Tuesday, 18 August 2009
The taste of summer
The last couple of days here have been glorious sunshine, the kind of summer I long for now. I think I've mentioned before that I didn't used to be a summer person, and in some respects I still thrive in the autumn (like Siri, it's the spiced warm flavours and more wintery recipes that dominate my repertoire), which is probably why our shrugging off of the hot weather here and holidaying in the New Zealand winter felt more like a bonus season than a missed opportunity for beach trips and sunbathing.
However, there are many things about summer that draw me in every time, and make me realise that what I really want is a true mix of seasons rather than the seemingly eternal "blah" that most people associate with the British weather (it's not that bad. Well, not always at least). There are two things for me that would make me wish for longer summers, and that's tomatoes and bread. Throw basil into that mix, perhaps with a dry white wine and you've got me, hook, line and sinker.
You can probably guess that we spend most of the summer combining tomatoes and bread as much as possible. Okay, frankly I tend to force this into the depths of winter if I can, so it's not strictly a summer thing, but we all know that those summer tomatoes beat everything else hands down. Usually I roast a bunch of tomatoes whilst making bread and then we have dinner that involves dipping bread into warm roasted tomatoes and their juice. Then suddenly last week I was hit with inspiration, and honestly, I can't believe I hadn't done it before. This time I took some semi-dried tomatoes, chopped them up with some of their oil, tore a whole load of basil and mixed them together, then poked the mix into my rising dough.
The result? Heaven! N said he thought it might be the best thing I've ever made. Fortunately I'd made a huge batch, so for lunch the next day I sliced the pieces in half and made sandwiches. Oh-so-good. So, before the summer is over, before those light evenings disappear, make some of this, pour yourself a glass of wine and relish that vitamin d while it lasts.
Semi-dried tomato and basil focaccia - makes lots.
I cut it into probably 8 pieces, and careful it is very hard to resist not stuffing your face with all of them, there was nearly a fight in our flat over the portions. N won, in case you're wondering, because coming between that man and food is a dangerous business and no mistake (it's almost as bad as coming between Sniff and food, and you don't wanna go there).
500g strong white flour (or plain if you're out, like I was)
15g fresh yeast (or 10g dried instant)
50ml olive oil (the better the quality, the better the bread)
320ml water (I weight mine for accuracy)
Large handful of basil
semi-dried or roasted tomatoes (it's up to you, I used some from a local deli, but next time will just roast my own: punnet of cherry tomatoes, halved and laid cut-side up in a roasting pan, spray with oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar if you like it, sprinkle of salt and some more basil, cook at 190C until just going black at the edges, which will depend on the size of your tomatoes, usually about half an hour for me)
Place the flour and yeast into a bowl with a pinch of salt and stir (if it's fresh yeast crumble it over the top of the flour), make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in the oil and then the water. Mix until just coming together and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and kneed for about ten minutes, until it is smooth, elastic and no longer sticking to the work surface. Alternatively, place in a mixer with a dough hook and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place bag into the bowl, slightly oiled and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm draft-free place, covered with a cloth.
Meanwhile, oil a large sheet baking tray (like a shallow swiss roll pan).
Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back gently and then place the dough in the centre of the oiled pan and gently spread it out to the sides using the balls of your hands. You can oil your hands it if helps. Leave to rise for another 45mins or until almost double again.
Meanwhile tear the basil and place in a bowl with either a dash of olive oil, or oil from the semi-dried/roasted tomatoes. How many tomatoes you use is up to you, I like to have lots, so used a large handful. Chop the tomatoes into about thirds and toss with the basil. Leave to stand for five minutes.
Preheat the over to 200C. When the dough has risen, gently poke bits of the tomato and basil mix into it reasonably evenly all over it, any leftover oil rub over the dough. Then cook for 25-30mins until just going golden at the edges. Remove from the over and stand for five minutes before eating.