In November 1998, I attended the Slow Food conference in Turin with some friends from New York. We went to the conference at the last minute, so we were unable to attend any of the seminars, but did manage to spend quite a while on the tasting floor - for a modest sum you could buy tickets for tastes of every kind of Italian artisanal food product exhibited. Of course, I headed straight for the bakery stands where a baker from Liguria was making and selling this salt-drenched focaccia. This is my re-creation of that very well enjoyed and remembered focaccia - not too difficult, because the list of ingredients was posted at his stand - of course lard turned out to be the secret to a tasty and tender result.

One of the things I love most about this recipe is that it is easy to prepare by hand - all you need is a rubber spatula.

Makes one 10 x 15-inch flatbread


Dough

2 teaspoons salt

4 cups all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cups and level off)

5 tablespoons lard or olive oil

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

1 2/3 cups warm water

Finishing

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons coarse or kosher salt

One 10 x 15-inch jellyroll pan, generously greased with olive oil

  1. To make the dough, stir the salt into the flour and rub the lard or oil in by hand, making sure it is evenly absorbed by the flour.
  2. Whisk the yeast into the water and use a large rubber spatula to stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Stir vigorously to make an evenly moistened dough that is not necessarily very smooth.
  3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
  4. Once the dough has risen, scrape it onto the prepared pan and spread it evenly with the palms of your hands. If the dough resists, set the pan aside for 5 minutes to let the dough relax a little, then continue. Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rise on the pan until it is puffy, about another 30 minutes.
  5. About 15 minutes before you are ready to bake the focaccia, set a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
  6. Use your index finger to dimple the dough at 1 1/2-inch intervals. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt.
  7. Bake the focaccia for about 30 minutes, or until it is deep golden in color. Use a spatula to lift the focaccia to make sure the bottom is well-colored and done before removing it from the oven.
  8. Slide the focaccia to a rack to cool or to a cutting board if you wish to serve it immediately.

Serving: Cut the focaccia into 2- to 3-inch squares. I like to serve focaccia with drinks before a meal: You can dress it up with prosciutto or smoked meats or serve it alone.

Storage: Focaccia like this is always best on the day it is made, but if you have leftovers, wrap them tightly in foil. Unwrap and reheat them in the oven or toaster oven before serving.