Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Focaccia

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Liguria can be found on the Italian Riviera, along the northwestern coast of Italy, and it is a landscape that will impress people on their journey through this historically rich and popular region. The capital Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean and home to Christopher Columbus, was a powerful maritime state during the Middle Ages. Today, one can find architecturally impressive buildings, elegant mansions and historic churches — all of which bear witness to Liguria’s glorious past, yet blend in perfectly with modern times. Luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation exists in the mountain regions of Portofino and Cinque Terre and the climate in this mountainous region is mild, perfect for growing vegetables, olives and grapes. Sanremo is one of Italy’s most famous bathing resorts and the place where the annual Italian pop music festival takes place.

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On Saturday, March 29, 2014 the Pesto Championship will take place in Genoa. In the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace, 100 competitors from around the world will compete in the preparation of Pesto Genovese using traditional ingredients and a pestle and mortar.

pesto (480x640)

Ligurian cooking is known for the simple flavors of fresh produce, especially the Pesto alla Genovese mentioned above. Liguria basil is blended with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano to make this famous sauce. It is not only used for pasta, but can also be added to soups, vegetables or rice dishes.

Liguria is a region of vineyards and olive groves that produce excellent extra-virgin olive oils and quality wines, like Ormeasco and Rossese from Dolceacqua, Vermentino, Ciliegiolo and Bianchetta from Genoa, Albarola, and Pollera Nera from the Riviera di Levante and Pigato from Salea d’Albenga.

Seafood and fish dishes are typically fish soups like ciuppin and buridda made with stockfish, as well as stuffed and fried sardines.

Among the meat dishes to choose from are cima alla genovese (cold stuffed breast of veal) made ​​from the leftovers of slaughter such as brains and sweetbreads, etc. along with eggs, cheese, peas and greens or a stewed hare with taggiasche olives, pine nuts and rosemary. The famous stuffed pie of the region is Torta Pasqualina (Easter pie), a thin pastry stuffed with greens, cheese and eggs.

Cima alla Genovese

Cima alla Genovese

Fugassa, a soft and thick focaccia covered with onion slices and olive oil, and the thin farinata, a baked savory pancake made with chickpea flour, are very popular. The traditional desserts of this region are pandolce genovese, amaretti and cubeli (tiny butter cookies).

Antipasto

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La Focaccia Col Formaggio Di Recco – Focaccia with Cheese

The traditional version calls for locally made stracchino cheese–a soft, fresh, creamy cow’s milk cheese. You can substitute crescenza cheese, which is basically stracchino under a different regional name or even a burrata, which is made from fresh mozzarella cheese with a creamy cheese filling in the middle. It bakes down to a stracchino-like texture. All of these are now available in the United States from Bel Gioioso Cheese. You will want something mild and creamy (soft enough to be spreadable, but not liquid) that will also melt. I also like the taste of creamy Italian fontina in this recipe. The King Arthur Flour Company sells 00 Italian flour.

Ingredients

Dough (will make two “14″ pans)

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 ounces/ 284 g) unbleached all-purpose flour or 00 grade flour (this has slightly more gluten than American flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (0.125 ounce (3.5 g) salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces/170 g) water, room temperature

Filling

  • Stracchino or similar cheese, 8 ounces for each 14-inch pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Topping

  • Olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per pan
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

In a mixing bowl stir all the dough ingredients together and continue stirring until they form a ball of dough. Add more water if needed, a few drops at a time, to hydrate all the flour. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Dust the counter with a little flour and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead it for about four minutes, adding flour or water as needed to make a smooth, supple dough. It should not be sticky, but soft and only slightly tacky, almost satiny to the touch. You can also do this in an electric mixer or a food processor.

Cover the dough and let it rest for five minutes, then knead it again for about two minutes. This can also be done in an electric mixer using a dough hook.

Divide the dough into 4 balls of approximately 4 ounces each. Cover them and let them rest for about fifteen minutes before rolling and stretching them.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly mist the baking pan or pans with olive oil spray.

Rub a small amount of olive oil on a smooth counter or work surface to make a circular lightly oiled spot of about the diameter of your baking pan. Take one of the dough balls and place it in the center of the oiled spot and flatten it with your hand. Flip it over so that both sides have touched the oiled surface. Use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough, from the center to the outer edges, to the size of your pan. If the dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes and then continue rolling it (you can start on a second piece in the meantime–it will take 2 pieces per pan).

When the dough is the diameter of the pan, carefully lift it and gently stretch it with your hands, as if stretching pizza dough, to make it larger than the pan and as thin as you can get it without tearing it–it should look like fillo (phyllo) or strudel dough–nearly paper-thin. Lay one piece of stretched dough over the pan and tuck it into the corners to cover the whole surface as well as the inner walls of the pan, with some dough overhanging the pan.

