Sunday, January 22, 2012

An Italian Dinner

This weekend I decided to make an Italian Dinner.
Yes, it was good enough to warrant capital letters.

First up was focaccia.

 I started off with Anne Burrell's focaccia recipe
but I couldn't leave well enough alone
and decided to change out the toppings.

Hey, what else did you expect from me?

The ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups warm water(100 - 110 degrees)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon French grey sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm, not hot or cool, place until the yeast is bubbling, about 10 to 15 minutes. 

In a bowl  combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture.  Mix with a stiff spatula for a couple of minutes until the dough has come together.

Then, pour the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead it for at least 6 minutes, adding a sprinkling of flour to the board and to your hands whenever the dough becomes too sticky to handle.  Work until the dough becomes smooth and soft. 

Coat the inside of a large bowl lightly with olive oil and return the dough to the bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.

Coat a large jelly roll pan with about 1/4 cup olive oil.

Put the dough onto the jelly roll pan and begin pressing it out to fit the size of the pan. Turn the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. After you have stretched the dough to fit the pan, then stab the dough with your fingers.  Stab it all the way to the pan.  Do it again and again.  This is what gives focaccia its characteristic dimpled appearance.
Put the dough in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with some coarse grey sea salt, chopped fresh rosemary and freshly cracked black pepper. Bake the dough until the top of the loaf is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool before cutting and serving.

Add the yeast to warm water (100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit).  Add the sugar and stir.
Allow to sit for 10 to 15 minutes.  If the mixture becomes foamy like above, then the yeast is alive and active.  If nothing happens, then start over with a new packet of yeast.

The recipe directions directed me to mix this with my stand mixer's hook attachment.  The only problem?  I don't have a stand mixer.  Guess I'll be doing this by hand.  I did start out with a firm spatula, though.

Then I switched over to kneading by hand.  Every so often I found that I needed to add a bit of flour to both the board and to my hands to keep the dough from sticking.  I kneaded this for perhaps eight minutes until the dough was smooth and soft.

Then I turned the dough into a greased bowl and set it aside to rise.  It took about an hour or so for the dough to double in size.

Chef Anne Burrell's recipe called for an additional 1/2 cup olive oil being poured into the baking dish before the focaccia dough was placed there.

I started out with about 1/3 cup olive oil in the pan.

 The dough has risen.

And I turned it out.  The recipe directed that I gently, but persistently push the dough out to the edges of the pan.  And this is when I realize that the recipe has a flaw.  Where is all this extra olive oil supposed to go?

Per recipe directions, I turned the dough over, but there was still a great deal of oil left in the cooking sheet and it was threatening to splosh over the sides of the pan.  I decided to drain some of the oil from the pan before baking.

Allow to rest in a warm place for one hour.

One of focaccia's signature features is the dimpled top.  This was achieved by pressing my fingers down through the dough and all the way to the bottom of the sheet pan.*

Before baking I sprinkled 1/2 tablespoon fresh chopped rosemary, 1 teaspoon grey French sea salt and 1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper over the top.

*No sheet pans or focaccias were hurt in this process.

 Bake at 425 for 25 to 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, I heated some extra virgin olive oil, some Herbes de Provence and garlic powder in the microwave for about 25 seconds.

Now we have a dipping sauce for the focaccia.  Many people like to add some freshly ground black pepper and some freshly grated sea salt to the herbed olive oil.

After the focaccia was made it was time 
to turn my attention to the rest of dinner.

I decided to make Baked Stuffed Pasta Shells.
So the first step was to make Ricotta.
Once again I am using Ina Garten's recipe for 

2 cups vitamin D milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl.  Line the sieve with two layers of cheesecloth that have been dampened with water.

Pour milk and heavy cream into a heavy pot.  Add the salt and heat over medium heat until boiling, stirring often.  Turn off the heat and add the vinegar.  Stir and let sit for one minute.

Pour the mixture into the sieve and allow the mixture to drain at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.  The longer it sits, the firmer the ricotta will be.

Remove the ricotta to a container and discard the cheesecloth.  Cover and refrigerate for up to four to five days if not using immediately. 

The sieve and cheesecloth are ready.

After the mixture has come to a boil
the vinegar is added.

The whey separates from the curds.

Notice how much is in the sieve at the beginning.

After 30 minutes the whey has drained,
leaving only the curds,
or ricotta.

Now I can make the rest of dinner.

I found a recipe online that I kinda, sort of followed.
The ingredients listed below are what I used for the dish.

Baked Stuffed Pasta Shells

24 jumbo pasta shells
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups ricotta
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 cup pasta sauce

Bring water to a boil in a large pot.  Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and the pasta shells.  Cook according to package directions.  Drain and cool immediately with cool water.  Drain and place open side down on paper towels.

In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients except for 1/4 cup mozzarella and  the pasta sauce.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place a thin layer of pasta sauce in the bottom of a 11 x 7 x 1.5 inch baking dish.

Spoon the cheese mixture into the shells and arrange, open side up in a single layer in the baking dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the shells.

Cover loosely with foil and bake for 35 minutes.

Remove foil and add the remaining 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese over the top.  

Bake 5 minutes more.

The shells have been cooked and are now cooling off.

Stuff and place in a baking dish that has been coated 
with a bit of the pasta sauce.

The shells are stuffed.

And now they are covered.
Bake according to recipe directions.

And dinner is served.

This is the best focaccia I have ever eaten.
It is not dry like most focaccia I have had at restaurants.

As a bonus, it was also very easy to make.

The stuffed shells were also good.
I loved the flavoring in the stuffing.

1 comment:

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Orchidgal, will you come cook for me?