Winter-to-Spring can be a difficult time in the kitchen. The heavy stews and root vegetables of winter start to get dreary but often the spring produce, while delightful, isn't very abundant. Mses. Hirsheimer and Hamilton do a brilliant job of keeping us inspired with their seasonal recipes: Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad, Teatime Sandwiches made with ham and chutney, Cassoulet, Watercress Soup, and the fantastically-named Niloufer's Sucky Peas (recipe on the website, listed below.)
Also included are a lesson on making fresh pasta, an Easter Lunch menu, and a few final recipes for delicious sweets like Roasted Rhubarb and Lime Curd Tart.
The bright green cover almost vibrates with spring while the beautiful photographs and personal stories scattered throughout evoke an intimate, casual elegance. Browsing this cookbook is like sneaking a peek into a good friend's notebook of favorite recipes.
I made this delicious focaccia recipe last night with stellar results. The bread was crisp yet chewy and the lemon provided a bright, slightly bitter contrast to the olive oil and salt. The rosemary brought everything together, matching the lemon's assertive notes with its lovely, piney perfume. And, it was easy!
Lemon and Sea Salt Focaccia
makes four 8-inch rounds
For the Dough
1 envelope (2-1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
6 tablespoons really good extra virgin olive oil
4 cups bread flour, plus more for kneading
2 teaspoons salt
Really good extra virgin olive oil
Leaves of 2-4 branches fresh rosemary, chopped
2 lemons, washed and very thinly sliced into rounds
Coarse sea salt
For the dough, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water in a medium bowl. Stir in 1-1/4 cups water and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
Pulse the flour and salt together in the bowl of a food processor. Add the yeast mixture and process until a rough ball of dough forms, 1 minute. Briefly knead dough on a floured surface until smooth. Shape dough into a ball. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil into a large bowl. Roll dough around in bowl until coated with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Pour a thin film of oil into each of four 8-inch round cake pans. Quarter the dough and put one piece into each pan. Using your fingertips, spread dough out in each pan. The dough is elastic and will resist stretching. Let it relax for 5 minutes or so after you've stretched it as far as it will go. Eventually, it will cooperate and fill the pan.
Preheat the oven to 450°. Cover the pans with damp dishcloths and let the dough rest until it has swollen in the pans a bit, 30-60 minutes.
Uncover the pans. Sprinkle the dough with the rosemary. Using your fingertips, poke dimples into the dough in each pan, then liberally drizzle with oil so it pools in the hollows. Arrange just the thinnest rounds of lemon on top, drizzle with more oil, and sprinkle with sea salt. We like ours salty. Bake the focaccia until golden brown, 20-30 minutes. Drizzle with more oil when you pull the focaccia from the oven. Serve cut into wedges.
Dana's notes: I used a KitchenAid stand mixer instead of the food processor and I imagine the dough can be mixed up by hand the old-fashioned way as well. If you don't want to bake all four loaves, you can freeze the dough for future use--just wrap them in plastic right after you've quartered the pieces. Next time, I may try substituting 1 cup of the regular flour for whole wheat flour just to see how it is. Also, the kind of salt with large, flaky shards (like Maldon) does really well here but coarse kosher salt should do just fine, too. Finally, I used Meyer Lemons since they're falling off the trees here in SF and my friends are starting to leave bags of them at my door (rough life, I know) but regular lemons should be just great.
• Buy the book: Canal House Cooking, Volume III by Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton. Individual volumes are $19.95 (plus S&H); a subscription is $49.95 (plus S&H) for three volumes.
(Images: Dana Velden)