Here’s something that’s going to blow your mind.
I used to be a picky eater. Very picky.
In fact, I would say that for most of my childhood I was only marauding as an Italian.
Any true Italian family would have disowned me, what with my distaste for tomato sauce, fish, and sausage, among many other things. But my parents dealt pretty well, much to their credit.
(And now I’m getting it back tenfold, as my palate has expanded so much that I can’t attempt to cook something for them without realizing that it has some spice or vegetable that my father doesn’t like. I.e. it HAS a vegetable in it and therefore he doesn’t like it.)
When I was eight, my father was sent on a business trip to Italy for three weeks (he works for an Italian bank).
To which my mother responded, “Oh no you didn’t.”
And so all four of us – my mom, my dad, my brother, and I (my sister hadn’t been born yet) – ended up on a transatlantic flight headed straight for the old country.
We stayed for six weeks, meandering through the city of Torino and then the small beachside town of Chiavari. And while I actually do remember a fair portion of the trip, especially considering how young I was, the thing that stands out most in my mind was the focaccia.
Now, this may be because this was all I would eat for the entire trip. I hated the pizza. I hated the pasta. I was obviously young and stupid, And delusional.
But the focaccia? Oh my lord that was good. Sometimes when I close my eyes and think really hard, I can still taste it. Salty. Olive oil-y. The kind of good that, when you bite into it, you know everything must be right in the world. At least for that second in space and time.
Though I’ve searched high and low, I’m pretty sure focaccia that good doesn’t exist here in the US. That stuff they serve you in restaurants doesn’t even come close.
This recipe that I’m sharing with you, however, is one of the best renditions I’ve found so far. It’s not the exact flavor and texture, but, to be fair, I’m pretty sure that’s because there’s some secret ingredient that the Italians are putting in the bread (crack, cocaine, heroin…who knows. Who cares? It’s totally worth it.) to make it taste so good.
I’ve sent a few private investigators over to Italy to figure it out. But so far all of them have come back twenty pounds heavier, extremely content, but with little to no insight into “the focaccia problem”, as I call it. When you want something done, you should do it yourself, I guess.
So until I have a chance to get myself over to Italy, this is going to have to suffice. Make it. And dream with me.
Before I get to the recipe, I just want to share with all of you a fun, new FREE e-cookbook that has come out (featuring a few recipes by yours truly). The e-cookbook features smart schooltime recipes for snacks and lunch food that are fast, easy, and healthy. Guaranteed kid-tested, mother-approved kind of stuff. You can download it here.
Makes 1 loaf, adapted from Tracey’s Culinary Adventures
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 1/2 cups (14 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
4 teaspoons Italian seasoning mix
Spray a 13 x 9 pan with cooking spray then drizzle 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the bottom of the pan.
Place the water, olive oil, salt, flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed for about 1 minute. The dough will be smooth, elastic and sticky.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan. With oil or water on the tip of your fingers (don’t use more flour, you want the dough to remain sticky), press the dough into the bottom of the pan, nudging to get it all the way into the corners. Cover the pan and let the dough rise for about 60 minutes, or until it is puffy.
While the dough rises, preheat oven to 375 F.
Once risen, uncover the pan and use your fingers to make dimples all over the dough (you may need a bit of oil on your fingers if the dough is too sticky). Drizzle the dough lightly with olive oil and sprinkle it with the Italian seasoning.
Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown. Remove the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then turn the focaccia out of the pan (otherwise the bottom crust will get soggy). Serve warm or at room temperature.
I made the focaccia into a grilled eggplant, tomato, and fresh mozzarella sandwich. Amazing!