Saturday, August 14, 2010

Roman Inspiration: Zucchini Topped Focaccia

It boggles my mind that I have had this urge to recreate something I had in Rome some 13 years ago and I'm just now getting to it. It may have been that I didn't think I could do it justice, but I could no longer hush the culinary whispers. So I gave it my best shot.

When we were in Italy, most our time was spent in Napoli and just a few days in Rome before we headed home. In Rome, we stayed in a little hotel that was charming, had really good butter and was just down the street from a trattoria that served the best roasted chicken with french fries, served with mayonnaise to dip them in. I could not, however, avoid the pans of, what I'm going to call focaccia, lined up in a row, calling out to me to come and have a nibble. Oh that I was food blogging then! The photos I could have gotten. Anyways, there were several variations in toppings, but the one that had my name on it was the zucchini atop a slab of bread dough goodness. I took one bite and fell madly in love. I have not been able to forget it since.

It was the way it looked, a perfect square corner piece in nothing more than  parchment paper, as it's a street food, meant to be eaten as you wander the streets of one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was the texture of the shredded zucchini, tender but crisp and the almost fried taste of the bread, for you know they used loads of extra virgin olive oil to bake it in.

I did get a first-hand pizza making lesson by one of friends in Napoli. It was amazing to watch and even better to taste. But what I found most interesting was that her at-home version of pizza was a thick crust, set in a rectangular, half-sheet kind of pan, full of toppings and tons olive oil. She had all sorts of cured meats, ricotta, canned tomatoes and mozzarella. Not at all the thin-crust, minimal topping pizza Margarita that is so reminiscent of Naples. One thing I will never forget and utilized in this recipe, was that she put her pizza in a cold oven and let the oven come to temperature with the pizza in it. It made the best crust...along with all that olive oil.

For this recipe, I basically married memories together to make what I feel is pretty close to both things, but still uniquely my own. Unlike most of my cooking adventures, this was quite calm and almost zen. I had had rough morning with the kids and during nap time I somehow found this weird energy to cook. I made the focaccia, Emergency Cake and meatballs. All spontaneous, all without snafus. Is this possible? Apparently so.

Here's the dish:

Zucchini Topped Focaccia

servings: 12
prep time: 2 hrs.
bake time: 1 hr.

Bread Dough
*for this I used my Pizza Dough recipe, but doubled it. You can watch Yours Truly, show you the step-by-step, by clicking here.

4 c. flour
4 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
6 tbls. olive oil
4 tsp. instant yeast
1 c. warm water (110 degrees)

Dump all ingredients into your stand mixer with dough hook attachment, turn to medium speed and let it rip! If the dough looks a little dry, add a tsp. water. If it looks wet, add a bit of flour.

When it pulls together in a ball, that is when you start the timer for the 5 minutes of kneading. Just let the mixer do the job for you. You can also do this by hand.

After the five minutes, you should have a soft, elastic dough, the expression, "soft as a baby's bottom" would be appropriate here, and in most cases the bowl will be "clean" as in all the dough pulled away from the sides.

Pour in a tsp. of olive oil into your bowl. Coat the dough ball in the oil, this prevents it from drying out.

Cover the bowl with a dish towel and set in a warm place to rise. I happened to put mine outside because it was warm and toasty, much warmer than my air conditioned would have taken forever! So after rising in a warm place for 45 minutes (it should double in size), punch it down.

Lay down a piece of parchment paper, big enough to overhang for easy removal, into your half-sheet pan. Add a generous amount of good extra virgin olive oil, like 3 tbls. and press the dough in, all the way to the sides. Set aside.

Zucchini Topping

2 medium organic zucchinis, shredded in the food processor or by hand
1 clove garlic, ground into a paste with 1/2 tsp. salt and the edge of your knife or in a mortar and pestle
2 tbls. olive oil
2 tbls. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
10 small fresh mozzarella balls
1 jalapeno, thinly sliced (optional)
Olive oil for drizzling

First thing, take the shredded zucchini and place it in a strainer or salad spinner and sprinkle with salt. About 1/2 tsp. Toss with salt and let it set about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the water to create drier topping for your focaccia. This step is super important. I then, spun it to get out even more water without crushing the zucchini.

Mix olive oil, garlic and herbs together. This will act as your "sauce". Put down the herb mixture first, then the shredded zucchini, followed by a scattering of the torn mozzarella balls. If you like spicy, put down the jalapeno and then top the focaccia with a final drizzle of olive oil.

Place the whole thing in a cold oven and then turn it on. Set it for 375 degrees. It will take about 1 hr. to fully bake and brown. Check it after 50 min, just in case. Make sure the mozzarella is golden as well as the edges of the bread. Cut into squares.

This is good hot, room temperature or even cold. I served mine with meatballs but it would be a great vegetarian meal with a salad.

I hope you enjoy this little walk through memory lane of my Roman holiday. I think I did a pretty good job re-creating it. I just need a cobblestone street and the honking horns of Italian cars to make it perfect.

Mangia, Foodie Friends!
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