With the sun shining and the second May Bank Holiday just around the corner, it’s time to bring out the cocktails. That, plus the fact that I handed in the first draft of my cookbook this morning – all 8 chapters, 100 recipes and 50,000 words (yep, I might have overshot the word limit a fraction but that’s what the editor’s for, right?) of it. Let’s celebrate. Continue reading
What’s your favourite type of Italian bread?
Ask this question of almost anyone and you’re on pretty safe ground. Italian breads are an established part of our everyday vocabulary (even if not always part of our diet in an increasingly carb-phobic society), pizza being one of the most popular foods in the world and cafes, shops and delis all over the place serving up ciabatta, focaccia, grissini and panini (the singular of which, panino, means none other than ‘little loaf’).
Slightly less familiar, perhaps, is schiacciata, a flattened bread which takes its name from the Italian ‘schiacciare’, to flatten or to crush. In Sicily they stuff their schiacciata with potatoes, spinach, meat or cheese while in Tuscany it’s an altogether more basic affair, not unlike a focaccia. The topping can be as simple as a sprinkling of salt or scattering of tomatoes, although they also make an unusual, and utterly delicious, version with seeded black wine grapes, rosemary and a little scattering of sugar to celebrate the Tuscan grape harvest. Continue reading
In between school and university I took a year out. I’d originally intended to head straight on to my next level of studies, but as friends around me started to plan their various adventures abroad, it dawned on me that this kind of opportunity is pretty much once in a lifetime. When again, until you’re of retirement age, do you get the chance to take a whole year to yourself, to see the world, try new things, do what you want and go where you please?
I spent the first half of the year working in this restaurant to save money for my trip. Working long hours on London wages and living at home with no rent, I managed to save up enough to spend the next three months in South America and another two in Thailand and Australia. The year was unforgettable and – as with most of my memories – could easily be measured in experiences with food; from clearing tables and calling checks to drinking pisco sours and eating ceviche, discovering pad thai and tom yum, picking beetroot out of sandwiches (the downside of Australia . . .) and enjoying BBQs on the beach (. . . the definite up-side). Surprising then, that with all the unusual sights, sounds and smells on offer, one of my most enduring memories of food from our travels is that of the ice cream. Continue reading
Treacle tart is something of a British classic. Frugal and filling, it also has a delicious decadence, its humble ingredients coming together in a dessert with much greater elegance than the sum of its parts. Loved by generations of Brits, this syrupy tart achieved global recognition a few years back when chosen as the favourite pudding of a certain bespectacled wizard – for Harry Potter to choose treacle tart over Fizzing Whizzbees, Cauldron Cakes and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, it must be something pretty special.
Having recently eaten some good, but slightly unremarkable, focaccia at Gemma Tuley’s Fulham restaurant, Manson, I wanted to have a go at making my own. I’m loving The River Cottage Bread handbook at the moment so I decided to trust Daniel Stevens’ detailed directions and advice and give his recipe a go.
My reward was an incredible pillow of beautiful golden bread, studded with salt crystals and speckled with crispy baked rosemary. The shallow finger wells collected little pools of fruity olive oil, and a good ten minutes of dedicated kneading resulted in a slightly aerated dough with little air pockets that made this really look and taste like the real thing. Focaccia seems to be a pretty forgiving dough, so if you’re fairly new to bread baking, I definitely recommend giving this a go.
Homemade Italian Focaccia (quantities adapted slightly from The River Cottage Bread Handbook to match my 7g sachet of yeast)
700g strong white bread flour, Italian ’00 if possible
7g powdered yeast
14g fine salt
480ml warm water
1 tbsp olive oil plus extra to finish
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves stripped and torn
A good sprinkle of flaky sea salt
Combine the flour, salt, yeast and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough. Add the oil, then turn the dough onto a clean worksurface and knead until smooth and silky, around 10 mins.
Shape the dough into a round and return to the cleaned bowl. Wrap the bowl in a black bin liner and leave to rise in a warm place for around an hour (this weekend it was so gorgeous I left mine to rise in the sunshine in the back garden). When it has doubled in size, tip it onto the work surface and press into a rough rectangle.
Place dough on a lightly oiled baking tray and leave to rise, wrapped back up in the bin liner, for around 30 mins.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees C/Gas Mark 10 (basically the highest your oven will go). Press your focaccia dough all over with your fingers to form deep pockets (these will later collect all that delicious oil, salt and rosemary), drizzle with olive oil and scatter with salt and rosemary.
Bake for 15 mins, then turn down the heat if browning too quickly, and bake another 5-10 mins.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly. Focaccia is delicious served warm, so if you don’t want to eat it straight away, you can reheat in a low oven just before serving.
Once you’ve made this recipe you’ll come back to it time and again. You can also try different toppings and flavour combinations – I love it with black olives and a sprinkling of red onion which caramelizes beautifully on the golden crust. Or sundried tomatoes distributed through the dough, different pestos and cheeses, nuts, thyme instead of rosemary . . . the list in endless.