This past weekend I have been experiencing what I shall call my ‘Orange Period’. I’m not sure how long-lived this comestible epoch will be, seeing as I have yet to confront the persimmons that I picked up on Saturday, which are currently starring at me, angry-faced, from the fruit bowl. (This is the fruit, I tell you, that has left The Husband scarred since once upon a time it literally drew all the moisture from his mouth with one fell bite. So, as his friend, it is my duty to ensure that the next time he tastes the flesh of a persimmon, it doesn’t leave his mouth quite resembling a cat’s arse.)
As you’ve probably guessed, the ‘Orange Period’ is not just about oranges. Oh no. It covers all the orange-coloured bases – specifically those wintry gifts that mother nature (and HM Revenue & Customs) bestows upon us – and this hue does seem to mark the sweetest of winter fodder. So far, this red-yellow spell has been a rather creative period in which I have become a sort of domestic Mata Hari. But without the exotic dancing. (Maybe.) My culinary espionage sees me sneak orange-coloured vegetables into dishes that will either surprise the diners who devour them or – and I’m really ashamed to say this – trick my beautiful daughter into having her 5-a-day.
On Friday night I made this Sweet Potato, Olive, Onion and Rosemary Flatbread that strangely (and perhaps science-defyingly, for a bread) seems to improve with age – it mopped up that star anise-scented lamb and barley stew with such finesse last night. It’s another of my interpretations of Dan Lepard’s loaves and this time it’s his take on the Italian focaccia. Lepard’s ‘Olive Oil and Potato Flatbread‘ uses your average white spud, which most of you have knocking about, however – on my mission for corporeal wellbeing and that of my bairns – I chose to substitute the white potato with a sweet potato as the latter is infinitely more nutritious, and sweet to boot. I also added a topping of silky sautéed red onions, fresh sprigs of rosemary and torn black olives, which add a heavenly trilogy of sweetness, earthiness and saltiness to the bread. And I use a little nutty walnut oil, which really compliments the sweet potato. This is a meal (or, if you’re me, a snack) in itself.
200g 00 pasta flour
200g strong white bread-making flour
175g peeled and then grated sweet potato
1 teaspoon of fine sea salt
21g fresh yeast (or 1 teaspoon of easy-blend yeast)
275ml warm water
2 tablespoons of olive oil mixed with 2 tablespoons of walnut oil
Olive oil for sautéing the onion and oiling the baking tray
1 red onion
A handful of fresh rosemary
6 black olives
Coarse-ground rock salt for sprinkling
Scald a large mixing bowl with boiling water and then dry it out. Add the warm water to the bowl and, using a fork, mix the fresh (or dry) yeast with the water. Once dissolved, add the grated sweet potato, 00 flour, strong white bread flour and salt, and continue to mix using your fingers until it comes together. You will have a very soft and sticky dough.
Cover the bowl with a clean, dry tea towel and leave somewhere warm for 10 minutes. Quoting Dan Lepard, we do this because “This will give the flour time to fully absorb the water and aid the development of the elastic protein called gluten, which will catch all of the gas produced by the yeast.”
Rub a generous tablespoon of your walnut and olive oil mixture on the top of the dough using your hands, and then loosen the dough rubbing downwards so that it is covered in the oil. Next, turn the bowl with one hand and, using the other, pull the dough up-and-down out of the bowl about 8 times, to give it a good stretch. Cover the bowl again and leave for another 10 minutes. Repeat this process twice more at 10-minute intervals, then cover again and leave for a further 30 minutes.
Next, oil a large plate and, using a plastic palette knife, flip the dough out of the bowl and onto the plate in one quick motion. Give the dough a blanket fold by stretching and folding it into thirds – you can learn how to do this by watching this video – and then place the plate and dough inside a plastic bag and leave for 30 minutes. Repeat the blanket fold once more and again cover the plate and leave for another 30 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 220C (200C fan-assisted). Generously oil a large baking tray (preferably non-stick) and drop the dough into the middle of it. Fold the dough in half so that it looks rather symmetrical and squarish, before turning it over so that the seam is hidden and your bread looks neat. Then return the baking tray and dough to your carrier bag (I find I often have to tear or cut the plastic to get it to fit), the inside of which you have oiled so that the dough doesn’t stick to the sides. Leave this parcel for 30 minutes or until the dough has risen nicely.
Whilst your dough is having its final rise, cut in half and finely slice your onion. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to a pan (again, ideally non-stick) and, over a low heat, slowly cook the onion for about 15 minutes – or until it has taken on a translucent and glossy colour – stirring every now and then so that the onion doesn’t catch.
After your dough has had its final rise, remove from the carrier bag and, using lightly oiled fingers, dimple the top of the dough. Then pour over your softened onions, including any of the oil left in the pan, followed by a sprinkling of rock salt, a few sprigs of rosemary, and the black olives, which you can tear up roughly with your fingers (of course, remembering to remove any stones). Bake in the oven for around 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 200C (180C fan-assisted) and bake for a further 10-15 minutes until the bread has a golden crust.