Saturday 11 October
We have wanted to have our new colleagues, Antonis and Fani, over for dinner for a while, and this was our first opportunity. We decided to make a very American meal, that is, hearty and basic - with lots of Italian- and French-inspired foods.
Our most fragrant appetizer was Holt's (okay, Carol Field's) focaccia, topped with onions, olives, and rosemary. Fani loved it, so we need to finally give the recipe here.
One Big Pan of Focaccia
1 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup room-temperature water
1 Tbsp. olive oil
500 grams (about 3 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing or mixer bowl, and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Add the 1 cup water and the olive oil, stir in the flour and salt gradually, until it's smooth and finally comes together. Knead on a floured surface until velvety and soft, 8-10 minutes.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Spread the dough out onto an oiled 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 inch baking tray; cover it with a towel and let it rise for 30 minutes, somewhere warm where the cat won't step on it.
Dimple the dough with your fingertips, leaving visible indentations. Cover and let rise another 2 hours, until doubled.
Sprinkle with the following topping:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. coarse sea salt
a handful of oil-cured olives, pitted and sliced
a half a red onion, sliced thin
a teaspoon dried rosemary
30 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 400°F with a baking stone inside, if you have one. Place the pan directly on the stone and spray the oven walls and floor with cold water from a spritzer bottle 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking. Bake until the crust is crisp and top is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the pan immediately and place on a rack, and paint with a little extra olive oil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
We served the warm focaccia with a wedge of French brie, Barbara's goat cheese, sorrel, and arugula spread, and various pickly things: David's peppers, daikon and carrots, olives, cornichons, etc.
Our first course was the result of Barbara wondering what to do with all the green tomatoes left on her vines, and the basil still hanging on beneath: fried green tomato Caprese. We sliced the tomatoes thin, dipped the slices in milk and then seasoned coarse cornmeal, and fried them in bacon grease. We arrayed them on plates with slices of Jungle Jim's burrata oozing creamily beside them, and topped them with the basil leaves. Very American-Italian-fusion.
Jungle Jim's also supplied the main course, a four-pound rump roast; we rubbed it with a mixture of a mashed garlic clove, salt, pepper, thyme, Dijon mustard, and a few Tablespoons of olive oil, and let it marinate overnight. Having gotten the oven going at 450º, we did as for the bottom round a few weeks ago: roasted at the high heat for 10 minutes, in the meantime throwing some shallots, potatoes, and garden carrots into the roasting pan with a little more oil and salt. When the ten minutes was up, we decreased the heat to 250º and continued roasting for about 2 hours total, occasionally tossing the vedge around to brown on all sides. It came out perfectly medium rare, and we served family style, so that everyone could get a piece to their own liking.
Dessert was another of Holt's specialties: Alsatian apple tart, made with Chesapeake apples (found just over the border in Kentucky, so their grower, Backyard Orchard, tells us), from a recipe in the classic Best of Baking HP book. It went pretty well with a choice of limoncello or W.L. Weller reserve bourbon; luckily, our guests live nearby, so they didn't have to drive home.