Fill the dough-covered pan with pieces of cheese, spaced about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cheese with a small amount of pepper and salt. Repeat the rolling and stretching of a second piece of dough and cover the pan with the dough, overhanging the outside of the pan so that the top and bottom crusts connect along the rim of the pan. Pinch the two doughs together and tuck the dough into the pan, crimping it with your fingers all around the circumference to make a pie-like edge. Crimp this edge with your fingers to seal the two doughs together to fully enclose the cheese filling. If necessary, trim off any excess dough with a paring knife.

focaccia-al-formaggio1

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough and sprinkle a small amount of sea salt. Use a scissors or sharp paring knife to cut vent holes into the top crust. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the top crust is covered with deep golden brown streaks and sections. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow it to cool for about three minutes. Cut the focaccia into large or medium size squares (not wedges) and remove the sections with a flexible spatula. Serve while still hot.

First Course

zuppa-di-riso-e-verdure-L-K_HkNj

Rice Minestrone with Pesto – Minestrone di Riso al Pesto

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (200 g) rice (use medium-grained, if possible, not parboiled)
  • 1 – 15 oz can borlotti beans or similar beans
  • 12 ounces (300 g) mixed greens (e.g. spinach, chard, cabbage)
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 leek
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Peel and dice the potatoes. Peel and slice the carrots, coarsely chop the mixed greens and dice the green part of the leek. Mince the celery, onion and white part of the leek. In a soup pot heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and white part of the leek until the onion is translucent. Add the remaining chopped and diced vegetables and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the beans, season the mixture with salt and pepper and carefully add the boiling water. Simmer the soup for one hour.

After an hour, stir in the rice and let it cook for 15 minutes more or until the rice is tender. Remove a ladle of just the broth to a mixing bowl. Stir the pesto sauce into the broth and, when the rice is done, stir the pesto mixture into the soup. Simmer for a minute more and serve it topped with grated cheese.

Second Course

fish and potatoes

Sea Bass Filets, Ligurian Style — Filetti di Orata Alla Ligure

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) sea bass fillets, bream or similar fish
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons (20 g) capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 pound (240 gr) green zucchini, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram or dill
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 C).

Sauté the potatoes until lightly browned in half the olive oil and then place them with the zucchini slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the fish filets over them, sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the fish and season everything to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the fish for 15-20 minutes and serve each portion of fish with the vegetables beneath it.

Dessert Course

Olive_Oil_Cake-2

Ligurian Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons or oranges

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan.

Into a medium bowl, sift together the 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk the melted butter with the olive oil and milk.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and citrus zest until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Alternately, beat in the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the side pulls away from the pan. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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I have read that Italian breakfasts are very light, usually consisting of coffee (espresso) or cappuccino and some kind of pastry or bread.  Biscotti are also favorites for an Italian breakfast. Biscotti are a, not too sweet cookie, that is baked, cut, then baked again to form slices of hard biscuits that are often dunked in coffee. Egg dishes, such as frittatas, are usually eaten at lunch or dinner, never for breakfast.

I can remember going to my grandparents’  home around breakfast time and my grandfather would be having a cup of coffee and eating the heel end from a loaf of Italian bread.  This was pretty much his usual breakfast.  I am not sure when Italian-Americans began eating specialty pastries from a bakery, but I can remember Italian bakeries were numerous where I grew up in New Jersey.  I think  the tradition of going to the Italian bakery came about when folks who had just come from church services wanted a special breakfast on Sunday.  I can remember long lines at the bakery counter, didn’t like standing there, but liked those pastries. My grandfather even got into the habit and would bring us pastries when he visited us on Sundays.  He continued the tradition when my children were little and brought us pastries up until the time that he died.  Some of those delicious pastries (just wanted to make you drool) are pictured below. Of course you know they are not a healthy choice.

Sfogliatelle feature luscious mandarin flavored ricotta filling encased in a crispy shell shaped pastry.

Pasticiotti are tender pastry cups filled with either ricotta cheese, vanilla cream or chocolate cream

Frittatas

I recall that most of my breakfasts growing up were the usual cereal and scrambled eggs. Very American.  My mother, however, often made traditional Italian style egg dishes, such as potatoes and eggs, or peppers and eggs or spinach frittata and I will share those recipes with you.  My children weren’t so fond of fritattas when they were growing up, but they like them now as adults, so I like to make frittatas for breakfast when they visit.

A frittata is a healthy and economical dish that you can eat for any meal of the day. It is a dish similar to a French quiche,  an American omelette,  or a Spanish tortilla.  Frittatas generally consist of eggs,  vegetables, cheese, and herbs.

In my house, the contents of a frittata usually consist of whatever leftovers I have in the refrigerator that day. Italians are frugal and know how to use leftovers creatively.

