Phoning it in with Focaccia Bread.

Sometimes I have a very hard time sleeping. My nephew told my mom that there is always stuff going on in his head because he has four brains, and I understand the feeling, though I don’t think I’ve got four brains, just one that’s hyperactive and not doing much of anything but keeping me up.

I usually just pour myself a giant glass of milk and eat something soothing, like homemade bread toast or this pint of strawberries, and read a book, but I’m reading a very good book and it’s so good that I don’t want to finish it right now because then it will be over. I’m not ready for that. So I’m kind of phoning this one in, sharing an old recipe, and hoping that the plicketing of my keyboard will lull me to sleep.

Focaccia bread, my stand-by for something easy and impressive that you can make with stuff you already have. File this one under cheap and easy.
Focaccia bread, my stand-by for something easy and impressive that you can make with stuff you already have. File this one under cheap and easy.

Focaccia Bread

  • 1 (1/2-pound) Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup cooled (but still warm) potato water
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one packet)
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 1/4 cups flour, divided (1/4 cup will be used to kneed)
  • 1/4 cup herbs de provence (don’t have it? I’ve used any old dried spice – basil is nice, as is rosemary)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided (1/4 tsp. to be sprinkled on bread before baking)
  • 1/2 pound roma tomatoes, thinly sliced crosswise, or as many small tomatoes as you think look good on top
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (but not minced)
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella or parmesan cheese
  • Two basil leaves, chopped

I never use a mixer for this – I do everything by hand, and I promise, it’s neither strenuous nor is it exhausting. Or I wouldn’t do it. But you can use a mixer, or anything you like.

Generously cover potato with salted water in a small pot and simmer, uncovered, until just tender, 10 or so minutes. Drain water into a measuring cup. Cool potatoes slightly, then mash until smooth.

Add sugar to potato water. Sprinkle yeast over mixture and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast. I have really crappy yeast at the moment, so I let it stand longer – if it doesn’t start working within ten minutes, swear out loud, dump the whole thing, and either start over or cry and then go to the store and buy new yeast. You’re only allowed to cry if you’ve invested in a full jar though. I make a lot of bread so I buy it by the jar, and that’s a lot of little organisms to have failed, so crying is okay.)

Measure out four cups of flour and dump into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup herbs de provence, and one tablespoon of salt. Add the mashed potatoes and oil, then pour in your yeast mixture. Mix it all together until the dough is very soft and sticky, then drop the dough onto a floured surface to begin the awesome task of kneading. This is my favourite part of bread-making, and is particularly delightful with this bread because of the herbs, which smell like warm sunny countries that I haven’t been to.

As usual, you’ll want to knead this until the dough is quite elastic, about eight to ten minutes.

Scrape dough into a lightly oiled large bowl and cover bowl with oiled plastic wrap. I always oil my stock pot, and the lid, and put it in there with the lid on for this. Let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Generously oil a cookie sheet.

Punch down dough (do not knead) and transfer to baking pan, then gently stretch to cover as much of bottom as possible (dough may not fit exactly).

Cover dough with oiled plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2hours.

Preheat oven to 425°F in lower third part of oven (near the bottom, but not the whole way).

Soak tomatoes for ten minutes in balsamic vinegar, then arrange tomatoes on focaccia (do not overlap), then sprinkle with basil, cheese, chunks of garlic, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and drizzle with remaining 1/4 cup oil.

Bake until center is firm, and top and underside is golden (lift to check), 20 to 25 minutes.

Loosen focaccia from pan with a spatula and slide onto a rack to cool slightly. Cut into pieces and serve warm or at room temperature.

Well, now … that didn’t work. I’m still awake, and nowI am getting all food-lusty for bread. Nick is snoring away in the other room, and I’m all stimulated. Probably the strawberries, which may have been a bad idea – too much fruit = the scoots. And now I’m oversharing. Make the bread. People will love you and think you’re the best, and then you can be all, “I am! That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” Ugh. Maybe I do have four brains. Four parrot brains that don’t really do anything but annoy me at bedtime. Good night.