this is not The Publican

it is not Big Star, or Avec, or even Blackbird.

But it is Paul Kahan. And possibly, in a way you’ve never before seen him.

He’s been hitting up the newsstands lately – in Chicago and beyond. We made our first visit to his West Town spot, The Publican, a month or so ago, and had a decent sampling of pork, among other things and we, along with Wilco’s bassist, frequent Big Star for the tasty bourbon and ginger drinks as well as the pork belly $3 tacos. Check out this link for reviews, if you’re interested.

Outside of Chi-town, he’s all over the foodiesphere elsewhere, and was recently featured in both Bon Appetit and Food & Wine magazines.

In F&W, he was given the challenge, along with some other well-known “hearty” chefs (like Iron Chef Michael Simon, one of my crushes; maybe because he’s bald?!) to create healthy meals that didn’t center on meat. You’d think it would be tricky for such a meatster, but I have a recipe of his to prove it wasn’t that you should most definitely give a try.

Foccacia, one of my favorite yeast breads to make (here’s a rosemary foccacia that’s outta this world), but made solely with spelt flour to make it more dense and hearty, as Kahan would prefer. And topped with winter’s finest: squash and kale. It’s enough to satisfy a light dinner for 4 (or in my world, 2 with lunch the next day) that will make you feel like you did something good for your body, you know, with the leafy greens and bright veggies and all.

Certainly you have some winter squash lying around just waiting to be used, right? And while you might not have kale or spelt flour (unless you made those heavenly banana muffins), they’re both relatively easy to procure.

I doubt you’ll see this little number on any of Kahan’s menus, but don’t let that fool ya – the man can cook.

Have you hit up any of Kahan’s associated spots (the Publican, Blackbird, Avec, Big Star)? Do tell!

Spelt Focaccia with Kale, Squash, & Pecorino
Adapted from Food & Wine, March 2010; serves 4

i thought the foccacia was nice the way it was (with spelt flour only), but some feel that spelt and wheat flour can be extra heavy, and with wheat flour i’d agree. if you’re one of those people, try a 1/2 and 1/2 combo for a lighter dough. you may ask yourself, “what’s the difference between foccacia and pizza?”. look above, and check out those air pockets, those bubbles, in the cooked dough – the finger-poking is the secret here, and don’t omit it.

printable version

2 c spelt flour (or 1 c spelt, 1 c all purpose for a lighter focaccia)
One envelope dry active yeast
1 c warm water
1 T honey
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 t chopped rosemary
Sea salt, for sprinkling (do NOT leave this out)
2 c finely shredded stemmed Tuscan kale
1 T fresh meyer lemon juice
1 t crushed red pepper
2 oz thinly sliced prosciutto (optional, I added b/c I had it)
8 oz acorn or delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced crosswise 1/2 inch thick
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1/2 c grated or shaved pecorino cheese

In a large bowl, combine the spelt flour with the yeast, water, honey, 1 T of the olive oil and 3/4 t of kosher salt and stir until a dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead just until smooth, no more than 1 minute. Oil the bowl and return the dough to it. Let the dough rise, covered, in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. If you make this the day before, let the dough rise and then refrigerate, which will allow the flavor of the spelt flour to continue to build. Let it come to room temparature before working with it.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough, then transfer it to the baking sheet and press it into a 12-by-8-inch shape. Brush with 1 t of the olive oil. Press small indentations all over the dough and sprinkle with the rosemary and sea salt. Let the dough stand uncovered for 45 minutes, until slightly risen. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake the focaccia for about 30 minutes, until lightly browned all over.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss the kale with the lemon juice, crushed red pepper and 1 t of oil. Squeeze the kale gently to soften it, then let it stand for 20 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 t of oil. If you’re using prosciutto, saute it for a few minutes to get it crispy and then remove and place on a plate with paper towel to drain. Add the squash, season with kosher salt and cook over moderately high heat until golden, 2 minutes. Turn the squash, add the garlic and cook over moderately low heat until the squash is tender, 5 minutes.

Top the focaccia with the kale and squash (prosciutto if using) and bake for 1 minute longer, to heat the vegetables. Scatter the pecorino on top, cut into wedges and serve.

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