Sunday, 23 November 2014

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)

Focaccia is one of the most popular baked goods in Italy, very simple and versatile: it can be stuffed inside or left plain, topped with sea salt and olive oil, rosemary or other herbs and sometimes with finely sliced olives or onions or cherry tomatoes. Like many other types of food, each Italian region has its own type of focaccia, with different preparation methods (and often even different ingredients) as well as diverse toppings or fillings; some types are even considered cake.
Focaccia originated from the Northern shores of Mediterranean (most historians believes it was introduced either by the Etruscans of North Central Italy prior to the Roman Empire or in Ancient Greece), and slowly spread into the cultures of Greece and Rome where it was very widely used.  The name ‘Focaccia’ is derived from the Roman words “panis focacius”, where "panis" simply means bread while "focacius" is the Latin word for center of fireplace, that is where this popular food was cooked (focus means fire in Latin). And given this origin it is not hard to believe that this flat bread, initially simply topped with spices, olive oil and other products, gradually morphed into one of the most famous Italian meals – pizza.
Focaccia's basic ingredients are very simple and actually remained unchanged from its origin until now: flour, water, salt, a small quantity of yeast and, one of the most important elements, olive oil, which was added to the top of the dough as a mean to preserve its moisture after baking. Through the centuries, most of the Italian regions have managed to modify original focaccia recipe and adapt to their regional and local tastes and ingredients; as a consequence the focaccia recipe has fragmented into countless variations, with some bearing little resemblance to its original form.
Probably the most famous focaccia in Italy is associated to the Ligurian cuisine (Liguria is the region on the upper North - West coast of Italy on the border with France) where anyway it is possible to find several different variants: from the simple focaccia genovese (from the city of Genoa), thick, soft, topped just with salt and olive oil to the focaccia al formaggio di Recco (a small city near Genoa) consisting of two thin layer of dough filled with a soft cheese.  But many other regional variations exist: focaccia pugliese, from the South-Eastern region of Puglia, which also comes in different versions, some of them including potatoes in the dough; focaccia messinese (in Sicily), topped with chopped tomato, scarola (a kind of chicory), anchovies and cheese; but also focaccia dolce (sweet focaccia), popular in some parts of North-Western Italy, consisting of a basic focaccia base and sprinkled lightly with sugar, or including raisins, honey, citrus zests or other sweet ingredients; and also focaccia veneta, from the North-Eastern Veneto region, which is actually a cake, very similar to the pandoro, made with eggs, sugar and butter. The Sicilian-style pizza, and the  pizza bianca (plain pizza), common in Rome and other central regions, can be considered a variant of focaccia.
Today, focaccia can be found all around the world under different names and recipes: in France it is called “fougasse”, in Argentina it is widely consumed under the name "fugazza", derived from fugàssa (how it is called in Liguria), and in Spain “hogaza”.
Italian immigrants to the United States brought, together with other recipes, also the focaccia, which is sometimes referred to as focaccia bread and frequently used as a sandwich bread.
Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)


My first memories of focaccia date back to my childhood (after all I am Italian); when I went to the baker shop (panificio) with my mom or grandma for buying bread, especially if it was morning, trays of just baked focaccia (or pizza bianca how it's used to be called where I grew up) watched me from the counter; and it was not much the appearance, yet delicious, to be so tempting and inviting but most of all the smell, unique and absolutely mouth-watering. And if I was able to convince the relative I was with to buy some (my dad was the easiest to convince), it was unlikely it arrived home: it was usually eaten straightaway, tearing out a piece after another from the slice we had bought; with the result of fingers - and often also clothes - oily and sticky (because a good focaccia is supposed to be quite oily) and smelling like focaccia until we arrived home. But what a satisfaction!
To be honest I still love focaccia (who doesn't?): it is so simple yet so delicious, and addictive, one of those things that it's better not to start eating because it is difficult to stop. And I also like to make it at home, where it is always much appreciated both by my family and guests.
I like to alternate some different recipes for making the focaccia dough, depending on the time and effort I want and/or can spend, the result I want to obtain, the toppings I am going to use, the occasion for serving it. The recipe I am going to share today is the most effortless and quick of all; I call it last minute focaccia as it takes no longer than two hours from weighing the ingredients to removing from the oven a fragrant, moist and tasty focaccia , ready to be served. And also with very little labor and hardly any dishes to wash: no kneading and no equipment required, just two bowls, a couple of forks and your fingertips. And the result is really satysfying (recently one of our guests asked me where I had bought it). I admit that the first time I read the recipe - too easy and fast compared to other focaccia recipes I had seen and tried before - I was a bit skeptical, but as it is a Giorgio Locatelli's recipe (and the chef calls it foolproof focaccia just for its simplicity) I decided to give it a try: and I did well; now it is one of my signature breads. I strongly recommend to try: it is delicious plain, but any topping can be added, from sliced olives or onions to herbs to cherry tomatoes; our home favorite is with fresh rosemary needles. Also it can be eaten warm or cold, on its own or topped/stuffed with almost anything (if you eat pork, try it slightly warm with  thinly sliced mortadella!). Thanks to the olive oil contained, it keeps well at room temperature longer than any other types of bread, of course if wrapped in foil or placed in a airtight container; but even more important to me is that it keeps very well frozen, wrapped in aluminium foil or plastic wrap; just remember to defrost it for few hours and place it in the warm oven for 3 to 4 minutes before serving (not longer otherwise it gets to dry).

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)

Basic focaccia (Locatelli's foolproof focaccia)
for the dough
250 g all purpose flour
250 g strong white bread flour
4 g dry yeast (or 15 g fresh yeast)
1 tablespoon honey (only if using dry yeast)
300 - 320 ml water, at room temperature/20°C (Locatelli says 225 ml but it is not enough)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 -7 g salt (10 for Locatelli)
for the brine (salamoia)
65g water (at room temperature)
65g extra-virgin olive oil
10 to 15 g salt (25g in the original recipe)
In a small bowl dissolve yeast and honey in part of the total water and let rest for few minutes. In the meantime mix the flours and salt in a big bowl and pour in the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Pour the yeast mixture in the big bowl and mix with a fork, then gradually add the rest of the water until you have a smooth but sticky mixture (the quantity of water will depend on the flour used and room conditions).  Don't over mix! Dough should be of very soft consistency. Rub the surface with some oil and leave to rest for 10 minutes, covered with a damp cloth.
Make the brine: whisk all the ingredients together until they emulsify.
Oil a large baking tray (I use a 25x35cm baking tray) and transfer the dough to it, then rub the surface with a little more oil. Leave for another 10 minutes, always covered with a damp cloth.
With the tips of fingers, oiled, roll the dough to cover the whole baking tray. Use a light touch so as not to break the bubbles that have developed in the dough. Leave for another 20 to 30 minutes during which time the dough will double in size. in the meantime preheat oven to 200°C.
With your oiled fingertips make deep dimples in the dough, taking care not to go all the way through. Whisk again the brine, then pour it over the surface and into all of the holes. Leave for 20 to 30 minutes more.
Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden, then let cool on a wire rack. For a more crusty surface, turn on the oven fan during the last five minutes.
Before baking it is possible to garnish the focaccia with a topping of your choice: pitted olives, cherry tomatoes, onion, rosemary sprigs.
  

3 comments:

  1. La provo nei prossimi giorni e ti faccio sapere... Buon fine settimana, Francesca

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    1. Grazie Francesca, ho visto in Instagram che ti è venuta buona!
      Ultimamente sono fissata con il lievito naturale, ma quando sono di fretta questa focaccia è un asso nella manica...

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