Spring has been slow in arriving to the North Carolina mountains. Last year when we returned from Florida, the dogwoods were in full bloom. This year they are just beginning to show their colors. It has been rainy and dreary all week.
My Brother and SIL followed us back and spent a day with us before heading home to Michigan. Barb is an antique’s dealer so we spent the day shopping in my favorite haunts. The Screen Door in Asheville was a treasure trove for her. While she was busy loading up on goodies I spent some time in their wonderful bookstore. They have a huge selection of books relating to cooking, gardening, and interior design and they are all around half price. The sale rack is even better. This is what I came home with, along with a Mark Bittman book.
The Lady in the Palazzo; At Home in Umbria by Marlena De Blasi is the story of an American chef, Marlena, and her Italian husband looking for and finding a home in Orvieto in the Umbrian region of Italy. It is full of tantalizing descriptions of food, scenery and evocative characters. It also includes recipes.
Marlena De Blasi’s description of this walnut focaccia bread was enough for me to run to the store for walnuts. Imagine eating chunks of this bread with warm honey dribbled over it and sliced pears on the side while sitting before a roaring fire on a cold day. That’s what I am doing right now.
Note: I halved this recipe and did the first mixing, kneading and rise in my bread machine, adding the walnuts after the first 30 minutes. I hit pause and removed the dough and worked them in.
2 1/2 cups tepid water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt
6 cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup stone-ground whole wheat flour
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal
additional water, if necessary
2 cups walnuts, lightly toasted and lightly crushed
Place 1/3 cup of the tepid water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle or crumble in the yeast. Stir to dissolve and let stand for five minutes.
Meanwhile mix together 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 cups of tepid water, and the fine sea salt. Add the liquids to the yeast, add the three flours, all at once, and stir to form a rough mass. Turn the mass out onto a lightly floured work surface and begin to knead. If the mass seems dry, sprinkle over a few drops of additional water at a time until the mass is workable. Continue to knead the mass until a soft, satiny, and elastic dough is achieved; flatten the dough into a rough rectangle and sprinkle over the walnuts. Work the nuts into the dough and reshape it into a rough ball. Set the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set it to rise in a warm, draft-free place.
Allow rise until the mass is doubled. This might take as long as two hours. Deflate the dough and cut it into three pieces, shaping each one into a flat round. Place the rounds onto oiled baking sheets which have been lightly sprinkled with cornmeal; cover with kitchen towels and allow to rise for half an hour.
Press your knuckles or fingers into the dough, creating lovely little pockets which will eventually hold oil and salt. Cover the rounds once again and let them sit for the last rise, about an hour. Now sprinkle or grind sea salt over the breads. Do this generously. Drizzle them with olive oil, hitting the pockets when you can, and bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 20 to 25 minutes or longer, until the are puffed and nicel golden. Transfer immediately to racks to cool slightly before serving. These can be successfully reheated in a lively oven for a very few minutes.