One of Italy’s many, many glorious breads, focaccia is fairly simple to make at home.
A similar flat bread, panis focacius, was baked on the hearth in Ancient Rome, though the first attestation of the word ‘focaccia’ appeared in 1300 AD. The original focaccia recipe is thought to have originated with the Etruscans, but the bread is now most widely associated with Liguria in north-west Italy. A flat, oven-baked bread, similar in style and texture to pizza, the bread has countless variations along the Ligurian coast, from hard focaccia secca to the soft Voltri version made with cornflour. Focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia) is also popular in some regions, sprinkled with sugar and typically containing raisins or honey. The Genoese version is perhaps most popular outside Italy, however.
Marked by finger-sized holes in the surface, focaccia Genovese is finished with olive oil and coarse salt before its final rise, then baked in the oven. In Genoa, the bread is generally eaten at breakfast or during the day, dipped in milk or cappuccino at breakfast.
This particular focaccia recipe has similarities to focaccia al rosmarino, prepared with fresh rosemary – the most common herb used to flavour the bread. Dried rosemary can be used, at a push, but it’s worth seeking fresh rosemary if possible. I’d also suggest using the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can afford for the final drizzle as it’ll make a significant difference to the overall taste. The bread is also topped with caramelised onions and studded with fresh garlic. The onions can be omitted, however, if you’re after something more traditional. Regardless, the bread is best served as either a side dish, with cold cuts, or as the most perfect sandwich bread imaginable. I’m particularly fond of a focaccia sandwich deeply layered with capocollo, sliced provolone, pickled green peppers, and an additional flurry of grated parmesan.
- Medium baking tray with shallow sides, roughly 23X32cm
- Lint-free tea towel or cheesecloth
- Large mixing bowl
- 500 g plain flour
- 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp fine sea salt
- 230 ml water
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 7g sachet easy bake or fast action yeast
For the topping
- 1½ Tbsp fresh rosemary roughly chopped (or 1 ½ tsp dried)
- Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 2 large onions thinly sliced
- 50 g butter
- Coarse Ground Black Pepper
- Parmesan grated, to taste
- In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast without allowing the yeast and salt to touch at first, as the salt will kill the yeast if it touches before the other ingredients are combined. Mix to combine then add the olive oil and water. Keep mixing until a dough forms.
- Tip the dough onto a lightly oiled surface and knead for 12-13 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Alternatively, knead in a stand mixer for 10 minutes with the dough hook attachment.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to coat the entire ball with oil so it doesn’t form a skin. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take around 1 hour 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, make the caramelised onions. In a frying pan or saucepan over medium low heat, add the oil and butter and let it melt, add the onion and slowly cook, stirring occasionally until the onions begin to caramelise. This will take around 35 to 40 minutes – don’t rush this process. Season with salt and allow the onions to cool.
- Once the dough is doubled in size, turn it out into the oiled baking pan. Stretch the dough out to a rectangular shape (the same size as the pan) around 2.5cm thick. Using your fingertips make dimples in the dough, drizzle over a little oil, the add a pinch of sea salt, pepper, and the sliced garlic and rosemary. Cover the pan with a lint-free tea towel or cheesecloth and allow the dough to rest for around half an hour.
- While the dough rests, preheat your oven to 200C/Gas 6.
- Place the focaccia on a low shelf in the oven for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, scatter the onions over the focaccia and top with a generous handful of parmesan. Return to the oven for an additional 10 minutes or until golden brown. The bread should sound hollow when tapped.
- Allow to cool slightly before cutting and serving.
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