I know that a few posts back I complained about the weather. I’m Canadian, what do you expect?!
So, yes, it was stinkin’ hot and humid. Not my favourite combination. I’m one of those few people who would rather put up with the coldest day in February than the hottest day in July. Thankfully that doesn’t happen often. We have come to expect that one week or so of brutally unbearable summer that takes its toll on everyone, where there isn’t enough cold water and ice to sooth you. But for all of those days, we are then rewarded with those PERFECT summer days.
Like the day I enjoyed last weekend. It couldn’t have been better had I taken the time to envision it, and put in on my wish list. The sky was blue, not a cloud drifting by. The lake water was even bluer, and the horizon was dotted with white sails as far as the eye could see. The birds were singing, the dogs were walking their masters, and the cyclists were making the most of the boardwalk. And it wasn’t humid!! That’s the clincher. If the air is dry, then even a temperature of 28 or 32 Celsius (mid to high 80’s for my Fahrenheit friends) is lovely. And on that day it was 26! Even better.
So there was no way I was going to stay cooped up inside, looking out the window at all the gloriousness of summer in the city. Or at least summer in my little corner of the city. Our summers are short enough here in Canada, so we really do need to bring the party outside whenever we can. We grabbed books, drinks and snacks and headed out to make friends with the grass.
Who says we can’t bring the cheeseboards outside as well? It doesn’t have to be the fancy, packed to the brim, like the ones that I love to put together when entertaining at home. Why not take a casual approach to a summer picnic and a cheeseboard at the same time? It’s summer, so you know fruit is in abundance. Grab your favourite stone fruit or berries and put them into a container. Choose some favourite cheeses that can handle the heat of the sun and wrap them up. Some crudités (fancy word for cut up veggies!) and some crackers or bread, and you’re all set.
And that’s exactly what I did. Cherries and peaches were our fruit of choice. Into the basket they went. I wrapped up some fabulous Castello Tickler Extra Mature Cheddar and Aged Havarti, and some Traditional Blue Cheese in wax paper and added them to the basket. There were some lovely breakfast radishes in the fridge, so those went into the basket as well. All I needed was some bread or crackers.
Step in a fantastic new focaccia I’ve been working on: Potato, Rosemary and Blue Cheese Focaccia. It is fluffy, chewy, has an amazing crust, and the rosemary, olive oil and kosher salt flavour the thinly sliced baby potatoes perfectly. Just before I popped the bread into the oven to bake up, I sliced up some Castello Double Crème Blue and scattered the pieces all over the dough, on top of the layer of potatoes. As it baked, the cheese slowly melted into the potatoes, and created the most delightful aroma. As soon as I pulled out the bread from the oven, I added some more cheese all over, The residual heat caused those pieces to puddle all over in the most decadent way. And when you bite into a piece, the combination of potato, rosemary and blue cheese is simply the best thing ever!! This is one of our favourite flavour combinations (I was actually inspired by how we like to prepare our pizza!).
So I sliced up some focaccia and added it to the picnic basket, along with some homemade lemonade and glasses, and we were all set for our impromptu picnic by the bay. We laid out some blankets, pulled out a charger plate, and spread out our little feast. We eat with our eyes first, even if it is a rustic, simple cheese plate for two! Books, drinks and cheese, what more did we need for enjoying the most perfect summer day here in Toronto- at least, my definition of perfect!
The recipe for the focaccia is below. I hope that you will find the time to make a cheeseboard, and enjoy the summer, the way it was meant to be: outside! This post was sponsored by Castello Cheese.
Potato, Rosemary and Blue Cheese Focaccia
Crispy, fluffy, and flavourful focaccia gets the royal treatment with thinly sliced potatoes, chopped fresh rosemary and tangy blue cheese as a top layer for baking. Serve this on it's own, as a side, or even slice pieces in half to create the perfect container for proscuitto and more cheese!
