As I may have mentioned once or twice before (O.K. maybe a little more than once or twice), I’m turning 50 this year. This Sunday to be exact, and I’m really looking forward to it. No, REALLY. Sure my youth is gone, my parts have decidedly begun their march south (damn gravity), and I occasionally make old man sound when rising up off the couch. But luckily I’m healthy, everything still works pretty well, and despite lack of current romance or work, my mood is downright sunny. Not the usual for someone hitting the half-century mark. No hair pulling, no hand wringing, no woe-is-me-ing in sight. Early onset dementia you say? Well, no, not quite. I happily welcome my 50s because on Friday I’m packing the Pradas, and we’re off to celebrate in their birthplace — ITALY! Oh, the history, the art, the FOOD, the SHOES! And the men, ahhhh the men. I envision them all as Rosano Brazzi in “Summertime.” O.K., maybe that’s a stretch, but it’s my vision. Coins will be tossed, canals will be crossed, and cocktails sipped under Cinzano umbrellas. I will eat and shop, and shop and eat, from Milan to Venice to Rome!
So how did this all come about? As beautiful visions often do — during a mani-pedi. You laugh, but many great visions are channeled in big cushy massage chairs while digits get pumiced and polished. Anyway, last summer during mid-soak, I was asked what I wanted to do for my 50th. Obviously since work was scarce and funds even scarcer, I responded “a Carvel ice cream cake would be nice…” My reply was quickly pooh-poohed. I was told I should suspend current reality, and I was commanded to think again. “O.K., if I could do anything, I mean anything, I’d like to go to Venice.” Be careful what you say to your fairy godmother. Yes, I have a fairy godmother, and she just happened to be sitting in the chair next to mine. Estelle is her name, (Mrs. Finklestein to you), and she lives within my sweet friend Darryl. Satisfied by the new wish, Estelle smiled. That’s how fairy godmothers work you see. They just smile; meanwhile wheels start to turn in their fervent fabulous heads. A wish became an idea, the idea turned to reservations, and this Friday Darryl and I (and Estelle) wing our way to the land of pasta, proscuitto, and PRADA! Through an act of incredible generosity from an amazing man, this gal is celebrating cinquanta anni in Italia! Know what’s even better? I get to share it with my wonderful friend. There’s only one problem: How am I’m going to pack all those shoes!
Get ready for a LOT of recipes D’Italia in the coming weeks and months. I mean, how could I possibly eat my way through Italy and not share it? So just to whet the appetite, here is the first of many on a theme.
The inspiration for my Schiacciata con Pesche came from Jim Lahey’s Pizza Bianca. In his book My Bread, he includes a sweet variation of it with raisins and grapes. That gave me an idea. On my 45th birthday, I threw a cocktail-and-dessert party and included a peach pizza. So adapting a Pizza Bianca recipe to peaches seemed like a brilliante idea to me. Happily, it was delicious too! Not overly sweet, this is a flatbread, not a cake. It’s perfect for breakfast with some ricotta or mascarpone on top, and makes an incredible panini with fresh mozzarella melted in-between. And since it’s based on a no-knead technique, you can make the dough the night before and let it proof overnight. Mangiamo!
Schiacciata con Pesche
Makes one large sized flatbread, about 17” x 13”
3 cups flour
Heaping ½ tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp lemon zest
1 ½ cups cool water
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing on pan and dough (I use an EVOO spray)
For the peaches:
2-3 large peaches, sliced in half, pitted and cut into about ½” pieces
1-2 tsp sugar for sprinkling on top
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and using a wooden spoon or your hand (I find using my hand easier), mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Lightly coat a second medium bowl with olive oil and place dough in it. Cover and let sit at room temperature until the dough is more than doubled and the surface is dotted with bubbles, about 8-9 hours. (This is perfect for putting together the night before and letting rise while you sleep.)
When the first rise is done, generously dust a board or work surface and scrap the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using floured hands or a bench scraper, fold the dough over itself two or three times and nudge it into a loose flat ball. Brush or spray the surface with olive oil and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over the top. Let sit, uncovered in a warm draft-free spot and allow to rise until doubled, about 1-2 hours.
A half-hour before the end of second rise, preheat oven to 500°F and put rack in center of oven. Oil a sided cookie pan or half sheet pan. Transfer the dough to the pan in one piece, and spread out to a relatively even thickness. It doesn’t necessarily have to go all the way into the corners but should be even thickness so it cooks uniformly. Using your fingers (or if you have nails, your knuckles so you don’t tear the dough) make dimples all over the dough. Push the pieces of peach into the dimples, then brush with olive oil (or a little melted butter) and sprinkle with 1-2 teaspoons sugar.
Bake in the center of the oven for 12-15 minutes, rotating pan halfway through. Remove from pan to a cooling rack and let cool about 15 minutes. Slice up and enjoy with a cappuccino! Calories: approximately 185 per slice for 8 slices, 125 for 12.