There are a lot of great combinations in life, and books and food is definitely one of them for me. Think of being curled up in your favourite chair with a good book, something to munch on and a cup of tea, then that’s one idea of what my heaven could look like. Throw in some rain (with the rain outside and me inside) and that scene is almost perfect.
When I first joined this group of bloggers who continue to be inspired on a gastronomic level by the books they read, I was living in Cochin with a wonderful library which was almost in my backyard. I might miss my weekly shopping, but you could be sure I would be at the library every week no matter what. In fact, if they didn’t see us at the library, they would enquire after us!
This library is one of the things I really miss about leaving Cochin. Two places I visit without fail during our trips back home at this library and my baking supplies store!!
Unfortunately, reading is something that doesn’t happen much these days because, as I keep mentioning, good libraries aren’t what Goa is about but that’s another story. The long and short of it is that I haven’t been joining my fellow bloggers in their monthly book inspired cooking for sometime now, mostly because I haven’t been able to find the books.
This month’s choice was Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes and, you guessed it, I couldn’t find that title either. However, I have seen the movie which stars Diane Lane in the leading role. I know the movie is a lot different from the book, yet the basic story line of both book and movie are much the same.
Based on the life of the author, it is about a middle aged American woman who is recently divorced and decides to deal with her depression with a trip to Tuscany in Italy. Once there she comes upon Bramasole, an empty house, up for sale in the village. She makes an impulsive decision to buy it and there starts her story with fixing up the house starting with the plumbing right through to everything else.
The book (and the movie) deals with her discovery of herself through another culture, its food, its people and their way of life.
Frances Mayes also provides some recipe of typically Tuscan food in her book. Since I didn’t read the book or see the recipes, I decided to let myself be inspired by the region and make something typically Tuscan.
I chose to bake Schiacciata Con L'Uva. Quite a mouthful, but what that is, is a sweet focaccia (flatbread) stuffed and topped with grapes. Schiacciata, by the way, means flattened or squashed.
In autumn, “la vendemmia (the harvesting season of wine grapes) in Tuscany is celebrated with the preparation of this bread. I’m guessing that this also happens to be a way to use up some of those grapes that don’t make it to the crushing process.
This was something I had bookmarked quite a while ago, but didn’t make because there were no grapes to be had anywhere. While I don’t get the variety which is used for this bread, it is the season now for beautiful, juicy and sweet black seedless grapes. And so the perfect season to be inspired to bake something Tuscan.
This anise flavoured schiacciata is sweetened with sugar and redolent with the aroma of olive oil and rosemary. Shaheen (a.k.a The Purple Foodie) has sent me some fresh rosemary, oregano and sweet marjoram some time back. As I couldn’t use up all the herbs, Shaheen advised that I freeze them. And so I had fresh (well, frozen) rosemary to put in this flatbread.
I halved and slightly adapted this recipe from the Tuscan Recipes site. I had to make some adjustments for the amount of flour, as I needed more than specified in the original recipe. A detailed step-by-step tutorial on making this bread can be found here.
For the base:
2 1/2 to 3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp dry active yeast
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp anise seeds
1 to 1 1/2 cups warm water
1/2 cup milk
For the topping:
1/2 kg big black, juicy grapes (I used less; mine were seedless)
¼ cup powdered sugar
a few twigs of fresh rosemary (optional) plus some more
3 to 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Mix the milk and water and warm it slightly. Dissolve the yeast completely in this milk-water mixture.
Place the flour, salt and sugar on a clean surface and mix. Form into a small heap with a well in the center. Slowly pour the dissolved yeast into the centre, mixing with the flour until all of the yeast water is incorporated.
Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, like for bread, until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the dough and place in a warm place until it has doubled in size.
In a small saucepan warm the olive oil with some of the rosemary. As soon as the rosemary starts to sizzle, remove saucepan from the heat. Remove the rosemary (throw it away) and let the oil cool.
Grease a rectangular baking pan. Roll out the dough to about 1 cm thick (this thickness is important or your bread layers will be very thick), and wide enough to have the dough overlapping the edges of the pan by about 2-3 cm all around. Place the dough on the pan and cover it evenly with the grapes, leaving very little space.
I used a pie plate because I didn’t have the right sized rectangular pan.
Dust the grapes with the sugar and remaining rosemary, then drizzle the olive oil over all of this. Fold the edges of the dough over on top of the grapes around the border, pinching the corners to make the schiacciata rectangular in form.
Bake the schiacciata at 180C for 30 minutes. You might want to place another pan underneath, because the grapes' juice could drip out over the edges of the pan. Let cool and serve with a bit of honey on top.
This recipe serves 6
We found the schiacciata alright, nothing extraordinary. I think I expected to be something very special or unusual, which could have been unrealistic. The grapes I used were sweet and the texture of the bread was just great but together they just didn’t seem right.
Now, it might be that I didn’t use the right variety of grapes, or maybe this bread is right only with wine, which we don’t drink. I would however recommend you try this bread at least once because you just might like it.
The bread was excellent and I shall use this recipe (minus the sugar) to make other flatbreads, maybe even focaccia or a pizza.
This schiacciata is also getting YeastSpotted!
Please check here to see what my friends were inspired to cook this onth.