rustic Italian baking – focaccia

Roughly three years ago Rachel Roddy, Carla Tomasi and I sat in Carla’s kitchen with mugs of tea, looking out onto Carla’s blooming kitchen garden and chatting about how Market to Table would become our chance to cook together with curious travelers from around the globe.  Market to Table has become a glorious celebration of the Roman seasons, of recipes we love and a true sharing of culinary knowledge.  I have learnt so much from both Rachel and Carla, and literally pepper my other classes with ‘Carla does this’ and ‘Carla taught me that’.  Even when I am pottering around the studio doing something else, I always have one ear tuned to what Carla is saying.

 

Carla always makes focaccia for Market to Table, and the smell of it, just baked and often topped with onions and herbs, has dealt a swift end to many a proposed diet. Focaccia is the simplest of breads, but, in order to tick all the right boxes – light, airy, crisp on the outside – it needs a good mix of flours and the right hydration. Yes, dough is a sticky, slightly scary mess when it has a lot of water in it – a high hydration – but it only takes a few goes to feel comfortable with it.

You can bake a focaccia just so – sprinkling sea salt and rosemary on it when it comes out of the oven, or cook vegetables in to it for more of a meal. For onion lovers there is the classic Foccacia alla Genovese covered with finely sliced onions with a little oregano. Focaccia alla Pugliese is lovely when tomatoes are in season, the tomatoes cooking into a sort of confit while they are baking cushioned by the bread. Sliced zucchini is lovely, potato works, and Carla makes another heavenly version with blue cheese and red onions. So, focaccia is like pasta in a way, a blank canvas with which to follow the seasons or a whim.

Foccacia, the simplest of breads, based on a recipe and cooking advice from Carla Tomasi

Oven temp. 190°C with fan

This is a good quantity for two round focaccia of approx 20 cm diameter.

250 g 00 flour (plain or all purpose) – for Australians I like the Caputo flours which are available at good stores like Bocaccio IGA

250 g manitoba (strong bread flour)

1.5 tsp of fast action dry yeast

10 g of fine salt

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

380 ml tepid water

Note: Measure the full amount but never add it all at once because there are many variants (flour quality, heat, humidity etc) that affect the ability of flour to absorb liquid.

MIX: Place flours, yeast and salt in a suitable mixing bowl (glass, ceramic or plastic) and swirl around. Drizzle in the olive oil and then pour in the water. Maybe on a very cold day the water temperature ought to be on the warm side of tepid. Plunge one hand in and use it as if it was a dough hook. If you want to use a stand mixer you can, with the dough hook. As you go around the bowl, gather flour from the side towards the centre. 

REST: Once all the flour has been incorporated, pat into a shaggy mass, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. The dough will be very loose and sticky – this is because it has a high ‘hydration’.

(At this point you can let THE DOUGH RISE OVERNIGHT IN THGE FRIDGE. If you want to use the dough the next day, you can place in the fridge and let it rise overnight. Likewise if it is a very hot day day and you won’t be using it for many hours you can let it do some of its rising in the fridge.)

TURN: When resting time is over the dough will feel soft and pliable. Pour a little olive oil on the work surface and plop the dough on it. Flatten it out gently and then pull the dough from the edge towards the centre and every time give it a quarter turn. Pull the dough four times.

REST AGAIN: Upturn the mixing bowl over the dough and again leave to rest for about 15 minutes.

TURN AGAIN: Repeat this process once more.

RISE: Now gather the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover well with plastic wrap or a damp clean cloth, and leave to rest until it has doubled in size (around 45 minutes). How quickly the dough rises depends on the temperature of where you are cooking. In winter I often leave dough to rise on a heater or in the kitchen with the oven open.

TRANSFER TO BAKING TRAYS: When the dough is ready ease it out of the bowl, pull the ‘corners’ of the dough once more and gather into a ball. Split the dough into two pieces and lightly oil your baking tin(s) and gently transfer the dough on it. During the cold months it is best to leave the dough to relax on a wooden surface.

