Pretty Please, with Potatoes on Top?

Long gone are the days of carb-fearing, Atkins-style grain avoidance, but deep within the American psyche, some subconscious resistance still seems to remain. Just mention a meal combining two starches and even the most well-grounded eaters lose their composure, if only for a moment. Rice and corn? Iffy, but passable. Bread and potatoes? Not unless you want the health food police to arrive on your doorstep, handcuffs ready to snap shut over the guilty cook. And yet, it’s perfectly fine for potatoes to be integrated into the bread, but should they separate, it’s a downright culinary crime. Enough of this nonsense, I say; Let loose, have your bread and potatoes together, and eat them, too!

Truly, it’s a damned shame that this traditional “wisdom” has kept the two apart for so long. Since Thanksgiving is essentially the biggest carbohydrate-bomb of a meal one will consume this year, it seemed the perfect opportunity to sneak this underdog dish in. Rather than serving two individual courses to satisfy the need for both tuber and grain, save yourself the trouble and time with a single side. Magical things happen when you top a chewy loaf of focaccia with thin slices of golden-fleshed potatoes and a handful of red onions. Crispy and golden brown around the edges but still tender on the inside, the sheath of potatoes creates a topper that sets an otherwise simple flat bread apart from the rest.

There is a secret ingredient, however, kneaded deep within the strands of gluten. Sauerkraut brightens up the flavors of the wheat with a much-needed hit of acid, those tangy notes perfectly in tune with the heartier starches. You might even be able to get away with saying that a slice packs in a serving of vegetables in, too!

Sauerkraut and Potato Focaccia

Starter:

1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Barley Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Dry Active Yeast
1/2 Cup Water

Dough:

2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Rye Flour
1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tablespoons Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 Teaspoon Table Salt
1 3/4 Teaspoons Dry Active Yeast
2 Cups Sauerkraut, Drained
3/4 Cups Water
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Topping:

1 Pound Red-Skinned Potatoes
1/2 Medium Red Onion, Thinly Sliced
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Kosher Salt or Coarse Sea Salt

The day or night before hand, mix together all of the ingredients for the starter in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and leave out in a warm place at least overnight, or for 8 – 24 hours. The longer amount of time is better for developing flavor in the bread, but a minimum of 8 hours with certainly suffice.

Once the starter has sat for as much time as you’re willing to give it, start working on the main dough by combining the flours. Take your drained sauerkraut, squeeze out as much extra liquid as possible, and toss it in the flour to coat. Add this mixture, along with the remaining dough ingredients into the bowl of starter. Mix thoroughly, and install the bread hook attachment in your stand mixer once the dough has come together. Allow the machine to knead on a slow speed for about 10 minutes. This makes for a fairly loose, sticky dough, so don’t panic if it seems fairly wet.

Transfer the dough into a lightly-grease, clean bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and lightly grease a 10 x 15-inch jellyroll pan.

Punch down the risen dough gently, and scrape it out onto your prepared pan. Use your finger tips to press it out evenly into the jellyroll shape, leaving nooks and crannies as you go. Set aside while you prepare the topping.

A mandoline will make the process go faster, but you can also use a very sharp knife (and a decent dose of patience). Slice the potatoes to approximately 2 mm in thickness, and then slice the onions just slightly thicker since they will cook faster. Toss both in the olive oil until thoroughly coated, and apply the topping in an even layer over the unbaked focaccia, trying not to overlap slices of potatoes. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Slide your loaf into the oven, and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until golden brown all over, the potatoes are fork-tender, and the onions are slightly crispy around the edges. Let cool before slicing.

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