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Washington Square-Tai Chi and the best Focaccia in the world.

March 3, 2010

When I was in San Francisco last week I passed by Washington Square in North Beach. I have the greatest memories from when I lived there of passing by early in the morning and seeing all of the older people practicing their Tai Chi. I would feel more peaceful and relaxed just watching them.

My relaxed state quickly changed when I saw the line at my favorite focaccia place on the corner called The Liguria Bakery. They pull out huge sheet pans of fresh baked focaccia dripping with olive oil and topped with perfectly crushed, sweet tomatoes. The bottom of the bread is crispy, the inside so tender as it pulls apart and the top is moist and full of the purest simple flavor of good olive oil and tomatoes. When they run out they close. That’s it. I came back and decided that I had to make some focacccia. They key to a great dough is to mix in some semolina flour with the regular flour. The semolina gives the bread a more coarse texture and a fuller flavor. I used 1/3 semolina and 2/3 all-purpose flour. A little water, a package of dry yeast and a pinch of sugar to get the yeast hopping! Knead until elastic, rub it down with lots of olive oil and cover to rise to double. Press it down on a baking paper lined sheet pan and set the oven to 425.

While the oven is heating and the dough is getting a little bit of a second rise you can make your toppings. I sautéed one sliced red onions until golden and then reduced ½ cup of good balsamic vinegar into the onions until they were sweet and glazed. A few healthy turns of black pepper to give it a simple heat.

The other half got sweet cherry tomatoes tossed with a touch of red wine vinegar, salt and basil. A few spears of asparagus on the grill press went on. I put goat cheese on the asparagus and tomato side and freshly grated Parm on the red onion side. Ready to bake.

The family was at the table as I slid the golden focaccia onto a cutting board. I whacked it into slices with a pizza cutter and we all became very quiet as we consumed the whole thing. My daughter adores asparagus, my son loved the red onions even though the flavor was strong. I was so happy to have a golden crust which comes from the high heat transfer of the stainless steel sheet pan combined with the abundance of olive oil. By not spreading the toppings to the edge of the dough I got a nice golden crust as well. The bread itself was really moist and rich yet light. The weight of the toppings keep the dough from rising too much in the oven . By cooking / treating the toppings before they went on you are able to marry the flavors. Then as the toppings cook further on the dough they let off their juices, combine with the surface of the bread and become even tastier. It is all about layering flavors! Enjoy!

Eat well, enjoy life, be happy

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