How to Make Italian Herb Focaccia
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Welcome to my kitchen
When Fabio rings to say he fancies getting together for a baker’s night, I clear the worktops and get out the mixer. If you have read any of my previous Italian-style recipes, you know my friend Fabio is from Tuscany and comes from a family of great natural cooks and bakers. We often get together to share recipes and have a good chinwag. We usually manage a few drops of wine—for medicinal purposes, of course.
We decided to make a few things; the recipe below was one of them, a delicious leaven flatbread called focaccia. This is very traditional and makes a great snack or main meal. As with so many of my recipes, it’s about the taste of the bread rather than just making a loaf. I really think that if you have a good bread, you need very little else on your table. And although the quotes says "man can’t live on bread alone," it certainly makes a very good foundation for any meal.
When Fabio arrived, he was soaked to the skin; it was absolutely hammering down, but it didn’t dampen our enthusiasm for our cooking night.
Italian Flour for Best Results
Italian flour or ‘oo’ flour [any good bread flour will do otherwise].
- 1 oz of fresh yeast, or a sachet 7gm of dried fast yeast.
- 300ml warm water
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 teaspoon of salt.
- Fresh herbs, Rosemary, Basil, Thyme or dried mixed Italian herbs
- Olives in oil
- ½ cup of onions.
- 4 cloves of garlic.
- 1 cup of cheese [whatever you like]
Make your yeast sponge; add a little honey or you can try my favourite maple syrup, and then about 50gms of flour to your yeast. Add some warm water, and mix well. Leave to proof for ten minutes.
How to Make Your Bread
- Warm your mixing bowl, and then sieve in the rest of your flour. Add your sponge, and let it soak for a few minutes. Now start to mix. If you are using a mixer, start nice and steady. Add the rest of the water, and then the butter and salt. Knead until you have a really smooth dough.
- Some like to chill it for a few hours, but I’m always in too much of a hurry to eat it.
- Leave the dough covered with a damp cloth for twenty minutes.
- Divide the dough, and with the first piece, roll out it out.
- Sprinkle the herbs, and slice the olives into thin slices and add them.
- Fold the dough, roll again, fold again, and fold again.
- If you have an oven tray, stretch the dough out, and fold in the edges to make a crust.
- Traditionally, they put dimples into the dough so that it holds the topping better.
- Give the second piece of dough the same treatment. You can make them any shape. In fact, we ended up making them more pizza-shaped.
- Sprinkle the onions, chopped garlic, cheese, herbs, and a few drops of olive oil.
- Cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes at gas mark 7 or 425f degrees.
- Serve with olives and maybe some Italian-style smoked ham. Always serve with love, and it will taste much better.
We came up with a herb flavouring mix for the dough to add last of all.
If you have a ‘Herbs De Provence’ mix then you can use that because we mixed; rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, tarragon, black pepper, and for a real flavour kick, we added some dried lavender. That last ingredient really adds something different to the mix, all the others we’ve used before.
Fabio told me his grandmother on his mum’s side used to add lavender to all sorts of dishes, including stews and bread. His dad’s, mum used to hate it and so if the family ate out at Fabio’s house there was always arguments about adding the lavender. Mind you he said they both could argue about anything in the world, sometimes changing viewpoint just to prolong the argument.
Two different toppings
For the topping of one, we used tinned anchovies, which had been tinned in olive oil, also onions, garlic, tomatoes cut into segments. The spare oil from the tin was dripped over the topping and then finally a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Cut the tomatoes into thin segments, they cook better and let the heat penetrate through to the bread easier than using say, half pieces of tomato.
I nearly always use smoked garlic, they last longer, and the aroma is just knock out. You can use garlic powder, but I find it quite a different taste to fresh.
The second one we topped with tomato segments, onions, garlic, a drizzle of mustard oil, a few slices of Italian salami, and, of course, cheese.
Cook for twenty five minutes gas mark 7 or about 220F.
How to Cut Onions Without Crying... Very Much
- Cut the pointy end off the onion, and then peel off the outer skin.
- Make cuts into the onion, but leave the root alone.
- Finally chop the onion. You will find you get really nice, even chunks and very few tears.