Herb and Tomato Focaccia


I shared this recipe with the Boulder County Farmers Market and it appeared on The Boulder Daily Camera  together with other in season produce in Colorado, and a word from a Colorado farmer about tomatoes. 


Since we return from Cinque Terre I’ve been on a focaccia-making kick. With rosemary, or mixture of herbs like oregano, french tarragon, thyme and parsley; with roasted garlic, and the latest one topped with tomatoes and an assortment of herbs from the garden. Focaccia is my favorite bread to make at home. It’s easy to get lured by this bread. It’s delicious, simple to make, and I’d dare say, foolproof.  

herbfocaccia

I used to make focaccia when I worked at a small restaurant as a pastry chef more than a decade ago. Making this bread was easier than making any other bread because I didn’t have to tiptoe around it in fear of rough handling it and ending with a deflated, hard bread. This is a flat bread, so it was already a winner, regardless of how busy I was, or how much I neglected it, it always worked. Because it is a flat bread, part of the process is to use ones fingers to stretch the dough on the sheet pan, poking and pushing to create its distinctive dimples and to force it to fill the pan all the way to the edges. 

I hadn’t made it at home in a few years and the experience of having it in its homeland, tasting it and enjoying its light crumb, crunchy edges, and slightly chewy texture, made me crave it again. In Cinque Terre, we found many Focaccerias, but we also found the flat bread in small produce stores where they sold it by weight. They had several broken pieces of different sizes for the customers to choose, then they weighted it, and handed it in parchment paper to keep the oil from getting all over our hands. 

herbfocacciawithtomato

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Heirloom Tomato Salad + Garden Lessons: Diversity

Summer reaches its peak when the markets begin to fill with tomatoes. Our garden tomatoes are still green, as each cultivar fills in with new blossoms and sets fruit. At the market were we go there’s a farm stand that each week displays an array of tomato cultivars with a rainbow of yellow, orange, purple, pink, green, red, tie-dye, and multiple shades of colors, shapes of cherry, grape, elongated, round, boat and even deformed, flavors high in acid and sweetness, and nuances I never knew existed. All different, all beautiful, all tomatoes. 

tomatobasilsalad

This year we planted five different tomato cultivars: cosmonaut, speckled roma, black cherry, cherokee purple, and pink Berkeley tie-dye, to create a microsystem of diversity and insure a harvest for different uses. The speckled roma to make sauce, the cherry tomatoes to sprinkle in salads or make a quick pasta pomodoro, the cherokee purple and cosmonaut to slice in big slabs and eat simply adorned with a sprinkle of salt. Next to them we planted a couple of miniature red and yellow pepper plants, a few purple, globe, genovese, and lemon basil plants to impart flavor {or so I read}, and marigolds to ward off pests. Purslane made its home sharing space underneath the tomatoes helping break the hardpan, clay Colorado soil, while growing deep roots and releasing nutrients from the sublayer. 

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Roasted Carrots with Pesto and Hazelnuts

For the first time we have a good carrot crop growing in the garden, thanks to the netting keeping the rabbits out, plus good seeds from Seed Savers Exchange. We have harvested a few carrots each week and there are still many roots underground and many fronts blowing in the wind, plus I just sowed more for fall harvest.  I love going out to the garden and uprooting vegetables from the earth, snipping greens and herbs, and plucking squashes, tomatoes and beans. It is a primordial connection to life, to the earth, and to our true nature. 

With the summer heat the carrots get spicier and not as sweet as I’d like them, so I roast them at 400°F for 20-25 minutes in a foil pouch to make them sweet and tender. I’m not always excited to turn the oven on when is 95 degrees out, but when I do, I take the opportunity to do a large batch of roasted vegetables, like beets, carrots, cauliflower, and somehow potatoes always make it in the mix. Thankfully, it has been cool and rainy here in Colorado for the past week and today a little sun is coming through the window, the grass waking up plush and green, and the bees getting busy in the garden with the many flowers sprouting from the rain. 

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Cinque Terre, The Home of Focaccia

Sitting on the balcony of our tiny apartment in Cinque Terre admiring the open sea, the birds flying free over it, the waves crashing against the ancient rocks, the sun slowly and patiently setting on the far horizon, holding my husband’s hand on one side and a glass of wine on the other, has been one of the most inspiring and calming experiences of my life. I felt alive. 

