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This fun food brings out creativity

Recipe: Garden-variety focaccia decorated with whimsy

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The finished product: Edible art.
(Photos: Debbie Arrington)

It's OK to play with your food, especially when making focaccia.

This simple Italian flatbread can be a blank canvas for garden-inspired edible "art." Use cut vegetables, tomatoes and herbs as your "paint."

Using sliced peppers, tomato, onions and more, create geometric designs or whimsical flowers. Clusters of sliced cherry tomatoes can become bouquets of appetizing blooms.

Slice toppings about 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Dip parsley or cilantro in lemon juice mixed with water, so those leaves will retain their green color during baking.

Then, have fun. Garden-variety focaccia is something the whole family can help create.
A bread machine speeds up the dough-making process. The actual baking takes less than 25 minutes.

Too hot to turn on the oven? This focaccia can be "baked" on the grill.

Garden-variety focaccia
Makes one large loaf

Ingredients:

1-1/4 cups water (room temperature)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons bread machine or quick-acting yeast
Additional olive oil as needed
Lemon juice, optional
Coarse sea salt
Parmesan cheese, optional
Decorations: Sliced peppers, tomatoes, olives, onions, scallions, mushrooms, parsley or other vegetables and herbs.

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Use a variety of vegetables to "paint" a picture.
Instructions:
In the bowl of a bread machine, combine (in order) water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, flour, 1 tablespoon salt, sugar and yeast. Process dough in bread machine. (Dough also can be made in advance and refrigerated up to 24 hours.)
With olive oil, oil a large rimmed baking sheet. With oiled fingers, gently spread dough onto baking sheet. Don't worry if it doesn't stretch all the way; the dough will spread as it relaxes.

Set the dough and baking sheet aside in a warm place, out of drafts, and let rise until about double in size. (On a warm day, this takes about 20 minutes; on cold days, up to an hour.)

Meanwhile, prepare toppings. Slice peppers, tomatoes, onions, olives or other toppings 1/8- to 1/4-inch thick. Dip any green herbs such as parsley in lemon-infused water.

When ready, pat dough down evenly with your palms. Arrange decorations as desired, pressing the pieces down gently into the dough just a little.

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Satisfied with the picture? Brush with olive oil, sprinkle
with salt, and pop it in the oven.
When complete, brush the entire top surface and decorations lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Bake focaccia until top is golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate pan front to back in oven after half the time to assure even baking.

Remove focaccia from oven and transfer to a wire rack or bread board to cool slightly. Serve warm with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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