You haven’t seen me post any cookies, cakes or pastries on the blog for a long time and there’s a reason for that. Desserts really are my weakness so I thought I might give them up for Lent this year. The good news is that I succeeded in not succumbing during the entire 40 days. The bad news is that I compensated with far too much pizza, pasta and panini, including those similar to the photo above, made with homemade focaccia. I’m rethinking this whole idea of renouncing something for Lent and next year will skip it. Instead, I think I’ll spend more time in reflection, meditation and prayer – something I never seem to find time for on a daily basis, but that I think would be more meaningful than giving up a portion of tiramisu and gorging on other foods instead.
So onto the focaccia – a simple dough that’s easily made, but there’s an important word for you to learn first — temperature. Yes, temperature of the water is key. Too cold and the yeast takes forever to do its thing. Too hot, and you’ve killed the yeast. So grab a thermometer and take the temperature of the water. It should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Proceed from there and mix all the ingredients, then knead the dough, roll into a ball, and place in an oiled bowl. Cover and wait a couple of hours.
The yeast will work its magic and it will double in size.
Cut it in half and spread half of it in a cast iron skillet. Push down with your fingers and “dimple” the dough, then sprinkle with coarse salt and chopped rosemary.
Here’s what it looks like when it comes out. Leave it in the oven longer if you like it more golden.
You could cut it up and serve it as bread with a meal, or you could split it and make panini instead.
Fill the focaccia with whatever floats your boat. This one’s filled with prosciutto, burrata cheese and arugula fresh from my garden, a return crop from last year.
This one’s filled with those wild greens
I gathered recently, as well as melted mozzarella cheese (place the filled focaccia in the oven for a few minutes to melt the cheese).
But this one — well this one’s my favorite. It’s filled with cooked sausage, broccoli rape, roasted red peppers and drippingly delicious melted provolone cheese. Buon Appetito.
Join me and Kathryn Abajian in Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Italy to savor the slow life, to start or refine your memoir or other writing and explore a lesser-known part of Italy. Only a couple of spots left for this week in an unspoiled village amid stimulating company, great food each day and excursions to interesting places nearby. Life is short – go for it. It’s really as good as it sounds, so don’t dally – check out “Italy in Other Words.”
printable recipe here
2 1/4 t. dry yeast (1 package)
1 t. sugar
4 cups flour (I used bread flour)
1 1/2 t. salt
1 1/4 cups warm water (between 105 and 110 degrees)
olive oil to drizzle on top
coarse, or kosher salt for the top
Dissolve the yeast in about 1/4 cup water and add a tsp. of sugar to help get it started. The temperature of the water is very important. I use a meat thermometer to get the right temperature. Too cold and it takes forever for the dough to rise. Too hot and you kill the yeast.
After the yeast has sat in the small bit of water and sugar, it should start to bubble up in about five minutes.
Mix it with the flour, the rest of the water and the salt. You can use a food processor or just mix it by hand in a bowl until it’s all blended. Add more flour or water if needed. Knead for about five minutes, then place in a greased bowl and cover it with a dish towel, plastic wrap or a large plate. Let it rise in a warm place until doubled. This could take a couple of hours.
Punch down the dough and split it in half. Spread out half in a cast iron skillet if you have one. If not, just make a free-form circle of dough by rolling and stretching.
Let it sit for about five minutes in the pan, then use your fingers to dimple the top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarse salt, then some minced rosemary.
Bake in a preheated 500 degree oven for about 15 minutes. Check to see the bottom is browned and if not, take it out of the pan and place directly on your oven rack. Repeat with the other half of the dough once the cast iron skillet is cool enough to handle.