We arrived at Cinque Terre after a stressful ride from Genova to La Spezia where we parked the car, loaded our suitcase with bottles of wine, and took the train to Rio Maggiore. This, we had read, was the easiest way to get to the Cinque Terre villages, and the best way to ensure a parking spot. On the train, we wondered if we could open one of those bottles to drown our nerves after our first encounter with the Italian way of driving on a narrow highway composed of bridges and tunnels. 

A quick train ride to Rio Maggiore through, yet another, tunnel with round openings where we could see the bright turquoise sea and the resplendent sun for seconds at the time, increased our giddy excitement. Rio Maggiore is the first village from the south {or last from the north, you choose your orientation}, it has a marina, and around from it a rock beach against a tall cliff that echoes the waves pushing the rocks, back and forward; a supernatural experience, especially at night, with closed eyes, and the cool breeze brushing against our bodies like the whispers of spirits. 

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Summer Squash Salad + Garden Lessons: Fences

One of the advantages of having a backyard is the possibility of growing food, cultivating flowers, both for our enjoyment and for the bees, and creating a nurturing environment for all . Since we moved in to this house we have slowly reshaped the backyard to create a garden where us and the critters can live in harmony. Something the bunnies don’t want to align with their eating habits. In past years they ate the carrot, beet and peas sprouts, chomped on the beans, herbs, and flowers, dug the bulbs: daffodils, tulips, and garlic, and reigned the garden beds at night and whenever we were not around.

This year, after the first few offenders began digging bulbs and eating sprouts, I asked Scott to build some sort of barrier to give the plants a chance to grow and give us a decent harvest. For the ground level beds, where the flowers and a few herbs reside, he built a PVC pipe structure and wrapped bird netting around it, for the two raised beds where I planted and sowed all the vegetables, he used flexible pipes and created a dome on which we laid the netting securing it on the edges with bricks and clamps. It worked. Or so I thought. 

 

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Slow Food Nations Denver

Slow Food Nations, a gathering of people from around the world centered on food, made Denver the epicenter of conversations that revolved around food freedom, sovereignty, taste, cooking, farming and everything in between. On Saturday morning a panel led by Slow Food’s founder and president Carlo Petrini addressed, with contagious passion, a flock of hungry for fair food followers on the streets of downtown Denver. 

“We must have global consciousness around food,” said Petrini, “a vision that is local, that allows us to know, respect and support our local producers, our local food, and our local community… at the same time we ought to have a global vision of food and value other communities the same way.” 

This is the second time Slow Food has chosen Denver to bring voices around real and fair food for all. In 2015, the conversation revolved around Slow Meat, questioning the meat production processes and systems established in the U.S. and the record meat consumption of our growing society. 

Slow Food changed the way I see food. For more than a decade I have followed this grassroots organization and its philosophy that good food is a right not a luxury. It was Alice Waters who first introduced me to Slow Food when I became enchanted by her vision and passion for supporting local farmers, for eating a summer peach with the pleasure and excitement of a once a year occasion, and for her relentless dedication for change in our food system, beginning with educating children through direct immersion in school gardens.

This weekend I met Alice Waters, I sat in two of her talks and relished in her ideology of “seducing people through taste,” as she said. Waters, as many of the important public food figures who visited us this weekend, believes that if we put our efforts together we, all of us, can help change our toxic food system. “I can’t think about food without thinking about the land,” she said, and her sentiment carried out through the conversations and the different events held over the weekend. Denver chefs and visiting chefs from around the country and the world put together dinners to honor the land, the sea, and the cultures, including flavors of Mexico, sustainable seafood, heritage grains, plus many workshops in techniques like sourdough bread, cheesemaking, butchering, and more. 

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Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, Visiting an Acetaia

On our second day in Modena, Italy, we drove south toward Bologna, specifically to the town of Vignola, in search of traditional balsamic vinegar. The morning started with a light sprinkle and we were hopeful the sun was coming out just for us because we had travel all that way for a lovely vacation. The GPS took us through narrow roads to a small town in the middle of the fields as the rain picked up clouding the view ahead. “You have reached your destination,” the GPS lady said, after we turned in to a residential neighborhood. The gated house looked too small to be a factory, of anything, let alone vinegar, but the name on the wall “La Cà dal Nôn” confirmed we had indeed reached out destination.

