Third Time Is The Charm

Basic Focaccia
Basic Focaccia
It turned out very well. It was perhaps a little insipid, but some salty olives made it wonderful!

Well, in my case I can not settle for this. From a point of view of getting something right, this was a successful attempt. It was edible and quite enjoyable… if you did not know how it might have tasted.

There Is Always Room for Improvement

I made this focaccia because we had our friends over. Our friends are my Guinea Pigs when it comes to my food-related experiments. They will tell me the truth and the truth did come out: good but a bit insipid (though it went perfectly with the salty olives they brought) and what’s up with the lack of toppings? Even last time I had a little sprinkle of onions, which was quite enjoyable.

The truth is that I forgot, which leads me to my next point.

Practice Should Make Perfect

In the rush of getting the focaccia in the oven and not missing any of the recipe’s steps, I forgot to add any toppings (which are not mentioned in my recipe). Though it sounds unbelievable that I forgot them where I hadn’t forgotten them in my two previous attempts, I think that the reason is that I don’t have the whole procedure engraved in my brain yet. More practice is required. If you ask me to make Spaghetti Alla Carbonara, I will do it right every time because I have been making it for so long. But when it comes to focaccia I am going to have to try a few more times.

Delicious and Natural

Now that I have produced an edible version of focaccia I feel that I can recommend that you try it at home too. It is not very difficult, and the actual working time is less than making pasta by far. The ingredients are very basic (flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt, and a bit of white wine) and natural. Maybe some day I will make a whole wheat version of it, but I am not there yet.

From A Wonderful Corner of Italy

Focaccia exists in a thousand varieties in every corner of Italy. It is one of the best street foods that I grew up with and every region has its variants (in fact, every baker worth of the name probably has a favorite variant considering that the toppings can vary a lot). I am focusing on the traditional focaccia genovese, which originated in Genova around the XVI century. This article tells you where to try it if you are ever in Genova. Some of the pictures of the bakeries are really inviting! Who’s going to Italy with me?

My Second Shot at Focaccia

Homemade Focaccia
Homemade Focaccia
My second attempt at making focaccia at home.

A Little Background

I did not mention this in my previous focaccia post: I really love focaccia because the bakery in the street where I lived in Milan made excellent focaccia and I spent a few summers as a young boy in Liguria, the region where focaccia originated, and I can still taste how good that focaccia was. This is why I am so determined to have awesome focaccia again. It used to be that anywhere you went in Italy would serve decent focaccia. That is no longer the case: even in Liguria, I have walked into bakeries that did not serve good focaccia. Like with all good things, I think that it should be preserved and I am trying to teach my kids how to make it (we’ll see if I am successful in a few years.)

Determination

I don’t want to call myself an artisan, because that is such an honorific (not horrific) title that only accomplished craftsmen deserve. But artisanship requires determination as you are most likely to fail at first. As you well know, I failed miserably on my first attempt that after a couple of weeks I decided to try again. I re-read the recipe, I compared it with my notes from my first attempt and decided to learn from experience this time. The dough turned out better (I kneaded it for longer), it was properly salted, I did use a higher temperature, and, most importantly, I did pour a string of olive oil on top of the dough before it went into the oven.

New Mistakes Or Learning Lessons

Unfortunately, I fell prey of a horrific habit of mine: when I like an ingredient I use too much of it. Because salt was very lacking during my previous attempt, not only did I increase the amount of salt that went into the dough, but I got a little happy sprinkling the sale grosso (large salt) on top of the dough spread out in the pan. The result was so salty that it was inedible. After scraping some of the salt I really enjoyed it but it was still too salty because it wasn’t possible to remove enough salt. Too bad! I had the top salt measured correctly the first time… Couldn’t I do the same thing?

Another thing that wasn’t ideal was the oven temperature. I used 420 Fahrenheit this time and tested it a little too soon. The crust was hard and the dough wasn’t fully cooked when I first cut it so I had to put it back.

