Focaccia-ish with grapes and figs

I am telling the truth when I say that I have been trying to find the time to write a few recipes involving figs and grapes for an entire passing of seasons . . . and yes I do mean more than a year. . .

The thing is, a long time ago I had a Saturday market stall in Haarlem where I sold handmade Italian-inspired fresh pasta, focaccia, bread, tart, biscotti and a myriad of vegetable-focused dishes. Two creations from way back then have been on my recipe-writing-to-do list, namely, a fig honey-cinnamon crostata and fresh fig and pepper and rosemary focaccia.

Fast forward to many years later and the recipe I am about to share. Food and cooking are ever changing, a reflection of life itself, after all. Always in search of learning opportunities through the words of historians and food writers, I discovered the inspired work of @emikodavies  when reading her first book Florentine from front to back. This is where I first learned about the “schiacciata’all’uva”, the famous soft, pillowy Tuscan bread made with the purple grapes of the fall harvest.

I have made her beautiful recipe a number of times in a professional setting minus the Tuscan grapes, replacing them with local Dutch fruit instead. I’m happy to report the result has been well appreciated! Over time a personalized recipe has evolved, both a combination of my market day memories as well as inspiration from Emiko’s Florentine . . . a cookbook you simply must have in your collection!

Below, proof that I have finally put a recipe to rest in a wintery version of combined flavors and memories, where dried figs complement dark grapes and rosemary. Rather than sea salt, this particular focaccia involves a sugared topping!

Do try it, whether as a sign of celebration or simply because it is delicious!

Meanwhile, be well, be happy and enjoy the good life with your loved ones from the warmth of the kitchen table!

Ingredients

  • 500 grams of fine wheat flour . preferably local and organic
  • 4 grams dried yeast 
  • 375 ml warm water 
  • 25 ml extra virgin olive oil 
  • freshly chopped rosemary leaves 
  • from 2 full sprigs, roughly a full tablespoon
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper 
  • 1/2 teaspoon pink pepper corns 
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt flakes 
  • the zest of one organic orange
  • 200 grams dried figs, sliced 
  • 400 grams local purple grapes

For the topping

  • 1-2 tablespoons local honey
  • the leaves of 1-2 sprigs of rosemary 
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Measure tepid water in a canister and add the dried yeast. Stir the two ingredients with a whisk until the yeast dissolves. Set it aside for a half an hour. Meanwhile sift the flour into a bowl large enough to allow you to add and mix the water-yeast mixture easily. Wash the grapes and remove their stems. Slice the dried figs, removing their stem first. Pick the rosemary leaves and chop the leaves coarsely with a sharp knife, making sure not to bruise the leaves. Measure the black pepper, pink pepper sea salt flakes and rosemary into a small bowl and set aside. Scrub the orange under warm running water. Grate the peel with a zester.

Prepare a second ceramic or stainless steel bowl large enough to contain the rising dough by rubbing in the sides and bottom with 25ml extra virgin olive oil and set aside.

Add 25ml to extra virgin olive oil to the the water and yeast mixture with a whisk. Then, clear some space at the bottom of the bowl filled with flour. Pour the water with one hand while stirring it through the flour with the other, until the water and flour incorporate and a loose dough is formed. The result will be very sticky, but keep stirring and mixing it with one hand until any and all lumps have smoothed. Add the herbs, peppers, sea salt, rosemary and zest. Mix and stir all through the dough until these bursts of flavor are distributed through the mixture.Now coax the dough with your sticky hand into the bowl rubbed in with olive oil. Cover it with a clean tea towel and let the dough rise 4 hours in a warm and cosy place.

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees after 3,5 hours or so. Prepare a flat oven tray by covering the bottom with parchment paper. Rub in the paper with some olive oil. Pour the dough onto the tray, Rub in your hands with olive oil then spread it evenly over the surface of the tray.

Arrange the sliced figs, followed by the grapes over the surface of the dough. Drizzle the surface of the dough with enough olive oil until it glistens. Sprinkle the top with fresh rosemary leaves and 1-2 spoons of honey.

Bake the focaccia 20 minutes or until the grapes have burst open and the crust is golden. Serve my foccaccia-ish sweet and savory bread warm with a small dipping bowl of your best olive oil and sea salt flakes. Cut some fennel paper thin and slice some blood oranges, and stuff it into a piece of this lovely bread!

Strawberry fields forever . part II .

This is the second part of a short little story describing simple traditions involving an abundance of red berries. I have a few favorite ways to bring strawberries to the table and each one is a reminder of the happiness of spring and the comforts of home.

