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Taste: Late Summer, On a Plate

August 31, 2011

To all of my readers,

For those who didn’t know, my background includes years of working in the culinary world. Food is one of my passions. I’m not just talking about eating; I have an appreciation for food as it come from the farm to the plate. I love cooking; I love quality ingredients; I love the presentation; I love the artistry of food. With that, I turn to Dr. Sandra Kolka to write this next piece. I have never turned over the reins of kitchensofa, but Sandra has an  open invitation to come back whenever she wants. Thanks for the indulgence. 


joseph riley land


Jim Kolka, Ph.D., J.D., is an attorney by day and artisanal bread baker by evening, with recipes ranging from a 100 year old grilled naan to a Russian Krendel that will make your eyes brim with tears. Dr. Sandra Kolka is the owner and head culinary master of Sprezzatura, an Atlanta-based kitchen consultancy. They collaborate on most recipes, and have put together some great ideas for a late-summer focaccia that will entice you to either get to the farmer’s market or head out to your own garden and get to work.

Ah, September — truly cool breezes, buttery sunlight, swirling leaves around farmer’s markets, patio gardens bountiful with end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn vegetables…

This recipe for our “House Tomato, Fresh Herb and Goat Cheese Focaccia” celebrates the last hurrah for truly tomatoey-tasting tomatoes grown in the summer sun.

Jim and I developed this recipe after we tasted one similar at a Starbuck’s kiosk at O’Hare in like 1989.  Redolent with a boatload of mixed fresh herbs (your choice, but don’t hold back—it should be crazy-bold), your best olive oil, the freshest sliced tomatoes, cracked pepper, parmesan and fresh goat cheese (also your choice), we’re still getting accolades 20 years later.

Please don’t be wary of working with a yeast dough.  This is a recipe that teaches method, so foccacias will be yours to play with forever.  I promise it’s “foolproof, foolproof, foolproof…”  So rewarding, great chew, your home will smell intoxicating.  Sometimes we pair it with Salade Niçoise, sometimes just great salumi, olives, arugula salad and wine.

– Sandra

Our House Focaccia 

Makes enough dough for three 9 or 10 inch round focaccia or two 10 1/2 × 15 1/2 inch thinner rectangular focaccia. We have successfully refrigerated and baked half of the dough for a day or two, even frozen it, for baking later (a little less rise, but still delicious).

The Dough

2 ½ tsp (one package or 1 Tbsp) active dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

2 ¼ cups water, room temperature (maybe a little more)

2 tbsp. olive oil

About 7½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour–or half all-purpose flour and half bread flour (better structure)

1 tbsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

½ cup chopped fresh herb mixture (see below)

The Topping

A one cup mixture of fresh herbs, stemmed and chopped (we use sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and marjoram), divided (1/2 cup for inside focaccia; ½ cup for top)

One cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

2 to 3 fresh, ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced

8 ounces fresh goat cheese

olive oil to drizzle on focaccia

coarse sea salt to taste


A stand mixer (or good biceps and a wooden spoon/big bowl)

Rectangular metal sheet pan(s) or medium pizza pans

Spray bottle for water is great, but don’t not make it if you don’t have one

Mixing the doughStir the yeast into the warm water in the mixing bowl of a stand mixer; let stand until creamy and “proofed,” about 10 minutes. With the paddle attachment, stir in 2¼ cups water and the olive oil. Add the flour and salt and mix until the dough comes together, 1 to 2 minutes, adding a bit more water if the dough is dry, a bit more flour if the dough is wet (that’s the “as needed” part of a bread recipe). Add ½ cup of the chopped herbs. Change to the dough hook and knead at low speed, 1 to 2 minutes, then at medium speed for another 3 minutes, stopping to push the dough down from the hook collar.  The dough should be velvety and elastic. Knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface for a few minutes until the texture is uniform and only slightly sticky (very therapeutic).

First rise.  Placed the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover lightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours (oh come on, you have stuff to do).

Shaping and second rise. For round focaccia, cut the dough into three equal pieces on a lightly floured surface. Shape each piece into a thick disk; roll out each disk to a 9” or 10” circle for a round pizza pan. For rectangular focaccia, cut the dough in half and shape to fit into two oiled 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 inch sheet pans. Cover the dough with towels and let rise for 30 minutes.

Dimpling and third rise. Dimple the dough with your fingertips leaving indentations that are as deep has 1/2 inch. Note: The baker’s of Genoa do this to trap the little pools of olive oil and salt that flavor the surface.

Finishing the focaccia.  Lightly rub the surface of the dough with olive oil. Lightly salt the surface. Sprinkled the remaining 1/2 cup of herbs and1/2 cup of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the surface. Place the tomato slices (not overlapping) on top, crack some black pepper all over, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and hold back the goat cheese until the last 5 minutes (we have learned this). Sprinkle tomato slices lightly with coarse sea salt.

Baking.  Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake 20 to 25 minutes, opening the oven and spraying with water three times in the first 10 minutes. When the focaccia is brown (peak underneath with a spatula) remove from the oven, add the goat cheese in-between the tomato slices, return to the oven to melt slightly, about 5 minutes. Slide focaccia out onto a cooling rack so that the bottom crust doesn’t get soggy.

(Note: The basic focaccia recipe can be found in “The Italian Baker” by Carol Field, Harper & Row, Publishers, New York, 1985.  This is one of the finest bread books ever published. The addition of tomato, herbs and goat cheese are additions that we have made to Ms. Field’s basic focaccia recipe.  Enjoy!) 

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 3, 2011 12:47 PM

    Okay Joseph Peeps–Listen up! Make this foccaccia this weekend, no excuses. YOU CAN DO IT, don’t be the evil dim bulb. You will make it for the rest of your lives, I guarantee. Now that’s a gift! Great food is forever. Remember that. thank you very much. Sprezzatura!

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