Discover more from Letters from Tuscany
We need your help for a book proposal
plus an excerpt from Cucina Povera: a seasonal grape focaccia
Hello readers and friends, is it finally autumn where you are? Or maybe are you slowly shifting into the warmer season, if you are down under?
I thrive in the changing seasons. I love this September light: the air is sweet, vibrant, golden. I would never go back home, I would stay indefinitely outside chatting at the table in front of the studio, admiring the changing light, enjoying these last summer evenings.
As summer is slowly loosening its grip, I am searching for new inspiration in pantry ingredients and working on new recipes for our cooking classes and for this newsletter. We’re also tackling another big project.
We’re taking this week off as we need to finalize our book proposal. The topic is still top secret, but if we will have positive news you will be the first to know! We’ve been working on the proposal during the summer. The idea has grown on me during the past year of classes, now I’m excited and eager to dive deep into another book.
I called this a "week off," but we are actually not going on holidays. We have three cooking classes this week and in the meantime Livia is beginning her new adventure at the kindergarten: she is spending a couple of hours per day in her new school, with new friends and teachers, so it will require some adjustments for her and for us. That’s why I am writing to you today, on a Monday, instead of the usual Wednesday, so that I can free my mind from the newsletter schedule, but you will recieve the next letter from us, as always, next Wednesday.
Now I need some more time to polish the proposal. This is when you come into play. I have some questions for you. Pick the one that if you closer to your heart, or answer them all, help us make this proposal irresistible!
What motivates you to buy a new cookbook?
What are you searching for in an Italian cookbook?
What is your struggle when you follow a new recipe?
What is your main struggle in the kitchen right now?
What are you searching for in a recipe? Inspiration? An insight into its origins? Clear instructions? A general method? Step-by-step photos?
When it comes to ingredients, how accessible are for you fresh vegetables? Or do you usually buy frozen or canned ones? Do you buy your vegetables from farmers’ markets? CSA boxes? Supermarkets? Or do you have your own vegetable garden?
Speaking of Italian ingredients, what are the most typical cheeses you can find? What do you find typically Italian in your neighborhood or in the closest shops? Flour? Canned goods? pasta?
What is missing in contemporary cookbooks that you would love to see featured?
If there's something that makes our previous books stand out, what it is?
Today I’m sharing a seasonal grape focaccia from Cucina Povera. This week’s recipe is unlocked for ALL, as a thank-you note for participating in our questionnaire!
Consider this recipe as a canvas for your sweet, sticky, jammy focaccias: use wine grapes, blueberries, blackberries, or figs… make it yours, based on what is in season, what you like, and what you have available (hello principles of cucina povera!)
Our latest cookbook, Cucina Povera, shares the wholesome, comforting, and nostalgic recipes of cucina povera—the Italian peasant cooking—that is equal parts thrifty, nourishing, and delicious. You can pick your copy here.
If you already have Cucina Povera, if cooked from it, and love it, leave a review on Amazon, whether you got it there or not. And thank you if you already took the time to write it, we are so grateful!
Speaking of Cucina Povera, here you can find a review and a new recipe:
- , who greatly inspired me during a recent conversation.
Italy's classic pasta e patate (pasta and potatoes) dish, on BBC Word’s Table.
You can also listen to a conversation I had with Andy, Vanessa, and Gio on Sharing the Flavor about Cucina Povera: it covers everything, from our cooking classes to the principles of Cucina Povera. I hope you will enjoy it!
RICETTA - GRAPE FOCACCIA, Schiacciata con l’uva
Come September, everything in the Tuscan countryside revolves around the grape harvest: the vineyards are dotted with people picking grapes in the early morning, and big tractors brimming with grapes slow the traffic around the local wineries. Fat clusters of wine grapes appear in market stalls, and bakeries add a seasonal treat to their menus: sticky, sweet focaccia topped with jammy grapes and rosemary.
Schiacciata con l’uva (schiacciata is the Tuscan term for focaccia) belongs to that special category of enriched breads that celebrates various festivities by adding nuts, spices, and dried fruit to the dough. Among these are pan co’ santi, the spiced bread studded with raisins and walnuts that Italians bake for All Saints’ Day, and schiacciata di Pasqua, a speckled domed aniseed bread that announces the arrival of Easter. These baked goods, steeped in tradition, are made for only a short period of time and their appearance is much anticipated. Every September, I can’t wait to bake this schiacciata con l’uva to celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.
NOTE: Grape seeds are essential to the grape focaccia, where they provide a natural crunch. But if you cannot find red wine or Concord grapes, you can make it with blackberries or blueberries instead. It works perfectly with ripe figs and rosemary too.
FOR THE DOUGH
¼ cup/60 ml lukewarm water
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 g bread flour
1¼ cups/150 g all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
¾ cup/180 ml room-temperature water
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon extra- virgin olive oil
12 ounces/340 g Concord grapes or red wine grapes
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Needles from 1 fresh rosemary sprig
2 tablespoons extra- virgin olive oil
Make the dough: In a large bowl, stir together the ¼ cup/60 ml lukewarm water, sugar, and yeast. Let stand for about 10 minutes, until foamy.
Add the bread and all-purpose flours, the sugar, and all but 1 tablespoon of the room-temperature water to the yeast mixture and mix with a wooden spoon, or knead by hand until you have incorporated all the flour. The dough will be very sticky and not homogeneous. Cover with a damp towel and let rest for 20 minutes.
Add the salt and the reserved tablespoon of water to the dough and mix by squeezing the dough between your hands. The dough should become less sticky and more elastic.
Add the olive oil. With wet hands, pick one edge of the dough, stretch it gently upward, and fold it over itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat. Continue until you have come full circle to complete four “folds” around the bowl. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes, then repeat the stretch-and-fold technique 3 more times, letting the dough rest for 20 minutes each time. The dough should be soft, elastic, and velvety.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 to 22 hours, until the dough has doubled in size.
Remove the dough from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
Oil a 9-by-13-inch/23 by 33 cm baking pan. Prepare the grapes by detaching them from the stems.
Oil your hands and gently deflate the dough, then turn it out into the baking pan and stretch it to fit. Press the grapes into the dough and sprinkle with the sugar and rosemary. Drizzle the olive oil over the dough and let rise again at room temperature for 1 hour.
Arrange one rack in the lower third of the oven and a second rack in the center and preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
Transfer the baking pan to the lower rack of the oven and bake for
15 minutes, then move it to the middle rack and bake for 15 to 20 more minutes, until the focaccia is golden brown and the grapes have collapsed into a bubbling, caramelized jam.
Remove the focaccia from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.
The focaccia can be stored at room temperature for a couple of days, wrapped in aluminum foil.