If you notice the description of my blog or if you're someone who has been here before, you may think that I've "changed directions" in my approach to cooking.The truth is since I cook at home now all the time, I cook for my wife who happens to be of Indian ancestry from the South American country of Guyana. As a Hindu, she doesn't eat of the cow. By choice, she doesn't eat the flesh of any meat on land or air. She does eat fish, thankfully. So, it is my task to daily create delicious, healthy meals for the two of us. Like tonight. We both love bread or "roti" as Neeta calls all things bread, and we both like "spicy" so a hot bean soup is an ideal choice (especially tonight -it's freezing out and my little Caribbean honey's teeth will be chattering when she walks through the door). Think of bean soup as a kind of dahl, and you get my translation of Italian food for Guyanese tastes. I've had to expand my pantry a bit since we're married, but I'm still cooking the same as always, except without meat. It's like Friday in the old days. Now then, in spite of the fact that I prefer to use my own recipes or those derived from recipes I've seen others use, I rely on a couple of cookbooks for certain dishes like foccacia. Where I get creative is in creating toppings. I also like Lidia Bastinach's recipe for bean soup (changed a little by me). The two books pictured above are both excellent. "In Nona's Kitchen" by Carol Field provided the basic focaccia recipe I use. It involves first preparing a "sponge" or starter dough using yeast, warm water and 3 tablespoons of flour and letting that get bubbly. You then add olive oil and milk at room temperature and mix that with 3 cups of flour. I have learned that using a scale to measure my flour assures the right amount. After mixing the sponge and flour together, I place it in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for an hour and 15 minutes till it's doubled in size.
Before rising and 75 minutes later, after rising.
Next, I stretch the dough out on a well oiled sheet pan, cover it with a kichen towel for 10 minutes (to let it relax), then stretch it again. I then cover it and give it 20 minutes more to rise again.
Here's the stretched dough after 20 minutes, ready to be topped and baked.
Focaccia can be topped with anything you wish (like pizza). For this one, I used carmelized onions, two skinless sardines (in olive oil) which I broke up and spread on top and sundried tomato (in olive oil) pieces. This was a mistake on my part since baking at 425 degrees for 25 minutes or so blackened the tomato pieces. It tasted fine, but next time, I will add the tomato pieces at the end of the cooking time.
The finished focaccia
As for the bean soup, you have to soak the dried white kidney beans overnight or for at least 6 hours in water. You then drain the water and cook the beans in 3&1/2 to 4 quarts of water (Lidia says 5 quarts) for about an hour with a couple of bay leaves and 3 tablespoons of olive oil. When the beans are tender (not before), add salt and cook for an hour or more till the liquid is reduced. Before finishing, prepare a "soffrito" by frying 6 cloves of garlic sliced and a good amount of red pepper flakes in 1/4 cup of olive oil for two minutes. Add that to the beans and let simmer for 5 minutes more. You may have to add more salt. A bowl of hot bean soup and a slice of focaccia is just what the doctor ordered on a cold winter night!