When I see "cheese" in the title of a cookbook, it's enough to make me run to the kitchen. That's why when I received a copy of The Cheesemonger's Seasons ($25, originally $35) by Chester Hastings, I couldn't wait to plow through the Spring section to find the dreamiest, cheesiest recipe. My eyes immediately landed on this recipe for goat cheese focaccia.
The recipe calls for artichokes, but sadly, it's a bit too early in the season to find those. So instead, I subbed in thinly sliced sunchokes, a knobby-looking root vegetable that has the texture of potatoes but the flavor of artichokes. Along with the goat cheese, parmesan, a tremendous amount of olive oil, and fresh herbs, the sunchokes fit right in.
If you cannot find baby artichokes or sunchokes in your neck of the woods, simply sub in a thinly sliced Spring vegetable of your choice or leave it out all together. Who ever complained of a ultracheesy focaccia bread?
Spring vegetables, including and especially young baby artichokes quickly cooked until just tender, are a perfect topping for pizzas and focaccia, and are beautiful to boot. I am very fond of mixing fresh oregano and mint with artichokes to emulate the flavor of the Roman wild mint known as mentuccia, which is used to make the famous carciofi alla Romana. It's an herbal combination that happens to be sublime with fresh goat cheese.
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved
1 pound baby artichokes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
8 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
4 ounces parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Black pepper, freshly cracked
- To make the dough: Pour the warm water in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on the surface of the water, along with the salt and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes, or until the yeast is dissolved and creamy, then add 1 cup flour. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the flour is incorporated and a very wet and sticky starter dough forms. Place a kitchen towel over the bowl and let stand at room temperature until it has increased in bulk by about 1/3, about 2 hours.
- Uncover the bowl and add the remaining flour, along with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir until most of the flour is incorporated, then turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface. Knead the dough, dusting your hands and the board with more flour as needed to prevent sticking, until the dough is still slightly sticky but elastic, with a nice spring when you touch it, 5 to 10 minutes. Pat the dough into a ball, return it to the bowl, and rub all over with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Re-cover and rest until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour longer.
- Meanwhile, start the topping. Squeeze the juice from 1 lemon half into a bowl of water and set aside. Clean the artichokes by snapping off the tough outer leaves until you get to the pale yellow inner leaves. Using a sharp knife, peel the skin from the stems and cut the artichokes in half lengthwise. Turn the halves cut-side down, and cut lengthwise into very thin slices. Immediately transfer the slivered artichokes to the bowl of lemon water. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and stir to coat with the oil. Drain the artichokes, pat dry on a kitchen towel, and add to the pan with the onions. Sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onion is slightly golden and the artichokes are tender. Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half over the artichokes and onions, remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature. (The artichokes and onion can be prepared to this point up to 3 hours in advance.)
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using the your fingertips and the palms of your hands, press and stretch out the dough to form a 12- x 16-inch rectangle. The dough will be quite springy, so let it rest a bit between stretching. Grease a baking sheet with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer the dough to the oiled pan and, using only your fingertips, push the dough back out as needed to reshape the large rectangle, then press all over, allowing your fingertips to form deep imprints. Scatter the crushed garlic over the top of the dough, then spread on the cooled onion and artichokes. Crumble the goat cheese over the top and sprinkle the oregano and mint all over. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and let rest for 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Uncover the focaccia and drizzle the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil over the entire surface. Sprinkle with the parmigiano and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the bottom is golden brown and the top is lightly browned around the edges.
- Let cool slightly, then cut into squares and serve warm or at room temperature.
- Breads, Appetizers
- 1 12- x 16-inch focaccia