Last year, Alexandra Stafford published a very good book about bread. It sprang from a recipe for the peasant bread her mother made often when she was growing up. When she shared it on her site, it went viral, which is no surprise given that it’s no-knead, comes together in under five minutes, rises in about an hour, and after a brief second rise, you bake it in buttered bowls that form it into a blond, buttery crusted bread that she boasts is “the antithesis of artisan.” Because there are no hidden tricks; no steam ovens, special flours, lames to score the crust, or bannetons to shape the loaves. Her central tenet is that “good bread can be made without a starter, without a slow or cold fermentation, without an understanding of bakers’ percentages, without being fluent in the baking vernacular: hydration, fermentation, biga, poolish, soaker, autolyse, barm.” (None of those words appear in the book.) She knows that there are a lot of no-knead breads out there, but this is the only one that can be started at 4pm and be on the dinner table at 7.
I realize you’re thinking, as I briefly worried before I read it, how does one write an entire cookbook based on one recipe? But Stafford is a gifted recipe developer, and there isn’t a thing in this book — one part breads (with all types of flours, grains, and shapes, including pizzas, flatbreads, rolls and buns), one part toasts (including sandwiches, tartines, stratas, panzanellas, soups, summer puddings and so much more), and one part crumbs (a celebration of crunchy gratin toppings, stuffing, burgers, eggplant parmesan, fish sticks, meatballs, and brown bettys) — that I didn’t want to make. (I suspect that having four kids to feed ensures that these recipes were vetted by the most finicky of reviewer classes.) It’s also a gorgeous book, with a focus and format that my inner, long-surrendered organized person finds deeply pleasing.
My favorite thing in the book, and the one that I come back to again and again, is using the core bread recipe to make a focaccia that can be split and filled to make a sheet pan’s worth of sandwiches.* File this under things I never thought about pre-kids but obsess over now: Picking up sandwiches to go to the beach/park/pool/wherever your summer weekend takes you for a family or group of friends can be staggeringly expensive. I might even forgive the price if the sandwiches were usually better, but I’m sorry-not-sorry, they’re usually not. Either the bread is lousy and processed to the hilt, or they just don’t make them the way I want them, which is heavy on the vegetables and with a good mix of fresh, salty, crunchy, and pickle-like ingredients. Let’s fix this.
Below is the recipe for the simplest, quickest focaccia you’ll ever need to make and several sandwich filling suggestions (many vegan, too) I hope you’ll find good jumping off points.
* If you have Smitten Kitchen Every Day at home (do you? I bet you’d love it, I’m just saying) you probably already know about my slab-sized sandwich fixation. In the book, I use roasted tomatoes and more to stuff a focaccia *before* it is baked, inspired by a foccia ripiena we ate in Rome several years ago. This is concept is similar, but there’s no need to pre-commit to fillings.
One year ago: Blackberry Blueberry Crumb Pie
Two years ago: Summer Squash Pizza and Peach Melba Popsicles
Three years ago: Raspberry Crushed Ice
Four years ago: Three-Ingredient Summertime Salsa and Blueberry Crumb Cake
Five years ago: Charred Corn Crepes and Burst Tomato Galette with Corn and Zucchini
Six years ago: Pink Lemonade Bars
Seven years ago: Tomato Salad with Crushed Croutons
Eight years ago: Nectarine Brown Butter Buckle and Sweet and Smoky Oven Spare Ribs
Nine years ago: Best Birthday Cake, Arugula Potato and Green Bean Salad and Peach and Creme Fraiche Pie
Ten years ago: Garlic Mustard Glazed Skewers and Huevos Rancheros
Eleven years ago: Quick Zucchini Saute
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Cookies and Slow-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
1.5 Years Ago: Broccoli Pizza
2.5 Years Ago: Spaghetti Pie with Pecorino and Black Pepper, Banana Puddings with Vanilla Bean Wafers, and Taco Torte
3.5 Years Ago: Caramelized Onion and Gruyere Biscuits and Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas
4.5 Years Ago: Garlicky Party Bread with Cheese and Herbs and Fennel and Blood Orange Salad