Every weekend at our bakery over on Quail St. in Albany, my husband Nick prepares Specialty Focaccia Pizzas with fresh produce & herbs we get from our farmer friends at Farmer Jon’s Produce in Selkirk, NY and cheeses from R&G Cheesemakers in Cohoes or Palatine Cheese in Nelliston (in the Mohawk Valley). Jon and DJ of Farmer Jon’s and Sean of R&G are fellow Saturday Delmar Farmers Market vendors, so for us, acquiring ingredients is incredibly easy.
Focaccia Pizza toppings can be as simple as a Pizza Margherita with Fresh Basil, Tomatoes, Mozzarella & a bit of organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil drizzled on top; Fresh Tomatoes, Red Peppers & Wild Onion Cheddar; or an easy-to-prepare Pesto with Mozzarella. These aren’t your traditional pizzas with tomato sauce!
The Wheat/Hi-gluten flour crust of our Focaccia creates the perfect crunchy/chewy texture of a rustic, thick-crust pizza and ultra-fresh ingredients make all the difference in mouth feel and taste. Nick has given me permission to share his Focaccia Crust & Traditional Basil/Pine Nut Pesto recipes for this fresh, delectable and inexpensive summer pizza.
NICK’S FOCACCIA CRUST
2C Warm Tap Water
1T Kosher Salt
1T Raw, organic fair-trade sugar (we get ours from the Honest Weight Food Co-Op)
1T Organic Olive Oil (also from HWFC)
2t Active Dry Baking Yeast (we use Red Star, HWFC)
1C Organic Whole Wheat Flour (North Country Farms, Stoneground)
3-4C Organic Hi-Gluten Flour (we can’t source this flour yet from NY due to the current lower protein levels in NY wheat, but we get if from local millers at Champlain Valley Milling)
Combine Salt, Sugar, Olive Oil, Yeast, Whole Wheat Flour and Warm Water in your electric mixing bowl. (There is a trick to achieving the correct “warm” temperature when activating yeast: make sure the water just feels warm to your fingers; if the water “burns” a little, or is too cool, the yeast won’t rise properly.) Let this mixture sit covered with a clean, dry towel for about 10 minutes in a warm spot in your kitchen, or until the yeast has foamed:
Uncover, and with a dough hook and your mixer on low speed, add most of your Hi-gluten flour ½ cup at a time, just until a soft dough forms. Wait until the dough sticks to the sides of the mixing bowl before adding each ½ cup portion of flour.
When the dough is less sticky and has formed a bit, switch your mixer speed to high for about 5 minutes, adding 1 tablespoon of HG flour at a time when the dough sticks to the sides; adding too much flour at once near the end of the process will cause your dough to become tough, since at that point the mixture can only incorporate small amounts of flour at a time. You’re looking for a finish of a smooth, somewhat dry texture.
A good way to find out if your dough is still too sticky is to stop the mixer completely and give it a quick finger check: if the dough feels smooth and slightly flour-y, stop now and remove onto a floured surface. If dough is dry and pulling apart (not smooth), return to high-speed and incorporate the extra flour that’s on the dough surface (don’t add more flour – if you’ve arrived at this point, your dough probably already has too much). If your dough still feels sticky, return your mixer speed to high and continue to add 1T of flour at a time until it feels & looks smoother. Sometimes this process requires repeated finger checks. MAKE SURE you stop your mixer fully before reaching in! Many a baker’s hand has been injured because of lack of patience.
With your sufficiently smooth dough turned out onto a lightly floured surface, knead for 5 minutes, (covering your palms lightly in flour and patting it onto any stickiness as needed). This loosens up the dough and allows the gluten to form & become slightly elastic.
Lightly grease a large bowl with EVOO and let your dough rise, covered in a cozy spot, for about 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.
Turn it back out onto your floured surface and divide in half. Form into a loose rectangle and stretch each half into a 10”x12-14” rectangle (if you need to use a rolling pin to achieve the correct shape, that’s okay too).
“Stretching” the dough involves covering your fists in flour and picking it up from underneath: working with the natural pull of the dough, rotate your fists carefully all the way around until you achieve the desired shape, being careful not to let any holes form. If they do, you can return the dough to your floured surface & pinch the hole together, no biggie.
Hang in there, you’re almost done! Place your Focaccia onto a lightly greased baking sheet and cook for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. If the crust starts to puff up, you’ll know it’s time to remove it from the oven no matter what your timer says. With a bit of pressure applied, it will deflate, don’t worry. Let the crust rest & cool and get started on your Pesto! It will take a lot less time, promise.
1 large Bunch Fresh Basil (Farmer Jon’s, or grow your own! It’s easy!)
1/2c – 3/4c Pine Nuts (available locally from Tierra Farm)
1/4c Fresh Parmesan (we haven’t been able to source this locally yet, we get it from the HWFC)
1/4c Organic Olive Oil (also from the HWFC)
4-5 cloves Fresh Garlic (fresh from Farmer Jon when in season, otherwise from the HWFC; we’d like to figure out bulk cold storage this winter)
½ lb Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (from R&G Cheesemakers)
Salt & Pepper To taste; we use Kosher Salt, Black Pepper
Wash Basil, dry between 2 cotton cloths or paper towels; cut off protruding stems. Peel the Garlic. Place Basil, Pine Nuts, Parmesan, Garlic and ½ the Olive Oil into a food processor. Combine on low speed while drizzling the remaining Olive Oil into the funnel. Switch to high speed and combine until mixture becomes a stunning (almost neon) light green.
On your cooled Focaccia crust, smear a healthy portion of your seconds-old pesto as close to the edge as you dare, slice up some of that Fresh Mozzarella into ¼” pieces (hopefully some of it making it onto the pie), sprinkle a bit of salt & pepper to suit your taste, throw that baby in a 425 degree oven till the cheese is melted and you’ll have yourself the freshest, tastiest pizza on the planet.
Your body will feel great and you will too because YOU sourced most of these fresh, healthy ingredients directly from people you know! Try it, you’ll see, there’s a special enjoyment and satisfaction that comes from buying produce from a farmer you know (or gathering it from your own or a friend’s garden) and cooking up something spectacularly fresh with what’s in season.
The summer harvest season is upon us in upstate NY- enjoy!