SWEET POTATO AND PUMPKIN SEED FOCACCIA

sweet potato focaccia 2 (2)The days are shorter, the air crisper, and fall is finally here.  Pumpkin season.  The deep orange orbs creep in to the markets in early September, and seem to multiply as Halloween nears.  We are fans of the nutrient—packed seeds nestled inside the squash.  Scooping them out, cleaning them and roasting them make for a tasty snack, but we use so many that cracking the shells is impractical.  Bought in bulk, the seeds are simple to pop into breads, cookies and anything we choose.  Like a late fall sunset, the color of this bread is golden and vibrant.  It pairs perfectly with all fall flavors, and we love it with a bowl of our Cauliflower and Cashew Soup. Toasted leftovers make a simple and satisfying breakfast.

Some would call this a focaccia, but it is one in only the broadest sense.  The mashed sweet potato incorporated into the dough defies the traditional definition, but it is otherwise prepared like one, baked in a sheet pan and coated with olive oil before toppings are strewed on the surface.  The sweet potato adds some moisture, but we add it mostly for its autumnal color, creating the perfect platform for our beloved pumpkin seeds.

SWEET POTATO AND PUMPKIN SEED FOCACCIA

Baking Time: 40 minutes

sweet potato focaccia 5

 

2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the pan

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 medium sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled and mashed (3/4 cup)

3/4 cups pumpkin seeds, shelled and lightly chopped

Topping

4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled into small pieces

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, woody stems removed, finely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ cup pumpkin seeds, shelled and lightly chopped

1 large onion, thinly sliced, caramelized using 1 tablespoon olive oil

 

One 10 x 15-inch baking pan, well oiled

  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and whisk smooth.  Add the 4 tablespoons of olive oil and whisk again.
  2. Combine the flour and 2 teaspoons of salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the hook attachment.  Pour the yeast and water mixture into the flour, and mix it on low speed to combine.  Beat in the mashed sweet potatoes and pumpkin seeds to form a wet uniform dough.  Continue to mix the dough on low speed for 5 minutes. Transfer it to a clean, oiled bowl, and cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the dough to Sweet potato pumpkin seed focaccia (2)double in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, in a warm place, or refrigerate overnight.  While the dough is rising, prepare the toppings.
  3. After dough has doubled in size, press it on to the prepared pan.  If the dough was chilled, leave the dough at room temperature for about 1 hour before using it.  Working with oiled hands, spread the dough evenly to cover the bottom of the pan.  If the dough resists, allow it to rest briefly before trying to stretch it again.
  4. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes for freshly prepared dough and about 45 minutes for chilled dough.  Insert dimples into the top by pressing your finger tips into the dough.  Sprinkle pieces of goat cheese, thyme and pumpkin seeds over the top.Carefully distribute cooled onions over everything, and set aside for an additional 15-30 minutes.
  5. While the dough is rising in the pan, preheat the oven to 375° F.   Bake it for about 45 to 55 minutes, until the focaccia is golden brown and firm. If onions begin to darken while baking, cover the focaccia with aluminum foil.
  6. Remove focaccia from the oven and cool it on a rack before slicing.

 

Cornmeal Pumpkin Seed Short Bread

pumpkin seedsThis yellow hued shortbread is great in the fall.  We serve it along side crumbly cheeses and autumnal fruit.  Its main ingredients, cornmeal and pumpkin seeds, are both native foods of the Americas.  Together we believe they make the perfect  Thanksgiving Day nosh.  Make the dough days ahead, and slice and bake them before the turkey goes in the oven.  They are just spicy enough to whet your appetite for the magnificent meal to come.come.

1 ¼ cups all purpose flour

1 ¼ cups stone ground cornmeal

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ cup roughly chopped pumpkin seeds

6 ounces (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

 

2 rimmed cookie sheets, lined with parchment paper

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, sugar and pumpkin seeds.
  1. Using your finger tips, rub the butter into the dry ingredients, until no chunks of butter remain, and the mixture has the texture of sand.
  1. Add the eggs, and stir until the dough holds together.  This may take just a little squeezing,
  1. Cut dough in half, and using 2 sheets of parchment paper, wrap each piece into a cylinder, about 1 inch in diameter and 7 inches long.  Twist the ends tight to hold the shape of the cylinder.  Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until dough is firm enough to slice.  Freeze for longer storage.
  1. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350° F
  1. Slice the crackers in to 3/8 inches disks, and place on the prepared sheets one inch apart.
  1. Bake 10 to 12 minutes until the crackers are slightly golden brown around the edges.  They will firm as they cool on the pan on the rack.

Liquid Gold: Beautiful Nut Oils

Nut OilsColorful bottles of nut oils lined up on a store shelf make us want to go home and cook.  Open the top and the essence of the nut is with you, as if you have cracked open a shell.  But cooking with nut oils is not the same as cooking with the nuts and seeds themselves.  Here is why:

Nut oils are fragrant delicate liquids that don’t hold up to much heat.  We prefer the ones that are labelled cold pressed, because they have been created with care.  When heat is added to the oil production process it denigrates the inherent flavors a tiny bit.  Cold pressing extracts just the fats without heat harming the oil, and it’s name ” cold pressed” is as descriptive as can be.  When people first gathered nuts and seeds to eat they soon learned that crushing them would release their oils, creating another useful product from the wonders around them.  Now nut and seed oils are made in industrial settings with big steel rollers doing the work, no longer crushed between 2 stones as in times long ago.  It may be quicker and therefore less expensive to apply heat, but cold pressed oils have flavors that are the essences of the nuts, truer and brighter than the warmed commercial alternatives.

The best use of most nut oils is in finishing a recipe, when no further heat is applied.  We drizzle them on top of soups about to be served or whisk them in to salad dressings.  A little goes a long way, their flavors are intense.  We buy them in the smallest possible quantities because their shelf lives are limited, and we don’t want to waste a drop by spoilage.  Keep them closed, cool and dry, and once opened, inside the refrigerator is the place to store them.  We pair the flavor of oil with the same nut when we can.  The oil elevates the nut’s inherent flavor, underscoring it’s best fragrant qualities.

Nutcentric Trail Mix #NutSnackoftheWeek

One of our favorite things to snack on is this Nutcentric Trail Mix.   It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s healthy!

nutcentric trail mix

Nutcentric Trail Mix

½ cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds

½ cup  lightly toasted pumpkin seeds

2 cups lightly toasted coconut flakes (large unsweetened are best)

2 cups lightly toasted walnut pieces

1 cup lightly toasted whole almonds

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl, and stir well to mix.

Store in an airtight container or resealable bag and enjoy for up to one week, if it last that long — yum!