How about some focaccia?

focaccia

The photo above was taken the week before last at Catherine St. John's Western Reserve School of Cooking in Hudson, Ohio.    Last week I was at Ramekins in Sonoma, and next Thursday I take off for Southern California and Let's Get Cookin' in Westlake Village, followed by stops at several Central Market stores in Texas.  Traveling to promote a new book is loads of fun and quite a bit of work, but it's so rewarding seeing old baking class friends and meeting new ones.  Stop by if you can... FOCACCIA ALLA BARESE

TRADITIONAL FOCACCIA FROM BARI IN APULIA

Bari is a bustling port city in southern Italy on the Adriatic (east) coast. I’ve only visited once, but the food of Bari has always been a part of my life, both in childhood and later on.  My mother came from a small town on the eastern end of the region of Campania, not too far, but inland from Naples, and also close to the border of neighboring Apulia.  The result was that we ate many foods that are considered classics of Apulia.  We had orecchiette, little “ear” shaped pasta made from flour and water dough; carteddate, spirals of fried dough topped with sour cherry preserves or honey; and many dishes in which broccoli di rape (pronounced RAH pay), a typical Apulian ingredient, figured.  Of course we had different names for them, reflecting a classic Neapolitan disdain for the somewhat incomprehensible dialect of Apulia. When I first began teaching in the late seventies I immediately made the acquaintance of Ann Amendolara Nurse, a teacher of Italian American cooking whose family was from near Bari.  Ann’s British sounding last name came from her Canadian born husband Gene, who also loved to cook.  Gradually over the ensuing nearly 30 years, Ann and I became best friends and I continued to learn from her about the riotously flavorful cooking of Bari and the rest of Apulia.  The focaccia here was something that Ann’s mother made every Christmas Eve, though I think it’s great at any time of the year.  Try it cut into small squares as an hors d’oeuvre, or as a lunch dish accompanied by a salad.  No matter when you enjoy it, this focaccia is always a dish that pleases.  Keep the anchovies a secret – they don’t make the topping taste at all fishy, but contribute a depth of salty flavor that you couldn’t achieve by merely shaking in some salt.

As with any other yeast dough, be careful not to have the water in which you dissolve the yeast more than 110 degrees, or the yeast will die and your dough won’t rise.  And remember to bake the focaccia on the bottom rack of the oven so that the bottom is well browned and flavorful.

FOCACCIA DOUGH

4 cups/540 grams unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

2 teaspoons salt

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) fine granulated active dry or instant yeast

1 2/3 cups/375 grams warm water, about 110 degrees

3 tablespoons olive oil

Olive oil for the pan

One 12 x 18-inch or an 11 x 17-inch jellyroll pan, generously oiled

TOPPINGS

1/3 cup olive oil, divided

2 large onions, about a pound, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced from stem to root end

One 2-ounce can anchovies in olive oil, drained and coarsely chopped

Salt (little because of the anchovies) and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup Gaeta or oil cured black olives, pitted and quartered, see Note

1/3 cup Cerignola or other flavorful green olives, pitted and quartered

A light sprinkling of Kosher or other coarse salt

  1. For the dough, combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir well to mix.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk the yeast into the water and whisk in the oil.
  3. Use a large rubber spatula to make a well in the center of the flour in the bowl.  Pour in the liquid and use the spatula to begin stirring in the center of the bowl, gradually stirring in a circle toward the side of the bowl, incorporating more flour as you stir.  When all the flour has been incorporated, the dough will still be fairly soft.  Use the spatula to dig down to the bottom of the bowl from the side, between the bowl and the dough, and repeatedly fold the dough over on itself, until no dry bits remain.
  4. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until double, about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room.
  5. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan without folding it over on itself.  Lightly oil the palms of your hands to prevent sticking and press down on the dough so that it evenly fills the pan.  If the dough resists, cover it with a towel and let it rest for 10 minutes before continuing.
  6. Cover the pan with oiled plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise until it is double, up to an hour.  While the dough is rising prepare the toppings. Pour half the olive oil into a 10-inch sauté pan and place over low to medium heat.  Add the onions, and cook them slowly until they soften and are beginning to color lightly.  Stir in the anchovies and cook a minute longer.  Season with salt and pepper.
  7. Scrape the sauce onto a plate or glass pie pan and place it in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool.  Stir in the olives.
  8. When the crust is almost risen set a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
  9. Uncover the crust and gently dimple it at 1 1/2-inch intervals, using a fingertip.  Drop spoonfuls of the onion mixture all over the top of the crust and use a small metal offset spatula to evenly spread the topping all over the dough – there will be a thin layer.
  10. Sprinkle the topping with a few pinches of Kosher salt.  Drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
  11. Bake the focaccia until it is well risen and the topping is dry and beginning to color, about 30 minutes.  Turn the pan back to front about halfway through the baking. Let the focaccia cool it the pan on a rack for 5 minutes, then use a wide  metal spatula to slide it to a rack to finish cooling.

Serving:  Use a sharp serrated knife or a pizza wheel to cut the focaccia into squares.  Serve the focaccia cut into 2-inch squares as an hors d’oeuvre, or as part of an assortment of antipasti as a first course.

Storage:  Keep the focaccia loosely covered with plastic wrap on the day it is baked – if you’re preparing it early in the day for the evening, leave it right on the cooling rack.  Wrap and freeze for longer storage.  Defrost, reheat at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, and cool before serving.

Note:  The best way to pit olives is to press them one at a time with the side of a knife blade – the pit pops right to the surface.