The Staff of Life

The Staff of Life
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Schiacciata All'Uva, Sweetish Hill

While I generally prefer breads to be simple and unadorned (the better to pair with cheeses, meats, or spreads), I absolutely love the Tuscan flat-bread called schiacciata all'uva (flat-­bread with grapes) prepared by Sweetish Hill co-owner Jim Murphy, who firmly describes himself as "a baker – not a pastry chef, a baker."

Schiacciata (pronounced skee-ah-CHA-ta) means smashed or flattened, and this bread is a flatter, denser cousin to focaccia. The slightly sweet schiacciata all'uva, studded with juicy grapes and redolent with rosemary, is traditionally prepared during autumn grape-harvest time.

At the request of Austin food and garden maven Lucinda Hutson, Murphy developed his recipe several years ago for an Italian event at the Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival. "I basically started with a ciabatta dough, and it evolved into a whole-wheat ciabatta. The steam of the oven tends to melt the coarse sugar and seems to infuse the dough with rosemary. I prefer the very large, dark grapes, better if seedless; the bigger the better, because they tend to burst in the oven." And what makes this bread so special? Murphy says, "The unique combination of a whole-wheat ciabatta with that sweet taste of a mild but long fermentation, blended with the sweet, syrupy taste of the rosemary." I say it's the marriage of sweet, salt, and herbs in a dense, wheat flat-bread.

Be aware that you must order schiacciata all'uva 24 hours in advance from Sweetish Hill. It's available in a 1-pound, 12x17-inch flat-bread ($4) or a 3-pound, 12x14-inch loaf ($8). – MM.P.

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