Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Beer-Braised Portobello Sandwich with Roasted Red Peppers on Focaccia

In 2008, I visited Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix and have fond memories of the incredible pizza, the bread, and the vegetables on the antipasto platter. At some later date, I read an essay by Chris Bianco in How I Learned To Cook that made clear his appreciation for local, seasonal food. It was about a visit to Italy when he was 18, and a simple but perfect meal he was served consisting of farm fresh, just picked white asparagus and hard-boiled eggs drizzled with olive oil. It was then that he came to realize how good fresh food that’s particular to its place is. I haven’t had a chance to return to Phoenix since Pane Bianco and Tratto opened. But, now I can create his style of cooking at home since receiving a review copy of Bianco: Pizza, Pasta, and Other Food I Like. Throughout the book, he mentions the ingredients he uses, what’s special about them, and how using the fresh, local, heirloom foods makes his dishes the best they can be. And, he offers great advice like tasting your water to determine if it’s salty or sweet or what it’s flavor really is. For pizza dough, he recommends using freshly milled flour from locally-grown grain. He explains the value of using tepary and emergo beans, Churro lamb, and I’itoi onions, all grown in Arizona, to bring together the history of his current home and that of his family’s culture and food. The book includes recipes for pizza and focaccia, salads, sandwiches, pasta and grains, small plates, big plates, and sweets. There’s a no-nonsense kind of approach to making sure every dish tastes fantastic. For instance, the sandwiches are built with a balance of texture, acidity, and fat in mind, and you can create new combinations based on that balance. I can’t wait to try the Roasted Tomato and Goat Cheese Sandwich and the Frittata Sandwich with arugula. As soon the lemons on my backyard tree are ready to pick, as Bianco suggests in the recipe head note, I’ll make the Tagliatelle with Lemon and Polpette de Ceci. And, the classic Lasagna al Forno with besciamella will undoubtedly be a crowd-pleaser. Right away, I wanted to make the focaccia, and I had some just-milled, locally-grown whole wheat flour to use. I also had some red bell peppers from my CSA and decided to roast and marinate them like the Grilled Red Peppers in the book. The Mushrooms and Beer recipe had also got my attention, and I thought sliced portobellos with red pepper strips would be great on a focaccia sandwich.

For the focaccia, the dough is the same as that for the pizza. It’s made with a small amount of yeast and proofs for three hours. To make it into focaccia, the dough is then spread on a baking sheet and drizzled with olive oil. As it rests for an hour and a half, the dough expands and spreads to fill the sheet pan. Before baking, the dough was dimpled, my favorite part, and sprinkled with chopped rosemary and flaky sea salt. Since I wasn’t using the grill that day, I roasted my bell peppers on top of the stove over direct flame. After cooling, the charred skin was removed, and the peppers were cut into strips. Garlic, basil leaves, olive oil, and salt and pepper were added to the pepper strips in a bowl, and the mixture was left to marinate. As if the baking focaccia and marinating peppers didn’t smell fabulous enough already, the aroma of the roasting mushrooms in beer made the kitchen smell even more delicious. And, I learned something here. In the past, I’ve never bothered to remove the gills from portobello mushrooms, but since it was suggested here, I did so. It convinced me it’s worth the effort because the end result is a better texture. The cleaned mushrooms were drizzled and coated with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, sprinkled with sliced garlic and rosemary sprigs, and then covered with beer before roasting. When the pan was removed from the oven, the mushrooms were taken from the pan and set aside while the pan was deglazed with a bit of remaining beer. I sliced the mushrooms and placed them in a bowl and covered them with the pan juices. 

The sandwiches were built with slices of mushrooms, strips of marinated red pepper, and a mound of arugula leaves. A slice of gorgonzola wasn’t out of place on these either. I’m completely onboard with the food philosophy presented here and can never resist the flavors of Italian cuisine. Until I can plan another trip to Phoenix, I’ll cook these recipes at home. 

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  1. That looks and sounds like a perfect sandwich. Love your wholemeal focaccia.

  2. A beautiful focaccia sandwich! Mouthwatering...



  3. Food memories are the best! That looks like such a tasty sandwich. Love whole wheat anything!

  4. the focaccia looks especially awesome! what a great sandwich.

  5. What a great complete meal! I am salivating here...

    and yes, I agree with the cleaning of Portobello mushrooms - ever since I did it for the first time, I never skipped that step. Makes all the difference!

  6. Love focaccia and this look absolutely delicious!!


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