RELAX: Leave to rest until the dough has relaxed (approx. 30 mins). Try to finger massage the dough into shape and if it keeps springing back leave it to rest for a while, something like a further 15 minutes. When the dough is ready gently stretch and massage it into the shape you wish to bake it in.

FINAL RISE: Once the dough has been spread out leave it to rise (preferably uncovered) well away from droughts or direct heat. If the day is really hot you may need to cover it. Could take from 20 mins to 40 hour.

COOK: If a thin skin forms on the surface of the dough it is fine, it will be easier to brush it with olive oil. When well puffed up gently dimple the surface with your fingers and brush lightly with oil. Pop into the very hot oven and rotate the tin at lest once. Takes around 25 minutes to bake but much depends on your oven. I like to paint the focaccia with a little more oil once out of the oven.

Carla’s tip: avoid baking the focaccia with herbs strewn on the surface, especially rosemary because the essential oil within the herb will turn bitter due to the strong heat. The best way to add rosemary is to roughly chop and shower the focaccia along with sea salt flakes as soon as it is out of the oven.

 

Foccacine – individual focaccia. While the dough relaxes prepare the toppings. Finely slice one red onion and place in a little bowl with olive oil and thyme. Very thinly slice a small potato and toss with olive oil. Mix a couple of tablespoons of grated cheese, like parmigiano or grana, with quite few grindings of black pepper. Very finely chop some rosemary and set aside. When the dough is soft and pliable again roll it or pat it out into rounds. Place them on an oiled surface- like an oven tray or individual small tins and leave to rise till nicely puffed up and then place the toppings on. May need a drizzle of oil and some salt sprinkled on. They usually bake in around 10/12 minutes.

 

Photos by Giorgia Nofrini and Lida Meyer.

15 thoughts on “rustic Italian baking – focaccia

  1. I tried the Foccaccia and it turned out really well.
    The wet dough is very sticky, but easy to work with if you follow Alice’s method.
    I tried a few different toppings: cherry tomato, zucchini, onion and rosemary with salt. They all worked well, but the rosemary and salt was the best, of course.

  2. Thank you for sharing this Alice! I love making focaccia, but am always intrigued by different techniques and their reasons. I hope to visit Latteria Studio soon and meet you all. Buon Anno!

  3. I should definitely make a torta rustica one of these days! Thinking some winter vegetables like red cabbage. Mmm… I will be back here for this recipe soon enough. 🙂

  4. I did try this one last month actually (October 2018) (I did not tell u/Carla): good stuff. U used normal bread flour though (not a great fan of manitoba) nice and easy

    on cooking with carla and alice and rachel: shame that the title “xyzzy says” it has been taken already in the food world (Marcella says), because “Carla says.–” it would be a great book: a seasoned Italian cook and one or two non Italian (possibly less seasoned) cooks.. nice perspective: learning from one another… I will campaign that such a book is made. stefano

  5. Having been to your ‘one night only’ class in Melbourne, I’m fortunate enough to have tasted your focaccia. Such a simple recipe, such a delicious result! Thanks, Kris

  6. Alice this recipe looks simple and delicious I can’t wait to join one of your classes in Rome. Thanks for sharing. Libby

  7. Thank you for sharing Alice. Makes me want to jump on a plane and be there for your next session, keep the recipes coming and I’ll start saving!

  8. Yours is a focaccia recipe I keep coming back to, Alice. And I never seem to be able to find the piece of paper it’s scribbled on. It’s perfect knowing that I can always find it here. And how I wish I were sitting down to a ‘market to Table’ lunch with you all right now……..

  9. Dear Alice, I tried your recipe in my kitchen all the way over on the other side of the world in steaming hot Brisbane. I baked your gorgeous foccacioa with my children and we loved it. It’s such a great intermediary between lunch and dinner, pizza and bread it is neither one nor the other – love the versatility of the focaccia. Thanks for bringing it to life for us. Adore Rustica Rettro. Keep it coming. Brigitte and team.

    1. Sorry – just saw this is ‘anonymous’ – meant to say Brigitte Johnson, Grace Hinneberg, Lachy Hinneberg and James Hinneberg. Xx

I love comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.