The night before the Brooklyn Half-Marathon, which I ran yesterday, I had some friends who were also running the race over for a carb-heavy meal.
The most labor-intensive thing I made was a caramelized onion focaccia.
It’s actually much easier than it may seem, you just need to set aside enough time for the dough to rise. You start out by making a sponge (a mixture of yeast, sweetener, water, and flour that is fermented for a short period of time) and ricing a potato which gets mixed into the dough.
The sponge after 30 minutes
I use my food mill to rice the potato that I have cut up and boiled in well-salted water. If you have a potato ricer (which I don’t) you can use that instead. If you don’t have either (which I didn’t until very recently) you can use a fine metal strainer and simply push the soft potato through the holes with the back of a wooden spoon. The potato should come out looking something like this:
You then mix the potato into the sponge along with warm water, olive oil, and sea salt. Once you have a well incorporated mixture you want to start slowly adding the flour (I use three different kinds: unbleached bread, semolina, and whole wheat pastry), stirring with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together.
At this point you can turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it, adding extra flour as necessary until you have a nice smooth ball of dough. This dough will be slightly stickier than most bread doughs, that’s okay.
Place your dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise. While your dough is rising you can caramelize your onions. I used the same technique I used when I made my tomato and onion tart, but this time I diced the onion, and added some balsamic vinegar at the end to enrich the flavor.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and spread it out onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a half sheet tray. Use the pads of your fingers to give the focaccia its distinctive divots. Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rise again.
After the second rise, brush the dough with oil, sprinkle with salt, and cover with onion. Bake, cool, cut, and serve.
Along with the focaccia, I made some chicken basil meatballs and baked whole wheat penne with homemade tomato red pepper sauce.
It was a very satisfying meal, and we all ran well the next day.
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon agave syrup (or honey, or sugar)
2/3 cup warm water (110-130 degrees F)
1/2 cup unbleached bread flour
1 small potato, cubed, boiled, and riced
1/2 cup warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing dough
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling onto dough
1 cup semolina flour
Mixture of 1 1/2 cups bread flour plus 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
Topping(s) of your choice*
1. Whisk together sponge ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free spot for 20-30 minutes. (You know the yeast has been activated if you begin to see bubbles form.)
2. Add potato, water, olive oil, and salt to sponge and stir with a wooden spoon. Add semolina flour. Add flour mixture in 1/2 cup increments until dough begins to come together (you may not need to use the entire mixture).
3. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead, adding more of the flour mixture as necessary (if you use up all 3 cups and you need more, keep adding small handfuls of whole wheat pastry flour) until you have a smooth ball of dough that is slightly sticky, about 5-10 minutes.
4. Place dough in a lightly-oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in size, about 1 hour. Punch down dough and spread onto a half sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Use the pads of your fingers to created depressions across the surface of the dough. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside to rise for an additional 15-20 minutes.
5. While dough is rising for the second time, pre-heat oven to 475 degrees F.
6. Brush dough with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Cover with the toppings of your choice.
7. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly puffed and golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Slide focaccia off pan onto rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.
* You can top your focaccia with whatever you like. Two of my favorites are chopped fresh rosemary (simple, classic) and balsamic caramelized onions (a little more labor, but well worth it).
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