Home is neither a single place nor a static object. The name describes a feeling that expands beyond space and time. In my case the word home describes different countries. The following narrative has its origin in the Netherlands, one of the parts of this world I feel a part of.

This story is about the strawberry sandwich. Even writing the name brings a smile to my face. It’s about three simple ingredients, namely butter,  bread and well, of course strawberries.

Bread is an essential part of the Dutch food tradition and in this country it is amazingly good and wholesome.

Butter, like dairy of all sorts, takes a prominent place in the low lands. For this particular kind of sandwich, one generally uses the unsalted kind.

Strawberries make an appearance in early spring and are a fundamental part of the landscape well into late summer.

The key to a perfect berry sandwich is the quality of the ingredients, of which in this part of the world there are many.

Traditionalists will spread their butter on a slice of fresh white bread. I diverge from this habit by cycling to my favorite bakery for a loaf of light whole wheat sourdough.

On each slice of bread, one spreads butter generously but not in extravagance.

The strawberries are washed, cut and subsequently layered over the butter, the more the merrier, but without any kind of exaggeration. 

The sandwich is ready to be served in a deliciously pragmatic no-nonsense manner so typical of this country and culture. 

I love the strawberry sandwich for this very reason. 

Suggested combinations

Serve the sandwich with the very best of the three ingredients available to you. Try it as is. Don’t be tempted in other words to add mint leaves, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, black pepper, or any number of wonderful pairings that go so well with strawberries. Keep it pure and simple.

It is definitely old school to sprinkle the strawberries with just a touch of sugar.

Notes

A strawberry sandwich is at its very best when served as soon as the sliced fruit is layered on the bread.

Spring greens and things

Meet this bunch of tangled up roots that shoot into stalks only to abound into a crazy wig of bright green leaves.

I am referring to purslane, one of the first types of leaf to appear just as the winter  is making its getaway.

Purslane is refreshing and slightly lemony in flavor. The only obstacle to eating it is getting it washed and dried without bruising its leaves.

This is really quite simple and only takes a moment.

It’s a question of cutting away the roots, thus allowing the wrapped up stalks to separate.

I soak the purslane in a big bowl of cold water and let it float. After that, I let the greens just drip dry in a sieve.

The next steps to a great salad is to toss the leaves gently by hand with the best olive oil available; add a pinch of sea salt flakes and a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the purslane is ready to serve.

Once again, a nice big bowl comes into the picture.

Purslane is one of my three favorite spring greens in this simple trilogy.

When I was younger, the name “turnip greens” did not sound appealing because I associated it with the root vegetable I preferred to avoid.

Later in life I discovered “raapstelen”, the name of the very same leafy tops, but then in the Dutch language.

I bring the greens home gratefully from the organic market and wash as I describe above.

There is something so reassuring about a bowl of greens floating in water just around supper time.

I love these leaves raw, tossed with olive oil and dressed with shavings of Pecorino Romano. Freshly ground pepper suits this salad well.

I love turnip greens even more, sautéed with wild garlic in a mixture of unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil.

Greens are a sure sign of spring and are piled up in my plate to serve as a pillow to all the other foods I might be serving (like risotto for example).

The slightly anise-like flavor of delicate green chervil makes for a good match in mixed leaf salads.

Washing them is a breeze, just like the other greens in the trilogy.

A little goes a long way.

My favorite way to mix them is into a salad with the carrot-top greens tossed through some crunchy pale yellow endive leaves.

Chervil keeps well in a vase. Just like flowers, it responds well to some fresh water on a daily basis.

This green herb is often sprinkled over white asparagus, known as witte goud or white gold in the Netherlands.

Somehow its flavor seems to ask for a sprinkle of crushed walnuts.

Another simple favorite of mine is freshly chopped chervil stirred into butter with some chives.

The only ingredients needed to complete a late afternoon aperitivo is a chunk of sourdough bread and a bunch of radishes. 

Here’s to spring greens and a new season !

 

 

 

 

Dutch-inspired smashed potato-carrot and onion hutspot

 

This story is about potatoes. Actually, it’s about onions and carrots as well. I won’t write about how potatoes traveled across continents over the centuries, or even about how many different kinds of potato are cultivated where I live in the Netherlands — this despite the fact that I believe that culinary history is as fascinating as the most thrilling plot to a novel.

My narrative will lead to the recipe for a bowl of superbly simple mashed root vegetables. This humble, crumbly, creamy one-pan dinner is an icon in the country I live in. It goes by the name of hutspot (which literally translated means a hodge podge or a mishmash). The term refers to the technique of mixing things together in a pot, not necessarily or exclusively to the ever-popular trio of onions, carrots and potatoes.

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