With Labor Day behind us and the kids back in school, summer has come to an end. Well, not officially. We still have a couple of more weeks before fall takes over the calendar and thankfully, Mother Nature is not hastening the transition. The temperatures are still steamy and, more importantly, the tomatoes are still coming in. Loads of them!
There is no comparison to fresh local summer tomatoes and what is available the rest of the year. In winter, I’ve been fooled too many times by perfectly round, ruby red, “vine ripened” tomatoes for sale at the grocery store. They are tempting and they look gorgeous, a sight for sore eyes especially in the dead of winter, but inevitably I get them home, onto the cutting board, and slice into a mealy mess. Nothing but disappointment. It just means that as soon as the real tomatoes start coming in during the summer, I enjoy them any and every way I can: raw, baked, roasted, simmered, and grilled, in all sorts of salads, soups, sauces, pies, or straight off the vine, warm from the sun, with a sprinkle of salt. And don’t forget sandwiches.
An easy dinner this time of year is the classic BLT. Perfect for those nights when after school activities and homework seem to be all consuming- dinner needs to be quick, filling, maybe even portable. This BLT comes with a few twists and is always a hit, focaccia instead of sandwich bread, avocado replaces the mayo, and the bacon gets baked in the oven (hassle free bacon- no splatters!).
Bacon cooked in the oven is the way to go… whether for BLTs or Sunday morning breakfast. This method is hands free which means no standing at the stove patiently turning the bacon over and over while hot grease splatters and blisters your hands (and stovetop).
Simply line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a metal cooling rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the bacon on the metal rack in one layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but start checking after 10 minutes. Some people like their bacon fatty, while others want a nice crunch.
This focaccia is well worth the time… if not for a BLT, then to be enjoyed another way. The recipe yields quite a bit, perfect for making once and freezing half to be pulled out in a pinch for appetizers, sandwiches, soups, or just enjoyed on its own. For lunch I toasted leftover focaccia, spread the halves with pesto, and topped with sliced tomato. Heaven.
*recipe adapted from Marcella Hazen
For the dough
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
6 ½ cups unbleached flour
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
For baking the focaccia
Heavy duty rectangular metal baking pan, about 18”x14”
Extra virgin olive oil for smearing the pan
A baking stone (optional)
A mixture of ¼ cup extra virgin olive, 2 Tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon salt
A pastry brush
Dissolve the yeast by stirring it into ½ cup lukewarm water, and let sit for about 10 minutes.
Combine the yeast mixture and 1 cup of flour in a bowl, mixing them thoroughly. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, ¾ cup water and half the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly until the dough feels soft, but compact, and no longer sticks to the hands. Put in the remaining flour and ¾ cup water, and mix thoroughly again. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and add only as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable, soft, but not too sticky.
Take dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times, until it is stretched out to a lengthwise. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. Rotate the dough a one-quarter turn, pick it up and slap it down hard, repeating the entire previous operation. Give it another one-quarter in the same direction and repeat the procedure for about 10 minutes. Pat the kneaded dough into a round shape.
First rise- Smear the middle of the baking sheet with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, put the kneaded, rounded dough on it, cover with a damp cloth, and leave it to rise for about 1 ½ hours.
Second rise- After 1 ½ hours, stretch out the dough in the baking pan, spreading it toward the edges so that it covers the entire pan. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 450°. If using a baking stone, put the stone in the oven and preheat for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake.
After the second rise, keeping the fingers of your hand stiff, poke the dough all over, making many little hollows with your fingertips. Beat the mixture of oil, water and salt with a small whisk or a fork for a few minutes until you have obtained a fairly homogeneous emulsion. Use a pastry brush to spread the mixture all the way out to the edges of the pan. The liquid will pool in the hollows made by your fingertips.
Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Check the focaccia after 15 minutes. If it is cooking faster on one side, rotate the pan accordingly. Bake for another 7-8 minutes until golden brown all over. Lift the focaccia out of the pan using spatulas and set on a wire rack to cool.
The focaccia is best enjoyed the day you make it, but can also be frozen and reheated in a hot over for 10 minutes.