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veg bowl

Spring is in full swing here and as we speak I can hear the far call of the cuckoo echoing around the valley, mingling sonorously with the frenzy of bird chirpings, tweetings and general spring ‘busyness’ that is happening outside my window. Actually, come to think of it, it’s quite noisy!

However there’s nothing noisy about my local urban ‘orto’ or vegetable garden. It’s a haven of loving care and patient expectation of nature’s abundance.

ortaGazing meditatively at this garden I was trying to find inspiration for a family get-together when I thought why not celebrate with a display of beautiful fresh vegetables….and because they’re so beautifully fresh, we could have them raw with a dip of olive oil as “pinzimonio” or “crudités”. We need a bread to eat alongside them, so I’ll make an easy spelt (or farro) focaccia and why not add a different type of vegetable to it…a sea vegetable? Bingo!

focaccia 2The reason I wanted to add seaweed to the focaccia is that I’ve been reading a lot about its health benefits lately and have started slowly introducing different seaweeds into my cooking….sometimes using kombu or kelp as part of a soup stock or sprinkling crushed nori sheets onto a salad.

If you’ve not tried seaweed before, this idea of baking it into bread could serve as a way to ‘ease’ you into seaweed eating. I’ve used ground dried wakame but you could use the milder nori (as used in sushi rolls) or the straw-like hijiki. All can be found in oriental or major supermarkets.

Wakame bagAccording to macrobiotics, as well as being full of minerals and essential amino acids seaweeds carry the actual ‘energy’ of the sea which they maintain helps keep our minds flexible, improves our memory and helps get a clearer focus of what we want in life. A good way to start the spring!

Farina label 2For flour I’ve used a stone-ground spelt (‘farro’) and a stone-ground white, both from the organic family-run Marino Mill in the Alta Langa region of Piemonte, a region I love and a place still steeped in agricultural tradition. Do check their website: http://www.mulinomarino.it

RECIPE:
Spelt & Seaweed Focaccia

Preparation time: 15 mins
Rising time: 1.5 hours
Cooking time: 30 mins

focaccia

300g stone-ground spelt flour
180g stone-ground white flour
7g (packet) dried yeast
20g dried seaweed
¼ tsp salt
1½ Tbsp olive oil
400 ml water

Preheat oven to 200C/400F

First grind the dried seaweed in a small coffee or spice grinder until a fine powder.

Then mix all the dry ingredients together – both flours, yeast, seaweed powder and salt.

Add the oil and stir in the water. Mix with your hands – it will be slightly sticky and wet, but will gradually become drier and more compact.

Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth and pliable.

Then place in a bowl, cover with a clean tea towel and allow to rise for 1 hour.

Take out of the bowl, punch down the dough and knead for a further 5 minutes then mould into an oiled baking dish (I used a 26cm silicon quiche dish), cover and leave to rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Then ‘dimple’ the surface with your fingers…..
In my view ‘dimpling’ focaccia is right up there with bursting the bubbles on bubble wrap!.. I could dimple for hours…..and in fact in my enthusiasm, as well trying to snap the photo at the same time, I’ve made the holes rather too large!

dimpling closeBrush with olive oil, scatter with coarse salt and bake for 30 minutes.

Take out of the oven, tap the bottom to make sure there’s a good hollow sound (if not, put back into the oven for about another 5 minutes), then leave to cool on a wire rack.

LAVENDER SALT

1 Tbsp dried lavender flowers (must be edible or from an organic source)
10 Tbsp coarse sea salt

Place in a small coffee or spice grinder and pulse until mixed – you don’t want to pulse for too long as you want to keep most of the coarseness of the salt. For everyday use put the salt and lavender into a salt grinder.

PINZIMONIO

Wash whatever vegetables you decide to serve, here is the selection from my local ‘orto’:

Carrots
Celery
Fennel
Beetroots
Zucchini
Radicchio
Tomatoes
Asparagus

I haven’t included red, green or orange peppers because a couple of my guests don’t eat peppers – but peppers would be good….as would fresh baby broad beans and peas.

Cut or slice the vegetables into sticks or cubes and arrange in a glass or bowl. Place small bowls of olive oil and lavender salt nearby and serve with the focaccia.

pinzimonio

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