Cherry Schiacciata

cherry schiacciata

It’s cherry season! I never get tired of eating them one by one, but for something different, I took a pound of dark, firm sweet cherries and baked them into a schiacciata.

Wait… a what? Say: skya-CHA-ta. Think: a Tuscan classic (often made with grapes) whose name is Italian for “squashed.” See: a golden flat bread, similar to focaccia, bejeweled with juice-oozing fruit. Taste: the sweetness of cherries, rosemary, and anise against the backdrop of an olive-oil scented bread, wonderful for breakfast or a snack.

The cherry version is a bit more messy than the grape version because pitting the cherries (and for heaven’s sake make the small investment in a cherry pitter) allows their juice to escape into the dough as you are mixing them in, making the dough both wetter and pinker. I did not find this to be especially troublesome, but an alternative to mixing the fruit in would be to sandwich it between two layers of flattened dough.

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Early Spring Farmers Market Pizza

This pizza has a few ingredients, but none more important than 1) my good fortune to live a 5-minute walk away from one of California’s best farmers markets, and 2) a blessedly dry morning at the end of a waterlogged week, in which to stroll through the market and pick up a few green things between foldings of the dough.

I had enough sourdough toss-off to use in the dough, but a poolish would work here, too. My cheap but very sharp (you may ask my thumb if you don’t believe me) mandoline sliced my market picks — asparagus, green garlic, leeks, and goat gouda — thinly and perfectly.

Since I acquired a new house a few months ago, I’ve been experimenting with the best oven configuration for pizza, and I think I have it down: The stone goes on the second-to-highest oven rack. Preheat an hour at maximum bake temperature (550F). Bake the pizza about 7 minutes, then switch on the broiler and go for another minute and a half, until it’s pleasantly charred.

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Pizza in a Countertop Oven

If you have space for a countertop oven, I highly recommend one. It can replace your toaster, but a good-sized one can also do most of the things your regular oven can do — roast your chicken, broil your fish, bake your cookies, toast your nuts — using only a fraction of the energy of your big oven.

And if you have a baking stone, you can even bake a loaf of bread, or a pizza sized just right for one or two people.

I adored my Cuisinart Brick Oven when it worked, but after I had two of them quit on me in the space of three years (the top element died in one, the door spring in the other) it was time for a change. The Breville Smart Oven came to live here a few weeks ago, and the first hoop I had it jump through, other than toasting bagels (at which it performs marvelously, by the way) was my favorite white pizza — potatoes with rosemary and garlic.

For pizza, the hotter the oven the better, and a stone is essential for a crisp crust. The Cuisinart oven went up to 500F, but most countertop ovens, including the Breville, max out at 450F. Even so, I still got a pretty nice pizza, on the stone I saved from the defunct Cuisinart. Preheating the oven/stone for at 30 minutes gets the stone good and hot; skimp on this step and you risk an underdone crust.

Then there’s the question of how to get the pizza onto the stone in one piece. My regular peels are too big for the little oven, and my giant spatula is too small for a 10-inch pizza. Corrugated cardboard to the rescue! I cut a piece just wide enough to fit into the oven cavity. After rolling the crust out on the counter, I dusted my homemade peel generously with a mixture of white and semolina flours, and assembled the pizza on it. It slid off and onto the stone like a charm.

Get the recipe…

Grape Schiacciata

I always feel a little presumptuous posting about regional breads, especially ones that are new to me. On the other hand, limiting myself to writing about breads that I’ve known intimately since childhood would mean an entire blog about Pepperidge Farm White Sandwich and Dutch Dill breads, and that might get old fast.

I hope it’s understood that most of what I write here about new breads comes from what I can glean from travels with my virtual surfboard and a fairly good sampling of bread books like these. I also hope it’s understood that I welcome anyone who has any firsthand knowledge of these things to correct, expand upon, or otherwise edit my neophytic commentary. I particularly invite my Italian friends to chime in on this one.

That said, here’s what I think I know about schiacciata:

  • Schiacciata is a Tuscan flatbread, similar to — or is it a type of, or another name for? — focaccia.
  • Schiacciata is pronounced something like skya-CHA-ta, and means “crushed” or “squashed” in Italian.
  • Schiacciata can be plain or filled with fruit, vegetables, meat, or cheese.
  • Grape schiacciata (schiacciata con l’uva) is a traditional version that celebrates the Tuscan grape harvest. It typically uses wine grapes (with seeds). I used seedless black grapes.
  • Schiacciata can be made as a rich, sweet pastry with eggs and lard, or as a rather lean dough. The one I made contains just a little sugar and olive oil in the dough, and a little more on top.
  • Anise seed is not an uncommon addition to sweeter versions of schiacciata. Fennel seed, which I used, seems to be less common but not unheard of.
  • I did not find semolina to be an ingredient in any of the schiacciata recipes I looked at. I included some in mine because I like the hint of golden color and nutty flavor it adds to dough, and because I’m wild like that.

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Mezze for Daring Cooks

The 2010 February Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Michele of Veggie Num Nums. Michele chose to challenge everyone to make mezze based on various recipes from Claudia Roden, Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid.

Once in a while, it’s nice to catch a break.

I do love challenges, I really really do, honest, but sometimes it’s okay, when you realize that it’s the day before Daring Cooks posting day and once again you’ve procrastinated the month away, sometimes it’s okay to be able to say to yourself, “Relax, these are things you’ve made before. Stop hyperventilating, why don’t you, and just make supper.”

So, pita bread and hummus. Delicious and familiar. Does it count as Daring that I mixed it up, just a little, by throwing a roasted red pepper into the hummus, making half the pitas with sourdough starter instead of yeast (best pitas I’ve ever made, by the way), and adding some za’atar-spiked olive oil and my favorite middle eastern dip, baba ghanouj, to the platter?

No? Well, it was good, anyway.

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Focaccia

focaccia

I don’t usually bake on request — I’m just curmudgeonly that way — but there are exceptions to everything.

Last weekend I visited North Carolina for a family meeting and was treated to fall leaf color and some wonderful Southern hospitality from my cousin P and her husband J. Grits, creamed home-grown corn, and barbecue complete with Southern-style cole slaw were just a few reasons why my palate was very happy I made that cross-country trip. When P mentioned that they were looking for a good focaccia recipe, I thought it was the least I could do.

I think I got the better end of that deal — thank you, thank you! — but the focaccia is still pretty good.

Focaccia can be crisp or soft, plain or topped, or even sweet. This one is soft, and delicious with a sprinkling of salt and fresh herbs.

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