I must admit, I was pretty excited when I saw the ingredients for this month’s Foodie Joust: Fennel, Dairy, and Parsley. I’ve never been a fan of licorice or anise-flavored anything, but sometime over the last couple of years I fell in love with fresh fennel. The anise-y-ness is mild enough to be tolerable, and it evolves into a subtle sweetness when the fennel is cooked. So I immediately jotted down four or five recipe ideas – some old favorites, some new inventions – and ran them by Nick. He wanted to try the focaccia with caramelized fennel, parsley, and goat cheese, so I started working on a focaccia recipe.
I have a little bit of starter going in my fridge for bread-baking purposes, and I thought it would give my focaccia the character that so many recipes seem to lack. I have also determined that the potato in focaccia dough is by no means optional. It gives the finished bread an unmistakable texture and helps to keep it moist, too. And it turns out that focaccia is pretty fun to make. Sure, it takes a while, but you can use all that rising time to prep your toppings, cook dinner, answer emails, do a little online shopping… or whatever it is you like to do in idle moments at home.
For this recipe, I essentially braised the fennel: I sliced it thin, browned it in olive oil, then threw in some white wine and tarragon vinegar and let it cook down until the liquid was gone and the fennel was tender. I figured the caramelization process could finish in the oven. As for the parsley, I chopped it up with the fronds from the fennel andmade a sort of paste with a little olive oil. And the cheese? Well, I picked up an awesome little fresh raw-milk chèvre at the market. It had a much fuller and more distinctly goat-y flavor than your average fresh goat cheese, and it stood up well to the bold flavors imparted by the fennel and the parsley.
So head on over to the Leftover Queen’s forum and vote for me! (The voting should start on Thursday, October 2nd, and ends on the 5th.) Keep reading for the recipe…
Focaccia with Caramelized Fennel, Parsley, and Chèvre
The addition of cooked potato gives this flatbread a delicious, chewy texture. Smeared with finely chopped parsley and topped with slow-cooked fennel and fresh goat cheese, it makes an excellent dinner companion for simple dishes such as white beans and sage, or it can be the star of a light lunch with a green salad on the side.
For the Dough:
1 medium baking potato (about 255 g/9 oz.), peeled and quartered
1 tsp. instant yeast
2 Tbsp. starter (substitute another ½ tsp. of yeast if you don’t have a starter)
500 g/17½ oz. unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
225 ml/8 oz. water, warmed for 30 seconds in the microwave, divided
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the bowl and the top
1¼ tsp. table salt or fine sea salt
1. Boil the potato in lightly salted water for 20-25 minutes, or until tender. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle. Grate, rice, or pass through the large holes of a food mill.
2. Meanwhile, mix the yeast, starter, 70 g/2½ oz. flour, and 120 ml/4 oz. warm water in a large bowl. Let it sit until it gets nice and bubbly. Depending on the ambient temperature and the strength of your starter, this can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. (A wet pre-ferment like this is most often called a sponge or poolish.)
3.To make the dough, combine the poolish, potato, half the remaining flour, 120 ml/4 oz. warm water, olive oil, and salt. Mix 5 minutes with a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the flour and knead 4-5 more minutes.
4. Generously oil the bowl and place the dough back into it. Turn the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size. Again, depending on the temperature in your kitchen, this can take 1-2 hours. (Now would be a good time to prepare the toppings. Go ahead, I’ll wait.)
5. Once the dough has doubled in size, press it into an oiled sheet pan, 35 by 27 cm/14 by 11 in., or similar. Cover it back up with the plastic wrap and let rise another 45 minutes to an hour.
For the Toppings:
2 bulbs fresh fennel (about 600 g/21 oz.), sliced thin, fronds reserved
Coarse sea salt to taste
½ cup white wine
1 Tbsp. tarragon vinegar (optional)
1 bunch parsley
80 g/2¾ oz. fresh chèvre
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Pour in enough olive oil to coat the pan. Add the fennel and season with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is softened and begins to brown. Add the white wine and tarragon vinegar, if using, and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer about 30 minutes, until almost all of the liquid has cooked away. The fennel should be tender and a few shades darker than it was before.
2. Pick the parsley (this doesn’t require surgical precision; just remove most of the stems). Place the leaves on a large cutting board along with the reserved fennel fronds. Drizzle them with a little olive oil and start chopping. You’re looking for a spreadable consistency.
3. Crumble the chèvre and set aside for now.
For the Focaccia:
A little more olive oil
A little more coarse sea salt
1. Preheat oven to 220 C/425 F. (It’s best to do this 20-30 minutes before you want to bake the bread.)
2.Remove the plastic from the focaccia dough, andpoke some dimples into it with your fingers. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and spread the chopped parsley mixture on top. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and strew the fennel evenly over the parsley mixture.
3.Bake 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and scatter the crumbled chèvre over the focaccia. Continue baking for another 15-20 minutes, until the edges are browned and the bottom (carefully lift the bread with a spatula to check) is golden brown and crisp.
4.Cut into rectangles and serve warm.
Makes 6-8 portions. Leftovers can be wrapped in foil and reheated in a 175 C/350 F oven.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.