You will want to pick items that have a natural affinity for each other. Think of things that you might find on a plate together anyway, or on a pizza and cheese is a key ingredient in any frittata. Making this dish is very simple as long as you have an ovenproof skillet.  Sauté whatever veggies you are putting into the dish and heat through any cooked meat leftovers.

Here are some ideas:

  • 1 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sautéed until soft, 2 diced plum tomatoes and 4 ounces of diced or shredded Fontina.
  • A bag of cleaned spinach cooked in a skillet with olive oil, salt and pepper, 1/4 pound sliced Prosciutto, some grated Parmesan cheese and some shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • I prefer to use reduced fat shredded cheeses from Kraft or Sargento and substitute half of the eggs with egg substitute to save on calories.

General techniques include

  1. Turn on the broiler.  Place a non-stick skillet with an oven safe handle on the stove over medium heat.
  2. Heat the pan and add 1 tablespoons olive oil.  When the oil is hot add the frittata vegetables, stirring until warm, and then pour the eggs beaten with the egg substitute over the vegetables.
  3. Slowly cook the frittata until the edges start to firm up. When the frittata is cooked about three-quarters of the way through, scatter the top with shredded cheese and move it to the heated broiler.
  4. Set the frittata about 6-inches below the broiler.
  5. When it is just golden brown and puffed up, remove the skillet to your stove top.
  6.  BE SURE TO PROTECT THE HOT HANDLE WITH A HOT PAD SO YOU DO NOT BURN YOUR HANDS!

Spinach Frittata

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion
  • 5 eggs and 1 1/4 cups egg substitute
  • 8 ounces chopped raw spinach (or 1-10 oz. pkg. frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

Heat oil  in a 10 or 12 inch skillet with a heat-resistant handle over medium heat.   Saute onion in the oil until golden, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and stir until wilted.  Remove from heat.  In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the mozzarella cheese. Whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture into skillet with onions and spinach. Return to low heat and cook 8-10 minutes.  Sprinkle the top with shredded mozzarella cheese and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden brown and cut into wedges.

Some Traditional Italian Style Egg Dishes

Peppers and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup thinly sliced green pepper
1/2 cup thinly sliced red pepper
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute (such as, Egg Beaters)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cooking Directions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the garlic and sauté until lightly golden.
Add the peppers, cook 10-15 minutes until they begin to soften.
Cover skillet and cook 5 more minutes until they are tender.

Mix the eggs, oregano, salt and pepper together and por over the peppers in the skillet.
Stir fry the eggs and peppers to allow the uncooked portions to reach the bottom of the skillet.
Remove from heat when the eggs are done to your liking.

Potatoes and Eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 large eggs beaten with 1 cup egg substitute
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, chopped

Cooking Directions

Heat the oil in large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook the potatoes until tender and golden brown. Add the onion and salt and pepper. Continue to cook until the onion is soft, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the egg mixture to the potatoes and onions. Stir fry the mixture turning the ingredients with a spatula over and under until the eggs look cooked to your liking.

Completing the Breakfast Menu

The best accompaniments to the egg dishes featured here are bread and fruit, such as, melon or berries. Certainly a loaf of  Italian bread would be good, but I like to serve Focaccia.

Focaccia  is a flat oven-baked Italian bread which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients.
Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil and salt, and sometimes herbs, and may be topped with onion, cheese, meat, or vegetables.
Focaccia dough is similar in style and texture to pizza dough but is usually baked in a deep dish pan. The bread bakes up thicker than pizza and can be used for sandwiches.

In Ancient Rome, foccacia, was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the fireplace. The word is derived from the Latin word meaning “centre” and also “fireplace” – the fireplace being in the centre of the house.  As the tradition spread, the diverse regions and the different local ingredients resulted in a large variety of breads.  The basic recipe is thought by some to have originated with the Etruscans or ancient Greeks, but today it is widely associated with Ligurian cuisine, a coastal region of north-western Italy.  In America, it is referred to as focaccia bread.

Here is a recipe I have adapted from King Arthur.

This bread is just about the easiest home-baked bread recipe that I have found because it can be made without kneading and is ready in under 2 hours.

No-Fuss Focaccia

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
  • 1 cup King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • Italian seasoning or other herbs of choice
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Drizzle the bottom of a 9″x 13″ pan with 1 tablespoons olive oil.

Combine all of the ingredients and beat at high-speed with an electric mixer for 60 seconds.

Scoop the sticky batter into the prepared pan.  If you spray a spatula (or your fingers) with cooking spray, the dough will be easier to smooth out.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature for 60 minutes.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.

Gently poke the dough all over with your index finger.  Drizzle it lightly 1 tablespoon olive oil, and sprinkle with Italian seasoning and grated parmesan cheese.

Bake the bread until it is golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove it from the oven, wait 5 minutes, then turn it out of the pan onto a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Focaccia



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