This past Saturday, in an attempt to have as close to one of those experiences with Dad as now possible, I got in the kitchen. I put on his old Kaldi's t-shirt (a shirt that Jonathan and I lovingly got him in honor of his love for our local coffee shop's cappuccinos), I turned on Miles Davis (his love for music, specifically jazz, is one of the most tangible reminders of him -- close to 500 CDs' worth!) and I started my attempt to replicate Dad's Focaccia Pugliese recipe.
The thing is, Dad didn't really have a recipe that he used. He used his eyes, his hands, his sixth sense of what ingredients needed to be thrown together and, ta-da, the rest of us magically got to eat delicious homemade focaccia. The same applies for his panzerotti and fresh pasta. But, one thing at a time - the first step: perfecting the focaccia.
I researched and compared recipe after recipe. I talked to Mom and together we pieced together the basic ingredients we knew were involved. Many recipes call for using boiled potatoes, but I didn't remember that ever being a part of Dad's focaccia (Mom confirmed that). Apparently home bakers in Puglia (the southern region of Italy both of my parents are from) use potatoes in their focaccia to make it more moist, but the slices you buy from the panificio (bakery) would not include potatoes...so I guess Dad was going after that fresh-from-the-bakery taste ;-)
We came up with our list of ingredients: bread flour, water, yeast, olive oil, salt, sugar (for dissolving the yeast), diced canned tomatoes, green olives and dried oregano. I combined recipes from here and here, subbing in diced tomatoes for fresh tomatoes and added green olives. We couldn't remember how long he let the dough rise or how hot he turned on the oven. What I do remember is him laying a blanket over the bowl where the dough rested and rose, so I proudly did the same.
So the recipe I followed was 2 3/4 cup bread flour, 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. honey, 1 Tbs. yeast, 1 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 cup warm water. I let the dough rise for 90-120 minutes. I oiled a 9x13 baking pan and spread the dough out, pressed down to create little indents to place the diced tomatoes and green olives. I then sprinkled salt and dried oregano over top and brushed olive oil all over. I first baked it at 400 for 20 minutes, then at 425 for 25 minutes.
Next time around, I'll follow my instinct (and the yeast bag's instruction) and dissolve the yeast in warm water with sugar (not honey) separately before combining all ingredients - even though the recipes said to throw it all together. The focaccia seemed denser than my memory serves and needed a little more air in the middle. I'll also bake the focaccia at a higher temperature to begin with and maybe let the dough rise for longer than 90 minutes. And I'll add more olive oil on top, because, well, who doesn't love more olive oil! But really, it needed a little bit of a darker color, a crisper top. But as a first attempt, I was really pleased. The smell and taste were just as I remember, and we all know smell is a huge trigger for memories.
I'm already looking forward to my next Saturday in the kitchen, tinkering with this in-the-works recipe, acquainting myself with Dad's favorite jazz tunes, and having our new-found tradition of a Saturday baking date.