Monday, April 11, 2011

Kim Boyce's Focaccia and Easy Steamed Artichokes

Two weeks ago, as I entered the restroom at Movement Research for the first time, before settling onto a handmade cotton mat and letting all my bones and muscles drop into the creaky wooden floor for an hour and a half long Alexander Technique class, I saw a poster hanging on the wall that, as if by divine inspiration, had flown in through the cracked window and adhered itself to the opposing wall the moment I turned the knob.

The poster appeared to be a block print, black and red ink on a rectangle of pure white, with roughly four images printed at the bottom. First, a bowl of cherries with stems intact, second, a bowl of pits and stems, third, a bowl of pitted cherries ready for a pie, and above the bowls, a set of hands were engaged in de-stemming a single cherry.  At the top of the poster was written: Process.

Not only was it a reminder to engage in the process of the class I was about to take, but it also rang out as a message for the year, a message for life. Take it one step at a time. Don't get ahead of yourself. Engage in the process of things, the result will follow. There is joy in work.

I have been wanting to bake bread in my toaster oven for over a year now and I keep chickening out at the last minute. I attempted a loaf several years ago in my Brooklyn apartment and it came out a heavy brick of whole wheat flour that dropped like a rock into the trash can, so I wasn't so sure baking bread without a kitchen would be any more successful.

But Saturday afternoon, determined to get over my fear, I went to the market, bough a packet of yeast and some spelt flour, smoothed open Kim Boyce's cultish new cookbook, Good to the Grain, carefully read and re-read the recipe and got to work. 

My first packet of yeast didn't bubble like it should so I started another bowl, with slightly warmer water and a fresh packet, and now able to compare two attempts, noticed a delicate bubbling on the surface of the second bowl indicating activity. Step one done. Then I added the dry ingredients and olive oil which came together almost effortlessly into a soft, scraggy ball and then kneaded it for ten divine minutes like the recipe says. Soft, yeasted dough, gently pressed under the palms is like taking a long, mind-clearing stroll by the beach. I'm not exaggerating. Nice and elastic, I nestled my dough into an oiled bowl, covered it with a clean dish cloth and two hours later discovered a plump, doubled mound ready for a punch and the next step. Cut into thirds, two of them reserved in the fridge for later, and pressed into a 9 inch, oiled cake pan, I gave it one more rise, then a glug of olive oil and into the oven. Twenty minutes later Chris and I sat down to a supper of steamed artichokes, garlicy greens, sardines in tomato sauce, calamata olives and hot, crusty focaccia.

I did it. And so can you. 

Making focaccia from scratch may seem like too much work but one days work yields three days of bread. So, on night two I stretched my dough into a rectangle, topped it with sauce, chopped broccoli rabe, mushrooms, goat cheese and olives, and we had homemade pizza in under half an hour. I think I'll do the same tonight.

It's all about the process.

Kim Boyce's Focaccia from Good to the Grain, 2010

Olive oil for the bowl and pans
1 package active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
11/2 cups spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
1 tbs. kosher salt
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. olive oil
Herbs, spices or other toppings of choice

1. Lightly rub a large bowl with olive oil. Add 1 1/4 cups warm water, the yeast and sugar to another large bowl. Stir, and allow the yeast to bloom for about 5 minutes, until it begins to bubble. (If it doesn't, it may be inactive; throw it out and start over with a new package).

2. Add the flours, salt, and 2 tablespoons olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Pour the dough onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead together, adding 1/2 cup of flour to the dough as necessary to keep it from sticking. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it is supple and elastic.

3. For the first rise, put the dough into the oiled bowl, turning it so that the top of the dough is coated with oil. Cover with a towel and leave for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size. (A dough is proofed once it has fully risen. How can you tell if a dough is proofed? Gently push a floured finger into the dough. If it springs back the dough needs to proof longer. If a dimple remains, move on to the next step.

4. Generously oil a baking sheet or 3 9-inch round pans with olive oil. 

5. For the second rise, place the dough on the baking sheet or divide the dough into 3 pieces and put one piece in each of the oiled pans. Stretch the dough out with your hands so that it covers the surface of the baking sheet or pans, and dimple it with your fingers. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and leave to rise for 1 hour.

6. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven (or put a single rack in the middle  if you're using one baking sheet) and preheat to 400 degrees F.

7. After the dough has completed it's second rise and has puffed up on the sheet or in the pans, top it with 1/4 cup of olive oil and sprinkle it with salt, herbs or spices, or the toppings of your choice.

8. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the bread to cool slightly in the pan before slicing and serving. Focaccia is best eaten the day it's made.

9. If you wish to store the focaccia dough for future use, after the first rise is complete, wrap the dough tightly in plastic and and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Pull all or part of the dough out when you wish to use it; bring it to room temperature before shaping the dough and continuing with the recipe.

Easy Steamed Artichokes

Cut off the tops and stems of your artichokes (large). Fill a large pan with an inch of water and either rest your artichokes on a steamer basket or on their stems sliced in half lengthwise. Cover with a lid and steam for forty minutes. Melt some butter or just eat them plain. When you get to the heart, scrape off the fuzzy part, drown in butter and enjoy.

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