After a while in Tuscany, you do get used to pane sciocco. However, sometimes you just want a nice piece of soft salted bread to eat on its own, or to make a sandwich out of. Luckily, there are many excellent traditional breads from the rest of Italy. The other day I was putting together some new menus for my personal chef service and was thinking about what bread I could offer. My clients are mostly holidaymakers staying in villas in and around Caprese I wanted to show off other Italian breads.
Top of my list was focaccia. One of the most well-known Italian flatbreads outside Italy, it also has the advantage of being one of the most versatile. It can be eaten as an accompaniment to a meal, or cut into squares and sliced down the middle to make excellent sandwiches. But it can also have other ingredients or toppings added to make it a meal in itself like a pizza.
Today, focaccia is considered to be part of Ligurian cuisine, probably because it is made using olives, for which the region is most famous. However, I am claiming it for Tuscany as it is thought to have Etruscan origins. The name definitely derives from the latin panis focacius, or ‘hearth bread’, so it was known in the ancient world. I don’t think its a leap of faith to claim that it came to the Romans, like so many other things (togas, religion, history), from the Etruscans and therefore, Tuscany.
Like many things, over the years, I’ve developed my own technique that works every time with focaccia and I am outlining it below. I like to add vegetables, in this case sun-dried tomatoes, to mine and then cut it into small cubes each containing a central suprise. Buon appetito!
Focaccia ai pomodori secchi
Preparation time: 10 mins
Rest time: 1hr 30 mins + 30 mins
Baking time: 30 mins
Total time: 2 hrs 40 mins
500g (4 cups) strong flour
25g (1 oz) fresh yeast
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
325 ml (1 1/3 cups) water
10 sundried tomatoes
fleur de sel
extra virgin olive oil for brushing
1. Place the flour, yeast (crumbled), salt, olive oil, and water in the bowl of a stand mixer.
2. Mix on low with the dough hook attachment until the ingredients come together to form a dough.
3. Turn the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes.
4. Remove the dough, place in a large bowl which has been brushed with olive oil and cover with a damp cloth.
5. Leave for 30 minutes in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.
6. Take a small baking tray and brush with olive oil. Place the dough inside and distribute evenly.
7. Cut the sundried tomatoes in half and then press them into the dough at regular intervals.
8. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.
9. Brush the top of the focaccia with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with fleur de sel.
10. Bake at 200° C (390° F) for 5 minutes.
11. Remove from the oven and brush the top with olive oil. Place back in the oven for a further 5 minutes.
12. Remove from the oven, brush the top with olive oil once more and then leave to cool. Cut into squares around the sundried tomatoes and serve.