Flavor of the Mediterranean

Menu: Beans, greens and bread a welcome change from the usual.

August 22, 1999|By Bev Bennett | Bev Bennett,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

You can put yourself in a Mediterranean mood even if your plans take you no farther than the patio.

The first step is to take a vacation day. France is practically shut down for the entire month of August when everyone heads to the country or the seashore. You can get into the mood by just scheduling a day you'll devote to pleasurable pursuits.

Second, set a Mediterranean scene. Buy a few pots of rosemary and thyme. Every time you brush against the leaves, you'll encounter the delightful aromas.

Then, make a meal that captures the simplicity of Mediterranean flavors. This is the best part. You can indulge in flavorful, rustic foods. You can fill your kitchen with the scents of rosemary and bread.

If you enjoy making bread, you'll love working with the following focaccia recipe. However, you can eliminate most of the process by using frozen bread dough. Thaw out the dough, press it into a pan and sprinkle with olive oil and rosemary.

Beans and Greens is inspired by southern Italian cooking. This food is as delicious as it is plain. And that's a welcome vacation from the usual fare.

Beans and Greens

Serves 2

4 slices lean bacon

1 garlic clove, minced

1 pound kale

1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

flakes

salt, freshly ground pepper to taste

lemon wedges

Brown bacon well in large skillet. Remove and set aside. Spoon out all but 2 tablespoons fat. Add garlic and saute 1 minute.

Meanwhile, wash kale and pat dry. Trim off stem ends. With sharp knife, chop kale into 1-inch pieces and add to skillet. Cover and simmer until kale is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add beans to skillet along with red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.

Crumble bacon strips and add to skillet. Cover and simmer to heat through, about 5 minutes. Spoon mixture onto 2 plates.

Add 1 or 2 lemon wedges to each.

Focaccia

Serves 4

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1/4 cup hot water

1/2 cup lukewarm water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cups flour, plus more for kneading

1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves

Place yeast in cup. Pour in hot water and stir. Set aside 10 minutes until foamy.

In bowl of heavy-duty electric mixer, place 1/2 cup lukewarm water, 2 tablespoons olive oil and yeast mixture. Add salt and 1 3/4 cups flour. Beat to make soft dough. Stir in enough additional flour, about 2 tablespoons, to make soft dough that can be kneaded. Add as little flour as possible.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured board. Knead 2 to 3 minutes. Place dough in oiled bowl, turning to oil all sides. Cover with dish towel. Place in warm spot and let rise 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Pat into greased 8-inch square pan. Cover with dish towel. Place in warm spot and let rise 30 minutes. Using fingertip, poke rows of holes in dough, halfway down pan. Do not tear dough. Cover with dish towel. Place in warm spot and let rise again 30 minutes.

Brush dough with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle rosemary leaves into dimples in dough. Bake focaccia at 425 degrees until crust is high and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Let rest 10 to 15 minutes before slicing into quarters. Serve hot or tepid.

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