Sometimes I come off as a bit of a pusher. No, not in the way you’re thinking. You see, I have the habit of veering people off their diets. Of luring them to the dark side with refined flours, salt and fat. Today is no exception.
You see, I don’t have much respect for Puritanism when it comes to food. Not that I believe gorging on a 200g bag of High Fructose Syrup-infused candy is a good idea either. Life is short, and we should enjoy what we eat, whether it be a freshly baked croissant or a healthy salad. Or maybe I just have a secret desire to fatten all those skinny bitches up. Either way, I know that I have always been happier when eating good food (in moderation of course), when eating like a French woman, and not feeling guilty about my choices. If that means that I’ll never be thin, then so be it.
And so we come to Focaccia, one of the saltiest and fattiest breads of them all, and also, what I would consider, a food of the gods. Do I think it’s a good idea to eat this every day? No. Should it be shared? Most definitely. I don’t recommend eating a whole pan by yourself in front of the TV (as tempting as that might sound. Believe me, these pieces are addictive!) Focaccia is great party food, or something for a meal with friends, perhaps accompanied by a hearty, vegetable soup. It won’t do much for your health, but it will definitely feed your soul. It’s also pretty easy to make, with a whole variety of toppings to choose from. I chose to make my recipe two ways: the first with roasted pine nuts and pesto, the second with fig jam, cheese, rosemary and olives. Both turned out deliciously.
Focaccia, Two Ways
1 3/4 cups of warm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sugar
5 cups of flour
1 tablespoon of salt, preferably coarse (I used sea salt)
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
handful of Pine nuts
pesto (preferably homemade)
handful of Kalamata Olives, sliced
handful of sliced cheese (any lightly flavoured one, like fresh goat cheese will do. I used a lightly truffled cow’s milk cheese)
handful of dried rosemary
Mix the water, yeast and sugar together in a bowl. Allow mixture to bubble. This should take around 15 minutes.
If you have an stand up mixer with a dough hook, place flour, salt, olive oil and yeast mixture in the mixer, and mix on low speed. Once ingredients come together, increase the speed to medium and allow to mix for five minutes. This will do most of the kneading for you. After the 5 minutes are up, transfer the dough to a flat, slightly floured surface and knead by hand for another minute.
If you don’t have a stand up mixer, mix the same ingredients together in a bowl with a wooden spoon. Once the ingredients come together, you’ll want to knead the dough with your hands for at least 7 minutes. This is a very important step! If the dough is not well kneaded, it will be too dense.
When the kneading is done, coat the inside of a large bowl with oil (preferably the one you mixed the dough in, as long as it’s not too sticky! Who wants to do more dishes than necessary?). Place dough in the bowl and roll it in the oil, coating the sides of the bowl at the same time. Cover with a damp towel and place in a warm area for at least an hour.
If you haven’t yet made the pesto, this is a great time to do it. I never use a recipe, but add the following ingredients bit by bit until they taste right: several handfuls of basil, about 3 cloves of raw garlic, several glugs of olive oil, several spoonfuls of parmesan cheese, a handful of pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste. If you want to go seriously old school, you can do this with a mortar and pestle, but a food processor works pretty well too.
After your dough has risen for an hour, coat two baking pans with olive oil. Divide dough in half and with your fingers spread dough out over surface. Turn the dough over to coat both sides. Poke holes all the way through the dough in order to create oil filled ridges (they’ll fill in as the dough cooks in the oven. Don’t worry, you won’t have holes in your focaccia!) Cover your dough again and let rise for another hour.
While the dough is rising, preparing your toppings.
About ten minutes before the hour is up, start preheating your oven. I cooked mine at 410 degrees Fahrenheit on the convection setting. If you don’t have a convection oven, you should cook them about 10 degrees higher.
When the dough has finished rising, top one focaccia with pine nuts, lightly pressing them into the dough.
Top the other one with olives, spoonfuls of fig jam, cheese slices and rosemary, lightly pressing the ingredient into the dough.
Sprinkle both with more salt and several more drizzles of olive oil. Place them in the oven, and set your timer for 15 minutes.
When the buzzer goes, remove both focaccia (or should I be obnoxious and use the proper Italian plural “focacce”?) from the oven. They’ll be mostly cooked by this point, with a bit of browning already begun. Drizzle the fig jam focaccia with a bit more olive oil (I’m serious!) and switch it to bottom rack if it was on top before (and vice-versa). Bathe the other focaccia in pesto (at least 4 heaping spoonfuls worth!), and place back in the oven. Cook for another two minutes or so.
Remove from the oven, and serve warm, with no guilt on the side. Then get down on your knees and thank the thousands of Italian grandmothers that came before you and made this dish possible!