Focaccia alla Barese - Christmas Eve Onion Pie from Bari
Though some kinds of focaccia function as bread, this one is more like an onion pizza. My friend and second mother, Ann Amendolara Nurse, whose mother comes from Grumo, near Bari, described it to me and I developed this version of it. Ann’s ancestors on both sides of her family come from Apulia and after she tasted this version, Ann pronounced it the real thing. It’s traditional to serve this for Christmas Eve in Bari, though it is equally good at any time of the year.
Makes one 10 x 15-inch pie, about fifteen 3-inch squares
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm water, about 110 degrees
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sprinkling the top of the focaccia before baking
3 or 4 medium (about 2 pounds) white onions, peeled, halved, and thinly sliced
Very little salt
Freshly ground pepper
2-ounce can of anchovies packed in oil, drained and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup black Gaeta olives, halved and pitted
1/3 cup green Barese olives, halved and pitted
1 teaspoon Kosher or other coarse salt for drizzling the top of the focaccia before baking
One 10 x 15-inch jellyroll pan brushed with 3 tablespoons olive oil
Bake the focaccia until it is well risen and the bottom is well colored, about 30 minutes. Lift a corner of the focaccia with a large metal spatula to check that the bottom is well done.
- For the dough, stir together the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the yeast into the water and then whisk in the oil. Use a large rubber spatula to mix the liquid into the flour. Continue stirring vigorously until the dough is fairly smooth and there are no longer any dry patches. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, cook the onions. Put the 4 tablespoons oil and onions in a wide sauté pan and place over medium heat. Season very lightly with salt (the anchovies and olives are both salty) and grind over about 5 or 6 turns of the peppermill. Once the onions start to sizzle, decrease the heat to low and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent, about 20 to 30 minutes. Scrape the onions into a bowl and set aside to cool.
- When the dough has risen, scrape it into the prepared pan in one piece. Lightly oil your hands and press the dough into the pan to cover it completely. If the dough resists, wait 5 minutes, then pull the dough into the corners of the pan. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and set it aside until it puffs a little, about 20 to 30 minutes. (It does not need to double in bulk.)
- As soon as you cover the dough, set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
- When the dough has puffed, use a fingertip to indent it at 1 1/2-inch intervals all over the surface, pressing firmly but without piercing the dough through to the bottom of the pan.
- Mix the anchovies and olives into the onions and spoon the topping in mounds all over the top of the dough. Use a medium offset spatula to gently and evenly spread the topping on the dough. Drizzle the topping with 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil and sprinkle with the Kosher or coarse salt.
- Use a wide metal spatula to slide the focaccia from the pan to a rack to cool.
Variations: You can also make a plain focaccia from this recipe by omitting the onion topping and baking it with just a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. Or you can add a couple of tablespoons of stemmed and chopped fresh rosemary to the flour before adding the liquid and finish with just the oil and salt.
Tomato-Topped Focaccia: (Focaccia Al Pomodoro) This is a focaccia with just a hint of tomato, not a full-scale tomato pizza. Substitute 2 cups peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes, either fresh or well drained canned, for the onion topping, above. Scatter 2 cloves of garlic cut into thin slices all over the tomatoes and add some pitted black olives if you like. Finish with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of salt, as above.
Filled Ham and Cheese Focaccia (Focaccia Ripiena Di Prosciutto e Formaggio) After you spread the dough on the pan, cover half of it with about 4 ounces of prosciutto, shredded into 1/2-inch pieces, and 4 ounces of coarsely grated or chopped mozzarella. Sprinkle the ham and cheese with 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese. Fold the other half of the dough over the filling and give it a quarter turn so that the longest edge of the dough is in the length of the pan. Press it back to the original size of the pan. You will probably need to wait 5 or 10 minutes to get the dough to cover the pan evenly. Cover the dough as in the recipe above and let it puff. Dimple it and sprinkle with oil and salt. Bake as above.