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 3/4 cups (630 g) water
- 5 1/2 cups (700 g) bread flour
- 4 tbsp (55 g) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for coating the pan and shaping
- 1 tbsp kosher salt , plus more for sprinkling on the spread-out dough in the pan
- 3/4 tsp sugar
- 4-5 baby yellow fleshed potatoes depending on the size
- 3 tbsp (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary , plus 1/2 tsp for sprinkling
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt , divided
- 5 oz (150 g) Castello Double Crème Blue Cheese , or Castello Smoked Gorgonzola if you can't find the Castello Double Crème Blue)
Stir together the yeast and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the flour and mix on low speed until the ingredients are well combined. Mix on medium speed until the dough looks like thick muffin batter, about 2 minutes.
Turn the mixer off and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes to allow the flour to fully hydrate (absorb all the water).
Add 2 tbsp (30 grams) of the olive oil, the salt and sugar and then mix on low speed until combined, about 1 minute.
Turn the speed up one notch and mix until the dough is quite thick and starting pull away slightly from the sides of the bowl, about 3 minutes. It will be very sticky at this point.
Increase the speed to high and let the dough mix until it comes together, making a slapping noise as it turns, the bowl is clean, and there is a slight sheen to the dough, about 6 minutes.
Stop the mixer and make a window pane test, by pulling off a small portion with floured fingers and stretching it out in all directions. You want to see a thin, nearly transparent film form that you can see light through if you were holding it up to a window.
If you can do this without tearing it, then the glutens are well developed and the dough is ready for rising. Add the piece back into the dough and give it a few turns with the machine to work it back in.
If it tears, then place it back in with the rest of the dough and continue machine kneading until it passes the test.
Coat the inside of a large bowl with olive oil and transfer the dough to the bowl. Fold the dough over itself several times. and then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or place it in a bag, and let it rise at room temperature until it is 1 1/2 times its original volume, about 2 hours.
Generously oil a 12x16 baking sheet. If you only have smaller sheets, then use two, and don't force it to the edges. You will want to make two at no larger than 7x9 or so.
Remove the dough from the bowl with oiled hands and press the dough into the pan with your fingers so that it evenly covers the pan. If the dough resists, simply let it rest for 10 minutes and then try again. Keep repeating this till the dough willingly stretches into the corners.
Loosely cover the focaccia dough with plastic wrap and let it rest 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 400F (205C)
Uncover the dough. Use your fingers to firmly dimple the surface. Press down until you feel the hard surface of the pan, being careful not to tear the dough. Use a pastry brush to paint the focaccia with 2 tbsp of olive oil and then sprinkle it evenly with about 3/4 teaspoon of salt.
Using a mandolin, very thinly slice the baby potatoes and give them a gentle squeeze to remove any water that developed. Take the drained potato slices and put them in a bowl.
To the potatoes add the 1/4 cup olive oil, minced rosemary, and 1 tsp salt. Toss to coat the potatoes evenly, using a rubber spatula.
Spread out the potatoes over the surface of the focaccia, laying them close to each other, even overlapping if necessary. If there is excess watery oil (as the salt may have drawn some more water out of the potatoes), discard this.
Sprinkle the surface with one final 1/2 tsp of salt.
Take about 3 1/2 oz (100 grams) of the blue cheese and slice into pieces. Scatter these evenly over the potatoes.
Bake the focaccia on the centre rack until it is nicely browned and the underside is crisp, about 30 minutes. Remove the tray to a cooling rack.
Take the remaining blue cheese and cut it into small pieces. Scatter these around the crisped top. The residual heat will melt the cheese into pleasing puddles all over the crisped browned potatoes!
Let the focaccia cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Use a good serrated knife to make clean cuts through the potatoes and down into the puffed bread.
Store leftovers in an airtight bag at room temperature. Pieces can be reheated at 300F for 8 minutes or so to bring the crunch back!
Original Focaccia Recipe adapted from The Hot Bread Kitchen cookbook.