Sunday, 25 April 2010

Focaccia with Rosemary, Chilli and Lavender

Lately I’ve been having urges to make bread. They are good urges as the results are for me, deeply satisfying.
For reasons that I won’t go into here, I now have more time on my hands and what better way to occupy those hands with the kneading of a big ball of dough. The action of working that dough also seems to relieve all the stresses and strains of life as I pummel and stretch the mixture, which will go on to yield a fulfilling and edible result.

Focaccia originates from Italy and is enriched with olive oil, which gives the bread a soft texture. It can be topped with a variety of things, but rosemary and sea salt is the most common. I chose to take that a step further and used chilli flakes and some dried lavender flowers taking the flavour into another dimension.

1/4 pint hand hot water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp dry active yeast
500g strong white flour
2 tsp salt
6 tblspn olive oil plus extra
225 ml tepid water (more may be needed)
sea salt flakes for sprinkling
a couple good pinches dried chilli flakes
a couple of pinches of dried lavender flowers
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
some semolina or polenta for dusting

In large jug mix yeast and sugar into 1/4 pint hand hot water, stir to dissolve. Set aside for about 10 minutes until the liquid develops a froth on top.

In a large bowl mix together the flour and salt. Stir in the olive oil.
Add the yeast liquid and the water and use you hand to mix into a soft dough. The dough should be quite moist and sticky at first.
Turn out on to a well floured surface and knead the dough for about 10 to 15 minutes until the dough no longer sticks to you hands and it becomes elastic and springy to the touch.
It is important to work the dough really well, making sure you stretch it and fold it back in on itself. This works the gluten from the flour so that the dough rises.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a bowl and smear around, drop the dough ball in and cover with a damp tea towel and place in a warm place to rise, for around 1 1/2 hours. After this time the dough should have doubled in size.
Slip the dough out the bowl on to a floured surface, knock back to remove air bubbles – you should be able to hear and feel the air puffing out – and knead again for 5 minutes. Then roll it out in to a flat oval shape. Not thin but slightly less thick than you want it to be when it’s baked.
Place on to an oiled baking sheet that has been dusted with polenta or semolina, cover with a damp tea towel and place somewhere warm for about 30 minutes until it has risen and doubled again.

While it is rising, preheat the oven to 200C, Gas 6.

When the dough has risen, make indentations in it using your fingertips. Drizzle with olive oil and a little water. Sprinkle with sea salt to give an even and light coverage. Do the same again with the chilli flakes. Sprinkle over the pinch of lavender flowers, but be quite sparing as they have a strong flavour. Then pull of a few leaves at a time off the rosemary and push into the dough.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown and the loaf moves freely on the baking sheet. Slip on to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Letchworth Food Festival 2010: Hurrah!

I’ve been thinking for a while now that it would be good to have some kind of food festival in my town. There have been a some fleeting visits from continental markets over the years and of course our monthly farmers' market, but nothing that truly celebrates the wealth of local produce out there.

Now I’m very excited to hear that Letchworth, the world's first Garden City (I’m quite proud of that!) will be hosting a foodie festival over the weekend of 22 and 23 May.
I’m looking forward to the variety of produce to taste and buy, including bread, meat, fish, jams, fruit juices, muffins and honey and everything in between. No doubt there will be regulars from the farmers' market, but as well as the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire contingent, producers will also be coming from as far afield as Norfolk and Suffolk.
Scanning down the traders expected so far, I see that Norfolk’s Samphire Shop and Brays Cottage who sell the most sublime pork pies. They’d better have plenty as I have plans to stock up my freezer!

There will also be food to eat on the go, including soups, stews, hot and cold salads, goat curry (or should that be curry goat?), paella, chocolate, handmade fruit cream ices and other mouth-watering goodies. Probably best to arrive hungry, I think.

And if that wasn’t enough, in true food festival style there will be cookery demonstrations too, including some famous faces to draw in the crowds.
Michelin Star Chef Phil Thompson, now executive chef of Brocket Hall’s flagship restaurant Auberge du Lac and TV Chef Paul Bloxham (he’s been on Market Kitchen, recently), who runs his award-winning pub, ‘The Tilbury’ in Datchworth, near Stevenage.
The Country Bumpkin, local food forager; cookery author Sally Bee and Xanthe Milton, aka Cookie Girl will also be there amongst local favourites.

Sounds like it’ll be a great weekend to grab an opportunity to have a chat with the stall holders and sample their wares and what’s more, the admission is free!

Letchworth Food Festival is open 10am to 4pm on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 May 2010, located in and around Leys Square and Leys Avenue in the heart of the Garden City.

For further information on the festival visit www.letchworthfoodfestival.co.uk as there are constant updates with new traders added and chefs.

See you there!
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