I believe in Romance with a capital R. My Grammy Thompson was adored by her beloved Teed before and after they were secretly married. My parents met on a blind double date and walked down the aisle twelve months later. My husband Shawn and I were introduced by mutual friends (yep-another blind date). One week later a different set of mutual friends tried to get us together, only to realize we’d already been introduced. Then there is one of my favorite romantic stories involving my brother Jay, his (now) wife Leah, and a loaf of rosemary focaccia.
My brother, like a lot of guys, was pretty quiet about his romantic interests. After all I am his big sister and telling me about different girls he was interested in would have been weird in that sibling “ew cooties” kind of way. However what was a guy to do in the days before the internet and cooking channel if he needed food advice? His choices were at the time limited to A) buying a cookbook B) buying a cooking magazine or C) calling his big sister. Which is what lead to me giving my baby brother advice about dating food.
Truthfully I don’t remember the whole menu, but I do remember one food I strongly recommended he make because it was guaranteed to impress – focaccia. The tricky part was I had to teach him how to do it over the phone. He managed the proofing of the yeast and initial mixing of the flour just fine, but I could hear that he’d run into a problem when he started to knead the dough. Jay had me on speakerphone since his hands were sticky with dough (remember this was over twenty years ago when the closest thing to skype was the George Jetson’s phone). What I heard was a whole lot of nothing. Here’s how the conversation went –
“Why aren’t you grunting?”
“Why should I?”
“You’re supposed to be kneading the bread dough, not just rolling it around!”
“I am kneading it, you just can’t see me!”
“Well then I need to hear you huffing and puffing with the effort of kneading.”
“I am (huff) putting effort (puff) into kneading (grunt) this dough!!!”
“Better. Do that for ten minutes. It should feel like a baby’s bum soon.”
“How the heck (grunt) am I supposed to know (huff) about baby’s butts (puff)!?!”
A few phone calls later he had the focaccia in the oven and something simmering on the stove. When I asked my brother how his date had liked the dinner (and especially the focaccia) he told me, “Great.” Why is it that brothers are so reluctant to give post date details?
It wasn’t until a few years after Jay and Leah were married that I finally got to hear the inside scoop of how the focaccia was actually received. My sister-in-law said the date was indeed fabulous (after all she married my little brother!!) and after dinner Jay had given her the rest of the focaccia to take home. She was going to visit her parents the next day and wanted to show them this amazing bread which this fabulous guy had made for her. She took the remains of the focaccia, balanced carefully across the palms of her two hands, and walked into her parent’s kitchen. Since it was Sunday morning, and Leah was gazing so reverently at this piece of bread, her mother thought she was bringing them some sort of large, misshapen communion wafer. She looked up at her mom and said, “Mom, he made this for me!”
If you haven’t ever tried it focaccia is a flattish bread filled with herbs then drizzled liberally with olive oil before baking. Perfect for nibbling on before or with a meal. I often serve it with a shallow dish of extra virgin olive oil.
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 package yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1-2 teaspoons honey
3 1/2 – 4 cups flour (I do a 4:1 ratio of white to whole wheat but all white is fine)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup olive oil plus 2-3 Tablespoons more
4 Tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, divided
1/2 cup sautéed onion slices (optional)
1/2 cup pitted olives (optional)
Proof the yeast by mixing the warm water with the honey and sprinkling the yeast over the top. When yeasts bubbles to the top of the water and “foams” it is good to go. Start with 3 cups of flour/s, salt, 1/4 cup olive oil, and 2 Tablespoons ripped up rosemary leaves. Mix together into a shaggy ball and plop out onto a flour covered counter to knead.
Knead for ten minutes, adding enough flour to keep dough from sticking to your counter. Huffing and puffing show you’re putting some effort into this. The dough should be quite soft, though not sticky when you’re done. Place into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and let rise until double about 2-3 hours.
Once dough has doubled punch it down and knead a few times to remove any air bubbles. Roll or pat it our to about 1/2″ thick rectangle and place on parchment covered or lightly oiled jelly roll pan. Cover with tea towel and let rise another 30-40 minutes. About half way through the second rising preheat oven to 400ºF. When dough has doubled again make several random indentations with the tips of your fingers. Then drizzle 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil over the top (it will pool in the indentations) and sprinkle the remaining 2 Tablespoons of rosemary leaves over top. If you want you can sprinkle with a touch of coarse salt.
If you want you can add sautéed onions and or olives. It starts to become a pizza without the cheese or sauce, but focaccia is flexible enough to handle a couple more ingredients.
Pop in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes or until the focaccia is nicely browned. Serve as is on a board so people can pull chunks off as they eat or with a small bowl of olive oil.
Disclaimer: Just because this bread is so awesome doesn’t necessarily mean that whomever you make it for will want to marry you. But it could happen…