It’s no secret that I love Italian food. And, I love learning more about the food from each and every region of the country. I was delighted to read a review copy of Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies. Of course the subject matter made me happy but so did the pretty color marbling with bright orange on the book cover and the full-page photos inside of both life and food in Florence. The recipes are grouped by where you would find these types of food in the city. The Pastry Shop, The Bakery, and The Trattoria are some of the chapter names. Right away, I wanted to bake Sfogliatine or Budini di Riso or Bomboloncini to go with a morning cappuccino. There are stories along the way about how different foods became traditional like the Pane Toscano, the bread made without salt because it was too expensive. I enjoyed reading about Pappa al Pomodoro and how it originally would have been a porridge-like soup made with bread and no tomatoes prior to tomatoes being introduced from the New World. Naturally, there are pasta dishes, and one I want to try this fall is a pear, pecorino, and ricotta-filled ravioli. There are also several versions of crostini toppings and panini fillings as well as chicken and meat dishes, and every dish is simply prepared with proven, time-honored flavor combinations. The Schiacciata all’Uva is a grape focaccia made with wine grapes harvested in September and October. This slightly sweet rendition of the chewy flatbread appears just briefly in bakeries in the fall, and it’s typically made with concord grapes or more traditionally with canaiolo grapes. Sadly, I didn’t have access to either of those varieties and used black grapes instead. Usually, seeds are left in the grapes and give the bread some crunch, but the grapes I bought were seedless. It is noted that standard, red grapes aren’t deeply-flavored enough to be a good substitution here. You want a dark grape that will stain the dough.
I began the recipe the night before I intended to bake. Flour, yeast, and water were combined and mixed. Olive oil was added, and the sticky dough was left in a covered bowl in the refrigerator to slowly rise overnight. I let the dough come back to room temperature for an hour or so while washing the grapes, removing them from the stems, and drying them. I borrowed a couple of tips from the Wild Yeast blog. Rather than adding anise seeds to the bread, I opted for fresh rosemary as seen there. Also, the recipe in the book suggests spreading about half the dough on a baking sheet, adding some of the grapes, then topping it with the remaining dough and the rest of the grapes. Given how sticky and difficult to maneuver this dough is, I went with the technique from Wild Yeast instead. I folded some of the grapes into the dough while it was still in the bowl. Then, I spread the dough onto the baking sheet and topped it with the remaining grapes. I dimpled and flattened the dough without crushing the grapes, drizzled on top olive oil, sprinkled on chopped rosemary, and I added just a little turbinado sugar and flaky sea salt. The flatbread baked for about 30 minutes until golden.
The grapes added plenty of juicy sweetness with very little additional sugar, and I liked the hints of savoriness from rosemary and sea salt. As I cut the bread into pieces, they quickly disappeared. There was an addictiveness to the chewy texture and pop of the grapes. Now, I want to try making the same dough into small rounds topped with vegetables as it’s also shown in the book. And, I want to go to Florence and eat all of these things right where they were invented.
Schiacciata all ’Uva
Recipe taken from Florentine: The true cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781743790038, $39.95 hardcover.
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/2 1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast
400 ml (13 1/2 fl oz) lukewarm water
75 ml (2 1/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape; see note)
80 g (2 3/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional; see note on following page)
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional)
Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or wine grapes, or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes.
Born in and around the wine-growing areas of Florence and the Chianti, this delicious bread is a tradition governed by the very seasonal nature of grapes in Italy, and one that also has an extremely close tie with the wine harvest in autumn. For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them. And then, as suddenly as it appeared, the grape focaccia is gone, not to be seen again until the following September. These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) but sometimes you’ll still find it made with native Tuscan wine grapes known as canaiolo – the small, dark grapes make up part of the blend of Chianti wine, playing a supporting role to sangiovese. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread.
PREPARING THE DOUGH
This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre. Dissolve the yeast in about 125 ml (4 1/2 fl oz/1/2 cup) of the lukewarm water. Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water. Add 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine.
This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight.
ASSEMBLING THE SCHIACCIATA
Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way (see note).
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°).
Grease a 20 cm × 30 cm (8 in × 12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread the dough out evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick.
Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and ½ teaspoon of the aniseed, if using.
Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the bottom surface.
Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata.
Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil.
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice.
This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day.
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