This weekend, my friend Claudio was visiting from Venice. As you may have remember from this post, Claudio was born and has lived in Venice all his life, but his parents are from Puglia in the south of Italy. Claudio’s nonne are therefore a great source of typical recipes from the south of Italy, which always end up being delicious.
Claudio cooked me one of his specialities which I’ve been wanting to try for ages: focaccia con cipolle e olive. Now, the word focaccia has different meanings depending on which part of Italy you are in. What most people outside Italy think of as focaccia is the focaccia alla genovese from Liguria, a kind of tear-and-share bread topped with olives, onions, and so on. In Venice on the other hand, it means a sweet cake rather like a panettone or a colomba eaten at festivals. True to form, this focaccia from Puglia ended up being different again. This time it was a savory pie with a flatbread dough rather than pastry.
This is a recipe that Claudio’s grandmothers and aunts used to make when all the family were round. They would make huge ones which could be cut into portions and each woman had her own favourite filling. This version uses onions and black olives, of which the Puglian variety are the most deliciously salty ones I have ever tried. If you are lucky enough to be able to get hold of top quality black olives you won’t need to add the tapenade to this recipe.
Claudio used a mixture of half sunflower and half olive oil in the dough. However, he said that you could use more or less olive oil depending on your taste, olive oil adding a stronger and sometimes more bitter aftertaste to the dough. However, this also depends on the quality and origin of the olive oil. Puglian olive oil tends to be stronger than Tuscan for example since the climate requires the use of different varieties of tree.
While Claudio was cooking we got to talking about different ways in which we could make this recipe and both agreed that you could make smaller ‘cornish pasty’ style ones to eat on picnics. To do this you could cut circles of the dough, place the filling on half of one and then fold over and crimp. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
What would you stuff your focaccia with?
Focaccia con cipolla e olive
Preparation time: 30 mins + 2 hours resting time
Cooking time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
For the dough:
450g (3 cups) 00 flour
40g (1/6 cup) sunflower oil
40g (1/6 cup) extra virgin olive oil
25g (1 ounce) fresh yeast
150g (1/4 pint) water, tepid
5g (1 teaspoon) salt
For the filling:
500g (1 pound) white onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water
150g (5 ounces) black olives, pitted
4 tablespoons black olive tapenade
Make the dough:
- Place the flour in a large metal bowl and make a hole in the middle.
- Put the oils in the hole and gently mix together with your hands.
- Dissolve the yeast in the water and then add almost all of it to the bowl and bring together to form a dough. Add the rest of the water if necessary. The dough should be quite sticky.
- Add the salt and then knead the dough in the bowl until it is no longer sticky, about 15 minutes.
- Make the dough into a ball, cover the bowl with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Make the filling:
- Place the onions with the oil and water in a large saucepan. Cover and heat gently for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions have become soft.
- Add the olives and the tapenade and continue to cook for about 15 minutes.
Make the pie:
- Heat the oven to 200°C.
- Divide the dough into two pieces of about 2/3 and 1/3 of the total amount respectively.
- Roll the larger piece out and use it to line a large baking tin which has been greased with olive oil.
- Place the filling on top of the dough.
- Roll out the second piece of dough and then place on top. Go round and pinch the edges of the dough to close the pie.
- Paint the top of the pie with olive oil and then bake for 35 minutes. Serve warm or cold.