We rang the doorbell and a few seconds later the gates opened and from behind came out a woman, “Hello, my name is Mariangela,” she said, “welcome to our acetaia.”

We walked to the back of the house where two vine-trees wrapped around a pergola, I pulled out my umbrella and hunched over myself to conserve warmth as the morning turned colder. Mariangela pointed to the vines, “These are our two old ladies, we had three but one died suddenly,” she said as she padded on one of the vines, “these are Lambrusco vines, from my great grandfather’s time.” They still produce some fruit, she told us, but any stressors can kill them. “The rest of our grapes come from the vineyard not far from here,” she said.

The light sprinkle of rain and the cold air were no match to my faux leather jacket and I kept shivering, enough that she suggested we went inside to the tasting room. I laid my umbrella on the floor and walked toward the plastic chairs set up classroom style around a table full of balsamic products in front of a chalkboard with a drawing of the balsamic making process. “Let’s start with the name of our acetaia, the word nôn means grandpa in dialect,” she said, “and means house, so this is ‘the house of the grandfather’ since it was my great-grandfather who established the acetaia.” 

Culture and Balsamic Vinegar, a bit of history
Traditional balsamic vinegar is a product ingrained in the culture of Modena and the Emilia Romagna region, where the locals have produced it for hundreds of years, and kings and emperors loved and praised its unique flavor; luckily for us, Mariangela shared her contagious passion and exquisite knowledge of the history. The story goes that ancient Romans used to make a honey-like grape syrup called Saba all through the empire using the grapes of each region; in Emilia Romagna they used Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes, mainly. To make Saba, they cooked the pressed juice of overripe grapes in large copper cauldrons to evaporate water and concentrate the sugars yielding a dark brown syrup; Mariangela told us that scholars believe that balsamic vinegar came from the fermented saba that underwent a vinegarization and aging process.

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Living Paris

Paris is a place to celebrate big milestones; our tenth wedding anniversary, my 40th birthday, our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and my husband’s 40th birthday. Each trip devoted to learning more about the city, walking its streets, sitting at a café and drinking a few glasses of house rosé or a couple of coffees, visiting the farmer’s market and fantasizing about having a small flat around the 3rd or 11th arrondissement from where we could walk to the bakery every morning and buy croissants and pain au chocolat, or go to the market on the weekends to buy fish and groceries and flowers and sit on a bench eating an authentic falafel wrap. Each trip is an attempt at Living Paris

The RER train from Charles de Gaulle airport to Paris links the reality of a heavily diverse city to our fantasies of french speaking, macarons, and duck confit. La Gare Du Nord is a chaotic, organized mess where patrons rush through walking highways to the train platforms. Underground the city is ugly, unsettling, and real. 

The city up the stairs is a breath of fresh air. Out of its cavernous veins the dream of Paris becomes a reality. 

Les Marais 
Our first trip we rented a studio apartment in Les Marais neighborhood near the Arts et Métiers train station. I love that station. Copper walls that arch around the ceiling holding cooper wheels and pinions suspended beneath the ancient streets, and the submarine-like windows displaying magical images from Jules Verne’s science fiction books.

My husband got up early each morning to try the different bakeries around the block until he finally settled for Earnest and Valentine, the pain au chocolat won him over. From our studio on the Rue Montgolfier we walked to Rue de Bretagne to buy groceries and rotisserie chicken for lunch or dinner, depending on our plans for the day. On the same street we found the Marché des Enfant Rouges, an indoor market and dining hall, and around the corner we lunched on bento boxes at Nanashi Asian Bistro.

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Bloom!


Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.
Hans Christian Andersen


Pink, white and lilac blooms dress the garden today. In the past couple of weeks the garden has grown like children do when you haven’t seen them in months.

Our backyard is a 30×30 yards of grass and a few trees. No perennial flowers {yet.} A tricky situation when one is hoping for pollinators and butterflies to visit.  I converted a sliver of real-estate into my daily gardening classroom, before I brave myself to tackle the rest of the yard.
arugula blossomsAfter harvesting the arugula about five times and increasingly facing the face-scrunching bitterness, each plant grew a stalk in the middle {bolted} with four-petal, white blossoms that are piquant, sweet and nutty. The chives and radishes are also waving their blooms in the unsettled June weather. chive blossoms Continue reading Bloom!