Cooking for one person is hard. Very hard. Recipes are simply not made to feed one, which means I usually end up with loads of leftovers. A good thing, except that in the following days I eat the same thing over and over and over. Even with the most delicious meal ever, boredom eventually sets in. So, whenever there’s a family gathering, I feel personally obliged to cook. People to pawn food off on? Yes! Not eating the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next three, four, five days. An even bigger YES!!!
There’s only one slight problem. Ok, lets call it a major problem. While my immediate family – my mom, dad, and sister – have slightly different palates than my own and may be a touch less adventurous, they tend to try whatever I whip up with gusto. My extended family however…Well, they like their mayonnaise based potato salads, burgers with American cheese, and super chocolaty boxed brownies. Adventure is not their middle name. For some reason, this hasn’t stopped me from bringing tupperware containers full of “strange” food to family gathering. And the last was no exception.
After reading a recipe for grape focaccia with rosemary on the Smitten Kitchen website, I was immediately intrigued and, admittedly, slightly perplexed by the combination of flavors. When, several days later, I read a surprisingly similar recipe for Fresh Goat Cheese on Flatbread with Grapes and Rosemary Oil, in Pam Anderson’s Perfect Recipes for Having People Over, I became convinced the grapes, rosemary, bread combination must be one that worked. I wanted to give the focaccia a try because 1. I had the time to deal with a yeast bread for once and 2. I liked the idea of a light, fluffy bread instead of the more dense, crunchy flat bread. The grapes, which I found at the farmer’s market, and the rosemary, which hails from my backyard, were both shoe-ins for the concoction. The goat cheese I pondered for a brief moment until I saw freshly made, local goat cheese at the farmer’s market a mere few steps from the grapes. And the goat cheese was in too.
I followed the Smitten Kitchen recipe for the focaccia, which produces two loaves. Uncertain of the seasoning that should be used given the addition of the goat cheese I made one with the original sugar-salt combination and another with salt and pepper. While the sugar gave the dough a shiny, crunchy top layer the black pepper won out flavor wise by miles. It paired perfectly with the rosemary complimenting, rather than overpowering, the sweet, roasted concord grapes and the rich, creamy goat cheese. On top of the flavor, for some reason the pepper sprinkled dough had that texture I wanted – light and fluffy – while the sugar coated dough did not. I can’t tell you why, some mystery of food chemistry perhaps. Regardless, this proved a surprising victory for pepper over my epic, sugar-loving sweet tooth.
Pepper and sugar aside, the focaccia is in my book, and my family’s, a keeper. While they did not devour the tender slices of focaccia topped with juicy grapes, subtle seasoning, and a touch of goat cheese like I did, they gave it a try. And they seemed to approve. Trust me, they’d tell me if they didn’t.
Grape Focaccia with Rosemary and Goat Cheese
adapted from the Smitten Kitchen
While my version below calls for pepper, the original used sugar. If you want to try that version simply follow the link above. You can always do what I did and try one of both! Regardless of which you follow, I strongly recommend reducing the original amount of salt, 2 teaspoons, to no more than 1 1/2 teaspoons as the recipe below dictates. Even that may be too much. In this case, proceed with caution when it comes to the salt.
Makes 2 focaccia or about 32 appetizer sized slices
3/4 cup (177 ml) warm water (105° to 110°F)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) milk, slightly warmed
1 1/2 teaspoons (6 grams) sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons (5 grams) active dry yeast
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
6 tablespoons (90 ml) olive oil
1 1/2 cups halved Concord, red or black grapes, seeded
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary needles, chopped
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
4 ounces goat cheese (for serving, optional)
In a large bowl stir together the water, milk, sugar, and yeast. Let the mixture sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the flour, salt and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir well. Place the dough on a flat, well-floured surface and knead for 8 minutes.
Brush a large bowl with a generous amount of olive oil. Put dough into the bowl and brush the top with additional oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rise in a cool place until it doubles in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Press the dough down with a floured hand. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and divide it into two balls. Brush a large baking sheet (or two small ones) with olive oil and place the balls of dough on it. Brush the tops with more oil. Set aside for 20 minutes, lightly covered with a kitchen towel. After 20 minutes, dip your fingers in olive oil and press and stretch each ball of dough into a 8 to 9-inch circular shape. It will be dimpled from your fingers. Cover again with the towel and let it rise for another 1 1/4 hours in a cool place.
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Brush tops of dough with remaining olive oil and sprinkle grapes, rosemary, coarse sea salt evenly, and black pepper over the dough. Bake for 15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and puffed around edges. Let cool before serving. Ten minutes before serving pull the goat cheese out of the fridge. Cut each loaf in to 9 to 12 slices. Spread each slice with a small amount of goat cheese or simple place the goat cheese next to the bread and allow guests to spread as desired.