What on earth is picaccia, you say? My own creation that was invented on a Sunday afternoon, when I had next to nothing in my fridge except Jarlsberg cheese, milk and some herbs, combined with an insane craving for carbs.
I felt like having something hearty and naughty, but wasn’t in the mood to make anything complicated. I say “naughty’ because I always associate bread and carbs with something bad, which it isn’t of course, but I suppose it’s my background in competing in bodybuilding shows that has made me think about this food group as something that should be consumed only on special occasions.
Besides Norwegian food, my other favorite cuisines are Mexican and Italian. The former because my husband grew up with this food and taught me how to make simple, delicious dishes utilizing completely different ingredients than I grew up with and I love it, and the latter because I spent a year in Italy after high school and learned how to properly cook. It was in Rome my obsession for food and wine began at the age of 18, and where my now 2,000+ cookbook collection started. So why not make focaccia? Easy but delicious and would definitely satisfy my desire for bread. The nice block of Jarlsberg cheese was staring at me from the fridge, begging to be a part of my meal. I proceeded to make a focaccia dough, and topped it with some caramelized onions (the only vegetable I had) , some leftover herbs and my beloved, shredded Jarlsberg. In the end, it came out more like a pizza – so I ended up calling it picaccia!
This is not really part of my Jarlsberg series – more like a bonus recipe I wanted to offer in between so we can have another excuse to eat this gorgeous cheese… not that we need one!
The focaccia dough recipe is adapted from Beth Hensperger’s fabulous book “The Bread Bible” – a dangerous book to keep in your kitchen, because all you’ll want to do is make bread every day. This recipe may be more Italian than Norwegian, but while Italians have mozzarella, parmigiano and gorgonzola – we Vikings have Jarlsberg and that is what makes this recipe! The sweetness from the caramelized onions, combined with the rich, nutty flavor of Jarlsberg topped on a fluffy focaccia dough makes this a truly special snack. Who said Norwegian and Italian cuisine can’t be combined??!
PICACCIA a la Jarlsberg
Makes one 17 x 11 inch rectangular focaccia
1 tbsp (1 package) active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 cup hot water (120F)
1 cup hot milk (120F)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
olive oil for oiling bowl and brushing top of focaccia
1 large Vidalia onion, peeled cut in half, and sliced thin
3-4 shallots, peeled, cut in half and sliced thin
1- 2 cups shredded Jarlsberg
2-3 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (thyme, oregano, or whatever you have on hand)
Maldon salt or sea salt for sprinkling on dough
Note: It’s important to use good olive oil here, as I feel it really adds depth and a special earthy flavor to the dough. I love Greek olive oil, in particular one I get at my local farmer market called Kountoulis extra-virgin olive oil. It is run by a Greek couple who live in Westchester (NY) but are from Kalamata, Greece ,where they have their olive farm. After I tasted their olive oil, I couldn’t go back to any brands at the super market. Truly special! As it’s very pungent you only need a few drops to achieve a wonderful flavor.
To make dough:
In a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the yeast, 2 cups of the flour, and the salt. Add the hot water, hot milk and the olive oil. Beat until well combined, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed. The dough will be sticky soft and oily.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, drizzle sides with a bit more olive oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Oil a 17 x 11 inch baking sheet. Turn the dough onto the baking sheet. Spread and gently pull the dough, flattening it to fit the entire baking sheet. Let rest , uncovered for about 15-30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F, with a baking stone on the bottom rack, if desired.
In a large saute pan, over medium heat – saute the onions and shallots with a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and a dash of sugar. Saute for about 15 minutes or so until the onions are soft, brown and caramelized.
Brush the focaccia dough with some olive oil, sprinkle with some Maldon or sea salt, and top with the caramelized onions, Jarlsberg cheese and herbs.
Place the focaccia sheet directly on the hot stone, if using, or on the lowest rack and bake 15 minutes. Reduce the oven thermostat to 350F and continue to bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is golden. Let cool in pan 5 minutes, before loosening sides with a knife and slip the bread onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temp, eat as a snack with a salad or as side with your lunch or dinner!🙂