What Will I Do Differently Next Time

It’s pretty obvious that next time I will use less large salt and will try to go back to 395 degrees for a little longer than 20 minutes. If that works I might be celebrating and you will hear about it 🙂

Risotto ai Funghi Porcini Secchi

Emi and I share many preferences: our passion for porcini mushrooms is just one of them. Last week I posted on Facebook a photo of the Risotto ai Porcini that she ordered at A Bellagio in Campbell. It was really good, though a bit salty, and the suspicion is that a lot of butter was used. Someone asked me to post the recipe that I use, so here we go, I just translated it and I hope that you will try it.

  • Submerge 50 grams of dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl full of water and some wine. All the recipes say to use white wine. For some reason I like to use red wine better.
  • Use a strainer to preserve the liquid and remove the impurities.
  • Slice the well drained mushrooms.
  • Finely mince an onion and stir fry in extra-virgin olive oil. Many recipes call for garlic instead of onion, and that is what I prefer to use (3-4 cloves).
  • Add the mushrooms making sure that they do not stick to the pan.
  • In a separate pan, bring the beef broth (1.5 liters–6 cups) to a slow boil (it must be boiling temperature so that when you add it to the rice it does not stop its cooking process).
  • Back to the mushrooms: add a little of the water set aside and add about half a glass of wine.
  • Add the rice (somewhere between 1 and 1.5 cups) and let it toast for a few minutes, mix well to make sure that the rice will not stick to the pan.
  • Add the other half of the glass of wine.
  • When the wine has evaporated start adding the broth and stir frequently to make sure that the rice does not stick to the pan. The rice should always be covered in broth so keep on adding broth as needed.
  • From the time you added the rice, the rice should cook in about 20 minutes, but this can vary depending on the rice used. Turn off the flame.
  • Add finely minced fresh parsley and the imported Parmigiano Reggiano (it is rather important not to use imitation cheeses here). I also usually add some butter.
  • Finally, give the risotto a good stir and let it sit for five minutes. Then it is ready to serve.

This is the recipe that I like the most out of every recipe I am familiar with. It requires paying very close attention to every step as you can’t walk away from the pan for longer than a minute. If you try this recipe I would be very curious to find out how it turned out. Buon appetito!

Handmade Gnocchi for Easter

I hadn’t made homemade gnocchi in at least seven years. I remember slaving away for hours last time and the fact that I had made my famous Gnocchi ai Quattro Formaggi that time meant that nobody was that keen to have something just as yummy but, unfortunately, equally fattening (we are all older and exercising less, unfortunately, so this time we stuck to a nice homemade red sauce). What got me to decide to try making them again was the fact that Trader Joe’s recently started selling a pack of gnocchi imported from Italy. I tried it, and it was good. It was exactly like the gnocchi we buy at the supermarket in Italy, which means they are a bit hard and packed  with preservatives. The thought of feeding my family preservatives is what pushed me over the edge. I want to avoid that whenever I can.

Chiara insisted to help me peel the hot potatoes. She did a great job!
Chiara turned out to be an awesome potato peeler. I’ll keep that in mind.

Since I remembered how long it took last time, I got an early start. The potatoes where cooked before noon, Chiara helped me peel them while hot (I did not ask her, she just insisted), then I mushed them really well. So by noon I had already made a few mistakes: too many potatoes (also I selected them without thinking about getting the driest kind) and mushing them well. After I was done I read that you don’t want to do that at all. Some even suggest baking the potatoes for a while to dry them up.

I then started kneading this massive ball and I kept adding flour, then I used up the recommended amount of flour, then I kept adding flour because I was trying to get a dough. That was another big mistake. Most advice I found later says to start cutting the gnocchi as quickly as possible.

Chiara developing her gnocchi-rolling technique
Chiara developing her gnocchi-rolling technique

Chiara, again, came to help and she helped me roll the dough so that I could cut it up. She also tried to shape each gnocco against the cheese grater, but we still have to work on that technique.

The gnocchi turned out hard. Much harder than last time, when they wear soft and delicious. They were still good, we had them with a homemade red sauce that turned out really well, but they were chewy and filled us up quickly. Ten gnocchi were enough to make up a filling portion.

The end result. Good, but not what I had envisioned.
The end result. Good, but not as fluffy as I had envisioned.

This was a reminder, that handmade products require practice and passion. I was out of practice, but I resolve to trying again! What I liked most about the experience was that I got to spend time with Chiara and that she was thoroughly entertained. She did not ask to watch TV at all!