kinda stuck). It's crazy tasty and is not only vegetarian friendly but it's uber easy as well.  If you're making this dish in the winter or are really strapped for time you can definetely use jarred pesto. If you do use store bought pesto make sure that the first listed ingredient is basil.

1  18 oz. /540 ml can of white beans
Juice of 1/2 lemon
pinch salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup / 60 ml olive oil
1/4 cup / 60 ml basil pesto, preferably homemade

Rinse beans under running water in a colander and drain. Place beans, salt, and half of the lemon juice into a food processor. Saute garlic in 1 Tbs of olive oil in a small pan til it just starts to turn golden. Add garlic to bean mixture and puree. With the machine on slowly add olive oil to bean mixture. Taste and adjust lemon juice and salt as needed. For an extra smooth texture, push the bean dip through a fine mesh sieve (optional).
Mix 1/4 cup /60 ml of bean mixture to pesto in a small bowl. Place the rest of the bean dip in a serving dish. Add pesto-bean mix in  a blob on one side of the dish. Run a knife through the pesto mix giving the dip a marbled effect. Refrigerate til cold and garnish with a small basil leaf or two.

Right now gardens and farmer's markets are overflowing with fresh herbs and pesto is a great way to use them. Now in our household, while we don't technically have a garden, I still reap the rewards of one. What we do have is a back porch with flower pots, buckets and recycling boxes filled with herbs and 5 foot tomato plants. I'm not the one who tends them, Gideon is the one with the green thumb, but making dishes like this truly make me appreciate our little patch of outdoor space in the city.

Basil Pesto (a.k.a. Pesto Genovese)
Makes 1 1/2 cups / 375 ml

This recipe makes more than enough  pesto for the dip. Pesto will keep for a day or two in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil floating on the top but it's best eaten right away. Extra pesto can also be frozen minus the cheese.

2 cups / 500 ml  basil leaves washed and tightly packed
1/4 cup / 60 ml pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced or rasped (grated)
1/3 cup / 80 ml olive oil
2/3 cup / 160 ml  parmesan, freshly grated ( none of this pre-grated stuff!)

Puree all ingredients except parmesan in a food processor till smooth. Scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. Add parmesan and buzz till smooth. Enjoy on pasta, sandwiches, pizza, toothbrushes (well maybe not the last one......).