Focaccia with Grapes and Fresh Rosemary
Maniago, Italy -- It is early Monday morning. The crisp autumn air is filled with the scents and sounds of the weekly farmers market. Locally-caught fish glisten on beds of crushed ice. Large tan wheels of creamy, semi-soft, and crumbly cheeses are deftly being hewn into wedges. Fresh fruits perfum the air with their heady sweet fragrance, and baskets of still warm bread entice with their aroma.
Maniago, in the province of Pordenone (north-eastern Italy), is the home of my oldest sister. Our family visited her several years ago, and the Monday market was a memorable part of our stay.
My sister, fluent in Italian, visited each vendor, knowing most of them by name. We had no plan for our shopping—rather, we relied on our instincts to find the best bargains that would provide us a comfortable meal at the end of the day. We purchased several aged cheeses, a moist succulent prosciutto, and a focaccia studded with sweet grapes and seasoned with fresh rosemary and flakes of sea salt.
What is focaccia?
Focaccia (pronounced: foh-KAH-chee-ah) is a traditional Italian flat bread made with olive oil. "Focaccia" comes from the Italian word for "focus," meaning hearth or fireplace where the peasants made this bread.
- 1/2 pound seedless red grapes
- 1/4 cup warm water, see note in instructions about temperature of water
- 1/4 tsp. sugar
- 1 envelope (about 2 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- cooking spray
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- sea salt, to taste
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- In a baking dish large enough to hold grapes in one layer cook grapes in middle of the oven 30 minutes, or until soft and sticky; cool slightly.
- In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup warm water with the sugar and yeast. (The temperature of the water should be warm, not hot. If you have ever tested the heat of the milk in a baby bottle you will know what I am talking about. It should be warm on your wrist.) Let the water/yeast mixture stand in a warm place for about 10 minutes, or until it is bubbly and begins to smell yeasty.
- In another bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in flour, add the water/yeast mixture, the remaining 3/4 cup warm water, and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Begin mixing flour and liquid with your hand; mix until you form a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl.
- Clean off your hands. Lightly flour a work surface. Place the dough on surface and begin to knead with the heel of your hand, turning and folding dough as you knead it. (SEE INSTRUCTIONS BELOW ON HOW TO KNEAD). Knead 5 to 8 minutes, or until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Put dough into a clean bowl and let rise, covered with a kitchen towel iin a warm place 1 to 2 hours, until doubled in bulk.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom of an 11x7-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Pat the dough into the pan. Brush surface with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Indent surface of dough by pressing all over with your fingertips. Evenly distribute grapes over the surface of the dough; sprinkle rosemary and coarse salt on top.
- Cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Bake for 30 minutes or until puffy and lightly golden on top.
How to knead dough
Gather the dough into a pile. When you first begin working with the dough, it will be sticky and difficult to gather. Sprinkle a bit of flour on it (about a tablespoon). Fold the edges to the center, press down on it, and fold and press again. Continue doing this until the dough is no longer sticky. and you can shape it into a ball that doesn't fall apart.
If the dough doesn't seem to be losing its stickiness, sprinkle more flour over the top and work it into the dough.
Begin kneading. Fold the dough in half and rock forward on the heels of your hands to press it flat. Turn the dough one-quarter turn, fold it in half, and rock into it again with the heels of your hands. The kneading process should be rhythmic and steady. Continue doing this until you achieve...
The texture of well-kneaded dough. When you first began you had a lumpy, sticky mess. But after about 10 minutes the dough should be smooth and shiny and have a springy (elastic) feel. When the dough is poked it should spring back.
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