A consultant for Pampered Chef, Benson lives in Mattituck with her husband and two children.
When did you become interested in cooking?
I lost my mom at a young age, 11 years old. So my two Italian grandmas would come over to watch us. They were always cooking in the house but they wouldn't reveal too many secrets about their recipes. After my focaccia-making grandma passed away, I got married and started thinking about cooking cooking more for my husband. And I started thinking about old recipes. Nothing was written down. The tradition w-as dying. So I asked an aunt here and there, and I started trying to recreate my family's food.
What are you cooking these days?
We made a New Year's resolution to stop eating processed foods for a while, and I've been on a gluten-free kick. So, I've been doing things like grinding chickpeas to make chickpea flour and grinding rice for rice flour.
But you make an exception for this focaccia recipe?
Oh, yes, always. We grew up in a home that treasured focaccia bread.
What is a mashed potato doing in a bread recipe?
It's traditional. The potato makes the dough moist.
Can you vary the toppings?
You can use diced roasted red peppers instead of the tomatoes. You can top it with red onions and bacon. You can turn it into Sicilian pizza. I am known for making focaccia sandwiches with breaded eggplant.
FOCACCIA, MY STYLE (FROM BARI, ITALY)
1 large russet potato, baked and still very hot
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1½ cups water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons fine sea salt plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
Half of a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1. Grease a 9-by-12-inch baking pan. Peel the potato and put through a potato ricer or mash with a potato masher.
2. Combine the mashed potato, flour, water, yeast, sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bread machine set to knead, or in a large mixing bowl. Knead in the machine until well-combined, or mix by hand with a spatula or wooden spoon until a rough dough forms, and then turn onto a lightly floured countertop and knead by hand until smooth. The dough will be sticky. Do not add more flour.
3. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan. Drizzle some oil over the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.
4. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Sporadically push the tomato pieces into the dough (if you plan to use the bread for sandwiches, don't press all the way down). Lightly sprinkle with onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Sprinkle with the oregano. Drizzle with more olive oil.
5. Bake until focaccia is browned on bottom and top, about 30 minutes. Use spatula to remove it from pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 10 pieces.