Look what I made! I baked. And by now we know what that means…the train has just pulled in to procrastination station, and it might be here for a while, so you may as well get off and stretch your legs. What can I say? I don’t feel like writing an abstract for the paper I’m currently working on. Oh, and the other thing I can say is that this might be the best product of my procrastination yet!
My parents went to Italy last year for a trip (can you believe they didn’t take me?! The devestation!), and were kind enough to show me their pictures a couple of times and tell me the stories of their meals in such detail that if those photos hadn’t been digital, I’m pretty sure they would have been ruined by my drooling. What I have been most stuck on was the descriptions of the focaccia they had. Loaves of bread laced with olive oil and topped with any number of uber-Italian ingredients for the baking. They traveled through the region where focaccia is originally from! I was fairly consumed with jealousy and vowed that I would travel there myself someday, and until then figured I had to at least try making some good focaccia myself.
I’ve tried a couple of recipes from various bread books before and they’ve been total disappointments, I’m afraid. Too dense, too dry and crumbly. I envision my focaccia with wonderful golden olive oil practically leaking out of it, while magically being not oily. Is that too much to ask?…It turns out, no, it isn’t. I stumbled on this recipe, who knows where at this point, because I just jotted down the ingredients list, with the note, “make like bread and add topping before baking.” So helpful. But, I made it, making up instructions for myself and modifying the ingredients (because there turned out to be too much flour), and somehow I produced spectacularly delicious focaccia. I even found a local (and way too expensive – it’s really not tomato season yet) greenhouse tomato for the topping.
Fragrant, soft and pillowy, pungent, golden, crusty and not chewy, this is everything I think a focaccia should be (who knows, Italians may totally disagree), with the wonderful sweetness of roasted tomatoes and onions on top. I know it’s really popular right now to offer sandwiches on so-called “focaccia” at a lot of sandwich joints, but this is so far beyond those in heavenly fresh bread deliciousness that they don’t deserve to go by the same name. Even if it’s hot outside. Even if you don’t need a new loaf of bread. Even if you have other things you’re supposed to be doing (or maybe especially if). Make this focaccia!
(If you’re like me) It’s hard not to eat it all straight out of the oven. But, if you can save some of it, it also makes delicious sandwich bread. It would be delicious with a little ricotta and cracked black pepper or goat cheese spread on it. It was great with ham and cheese. But, best of all we used it to make the World’s best ever BLTs with thick cut bacon from the farm (Niman Ranch bacon would also do the trick). Words are defied.
Focaccia with tomatoes, onions, and basil
For the bread:
- 1 cup warm water (pretty warm to touch, but not uncomfortably hot)
- 2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ¼ cup plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
- about 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading, if needed)
- In a large bowl, combine the warm water with the yeast and sugar. Allow to stand for 10 minutes until the yeast is foamy.
- Stir in the ¼ cup olive oil and salt. Stir in the flour a bit at a time, stirring vigorously to incorporate it, until it forms a shaggy ball. Drizzle with the last Tablespoon olive oil, and work the dough ball briefly with your hands. Knead the dough, using as little flour as possible to keep it from sticking, until it is smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes (arm workout for the day!).
- Lightly grease a 9X13” baking dish – I actually used a metric 2 litre baking dish which comes out to 11X7”, which is a bit smaller and I thought was perfect, but if you use a 9X13”, this should be okay too.
- Stretch your dough and press it out in the bottom of the pan until it reaches the edges. Cover the dish with a clean cloth and put it in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, until it has poofed up. In the meantime, make the topping. (If you want a plain focaccia, once it’s risen you can just brush the bread with olive oil and sprinkle with a little sea salt and/or rosemary and bake 40-50 min. at 400F.)
For the tomato topping:
- 1 large tomato
- 1 small-medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced into strips
- Several Tbs. good olive oil
- Several big pinches of dried basil (or oregano, or rosemary) – fresh would also be excellent, but you’d add it at the very end of the baking, instead of the start
- A sprinkling of salt – about 1 tsp.
- Remove the stem, halve and slice the tomato. (Cherry tomatoes would also work, you could just halve them) Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a frying pan over medium, add the onion and cook about 5 minutes, until browned.
- When the bread is done rising, preheat the oven to 400F. Carefully spread the cooked onions on top of the bread, then layer the tomatoes on top. Sprinkle generously with the basil, and then drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the bread that shows through looks golden, and the tomatoes are getting golden-brown and roasted. You may want to put a baking sheet under your baking dish in the oven because
- if your bread is like mine, it will ebulliently drip all over the place, potentially creating smokey burny spots, if the drips are not caught. Allow to cool at least 15 or so minutes before digging in. Like all breads, this is the very best on the day it is baked, but it kept quite well, covered, for several days.