Focaccia is an oven baked product made from a simple dough of flour, oil and water. In Italy, focaccia is used as a delicious alternative to bread and can be eaten at any time of the day or night, with the quirkiest combinations. This is the story of focaccia, a speciality that has won over the entire world with its softness!
Similarly to many other traditional Italian recipes, the origins of focaccia are obscure. Some claim that focaccia was first made in coastal areas whose brackish air prevented bread from rising properly. Therefore, to get round this problem, housewives invented the recipe for focaccia which caught on rapidly and now crowns our dining tables. However, others believe that focaccia first appeared around the II century B.C. as humble fare which managed to provide an energy boost to sailors and fisherman who were obliged to do heavy work, often during the night-time. Focaccia is delicious, nutritious and easy to store, even for weeks at a time, and was a perfect food for those engaged in heavy, manual work.
Today, every region in Italy jealously guards its traditional focaccia recipe, which may be savoury or sweet, filled with cold cuts and cheese or topped with cherry tomatoes and oregano. One thing is sure, whatever the variation, the main ingredient of focaccia is always what Italians refer to as ‘liquid gold’: extra virgin olive oil.
Excellent for serving with delicious cocktails, traditional Italian focaccia is soft and slightly crisp on the outer surface. The secret of this perfect balance of consistencies is extra virgin olive oil, a soft pliable dough and, of course, a passion for good food. Here is an easy recipe for preparing an excellent home-made focaccia!
First dissolve the yeast in the water and sugar. Sprinkle in the sieved flour and start to knead the dough. The dough will be rather sticky and wet at first but, as you continue to work at it patiently, it will become smooth and even. Bear in mind, however, that focaccia dough is much softer than that of pizza.
Grease your hands with oil and spread out the dough in a lined and greased baking tin. Let the focaccia rise for about 1 hour in a warm dry place (a switched-off oven will do fine). Then preheat the oven to 250°C. Grease your hands once more and, using your finger tips, make little holes (without ever going right through the dough) all over the focaccia surface. Season with coarse salt and sprigs of rosemary, pop in the oven for 10 minutes and then brush the surface of the focaccia with a previously prepared emulsion of water and extra virgin olive oil. Return to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes.
In some parts of Italy, a savoury focaccia with onions is eaten for breakfast, dunked into cappuccino. A most unusual pairing but quite unique in terms of taste and creativity!