Tag Archives: Herbs

Topping! Focaccia three ways

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Focaccia brings back bad memories of suburban sandwich shops: dry, flat squares of bread, topped with desiccated bits of herbs and with a dense crumb. Or dry, thick-bottomed things, smothered in greasy ‘Italianate’ toppings like ham and cheese.

Nancy Silverton’s quip about bad focaccia sums it up well:

Here in Los Angeles, those dense, cake-like squares of dry, flavorless bread, topped with rosemary if you were lucky, always seemed like a bad cliché — something Italian American restaurants offered for their bread service as a way to appear authentic or simply to stick with a theme.

Since then, I’ve encountered another kind of focaccia from real bakeries: thinner, simpler, with deeper uneven dents made by the baker’s fingers (or the apprentice’s).

I began this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) focaccia wondering which type of focaccia will come out of the oven. I needn’t have worried. This recipe and I are going to be good friends; actually, my friends and this recipe have become good friends.

After the initial kneading, and during the 36 hour rest, the dough ballooned and coyly promised fabulous thing. Fresh from the oven, it delivered on that promise: we inhaled lightly crusty, pillowy, chewy bread.

Since I can’t help tweaking recipes, I tried a few sweet and savoury toppings. Each one worked well and showed off the bread’s versatility.

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Herbs, pomegranate and Persian spices

The weather is fickle. Perverse, even. Christmas holidays passed with the sun mostly playing hide and seek behind clouds. Now, as we pack away our beach stuff and get back to work, we are hit by a heat wave. Like, 43°C (109°F).

The air was a humid, too-warm blanket. Even the lawyers and bankers forgot to look sharp. I just wanted to eat endless slices of watermelon while dreaming of air conditioning. 

Rather than eat endless slices of watermelon (watermelon obsession is a story for another day), I concocted a herb and pomegranate salad sprinkled with Persian spice mix, served with cool white feta cheese and baguettes. The salad was lively and crisp, and the spice mix – with rose petals, cinnamon and other good things – was just a little bit intoxicating. This helped to revived flagging appetites and gave us the will to get through a humid, windless evening.

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This salad was (wildly) adapted from one of my favourite cookbooks: The Legendary Cuisine of Persia.

Herb and pomegranate salad: this came from a cheese and herb spread. The original recipe is a simple mixture of a few herbs, finely chopped and mixed with labne, feta and butter. By serving the cheese separately (and omitting the butter), I had a clean, refreshing herb salad.  

The first time I made the cheese spread, mixing the herbs like this seemed to violate all the rules. But after the first mouthful, the rules didn’t matter. I was in love with the beautiful cacophony of flavours, like a jazzy troupe going all out with its best improvisation. The great thing is you can mix and match the herbs with different effect each time. This time, we had brooding coriander playing off sassy dill and mint, while baby spinach became friends with everyone.

Spice mix or advieh: this decadent spice mix was adapted from a special occasion mix, Advieh No. 3. Shaida’s introduction evoke the aromas of Persian kitchens:

A popular advieh blend from the south of Iran includes coriander seed, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom and black pepper … some mixtures will however also include nurmeg or cloves. […] Advieh from the sunny uplands of the Persian plateau and from the north-western region contains dried rose petals which give a rare and heady fragrance when sprinkled over delicate rice dishes during the steaming process.

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