Summer Cooking For When You Don't Give A Focaccia
If you’ve found yourself trawling through Netflix as you sprawl under the air-con, you’ve likely seen the show Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat showing up on the screen. If you’ve not watched it yet, go and watch it now. It’s goooood. I’ve been low key obsessed with Samin Nosrat for a little while now. Every time I hear her speak, or read her work, I find ways to explain how I think about food with far more clarity and precision than I’ve ever managed before. Our approaches to cooking are very similar, but her communication is incredible.
Anyway, that's a really round-a-bout way of introducing this recipe for a much lazier focaccia than the one in the show. The recipe she featured is BEAUTIFUL but it takes a long time, and I generally don’t have enough foresight to begin making dough 14 hours before I start to crave it. Fortunately I also have this (surely less authentic) recipe that takes maybe two and half hours from start to finish so you can satisfy your cravings pretty quickly. It’s also a good option to take to a ‘bring a plate’ event, or it makes a very satisfying supper alongside a bit of salad. I’ve adapted it from a Jamie Oliver recipe that I can’t find anymore but I’m sure it exists on the internet.
I like making focaccia with toppings. It’s not quite a pizza, and it’s not quite bread but it’s kind of the best of both. I’ll give you vague instructions for what I did in the recipe, but also feel free to throw on whatever you’ve got lying around. Olives? Chuck em on. Artichokes? Go for it!
Have a play around and get creative.
A few bits and bobs about the recipe
Ideally you would use strong bakers flour for this recipe, but I’m sure the world wouldn’t end if you only had plain flour. I used a 3:2 white to spelt flours ratio, and I’ve made this in the past with a 3:2 white to semolina ratio. Wholemeal flour would also be delicious and you can feel extra smug about your wholesomeness.
As you would know from watching Samin, salt is really important in a good focaccia. It should be salty! Here are some things to know: Too much salt in the dough at the initial kneading phase can retard the yeast and affect how your dough rises. This is why we put a bit in at the start, pour a brine over later and then I also finish things off with some flaky salt. The type of salt you use and the time you use it is crucial.
Sidenote, retard in this context is a common term used in baking- don’t @ me.
Oil is your other big mover and shaker in this dish. I used regular olive oil in the dough and on the baking tray and extra virgin olive oil to finish.
I will also offer a belated apology for the lack of visual interest- I totally forgot to take photos.
300g Bakers Flour
200g Spelt Flour
2 tsp sea salt
300ml lukewarm water
7g Dried Yeast (aka one packet)
1/2 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Mix together the water, yeast, sugar and oil in a small bowl or jug and set aside for 10 minutes. The yeast should become active and begin to foam.
Mix the flours and salt together in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the liquid. Use a fork to mix in flour as you pour, gradually pulling more and more flour in. Keep mixing with the fork until you’ve formed something resembling a dough. At this point get your (clean) hands involved. Once everything is in a ball, turn it out onto your bench top and knead for about five minutes until the dough is smooth and springy.
To knead, you want to push the ball of dough away with the heel of one hand, and then pull it over on itself back towards you. It’s kind of stretching it out and folding it in half repetitively, turning it as you go.
Once the dough is ready, brush out any loose bits of flour and dough from your large mixing bowl, and oil the inside well. Sit the dough inside, making sure it is also oily all over. Cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for about 40 minutes- until the dough has doubled in size.
At this point you can begin to prepare your toppings. As I said before, feel free to use whatever you’ve got on hand. But it you’re feeling stuck, here are some suggestions:
Thinly slice two onions and sauté with oil and a pinch of salt until they are very soft, but don’t let them brown. Add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a tablespoon of brown sugar. Cook on low heat, stirring often, until the whole thing is sticky and delicious.
Chuck a handful or two of small tomatoes in a frypan with a lid on low heat with some oil, salt and pepper. Allow them to cook down until they begin to blister and shrivel a little.
Cover a handful of garlic cloves with olive oil (virgin, but not extra) and cook over very low heat until the garlic is soft and everything smells unbearably delicious. It should bubble a little, but not too much. If you see the garlic browning, then take it off the heat immediately. Once cooled slightly, you can blitz the whole thing with a stick blender (or even just mash up the cloves well with a fork). This delicious oil will keep in a sealed contained in the fridge for fucking ages.
Slice up your preferred veggies nice and thin. This is ‘help! I have too much zucchini!’ season in Canberra, so maybe use those. If you don’t have a zucchini, find someone who has too many (they won't be hard to find) or just leave your bag unattended and someone will likely slip one in. Grab yourself some appropriate herbs as well: basil, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, marjoram would all be excellent additions to your focaccia.
As you’re messing about with toppings, check in periodically with your dough. If nothing else, it’s a good idea to shoo away the magpies from the bowl (that was legit an issue for me when I left my dough on the balcony…) Once it’s doubled in size, bring it in and spread it out onto two large, well oiled-baking trays. I did mine in one huge tray, but it’s unlikely that your oven is as big as mine. You could also put the whole thing on one tray for a much thicker result but that’s up to you.
Use your fingertips to make dimples in the dough evenly across the whole surface. Make a quick brine with about 1tsp (or a big old pinch) of sea salt in about a third of a cup of warm water and pour it evenly over the base to fill up all the dimples. Leave the dough aside in a warm place for another 20ish minutes. Keep an eye on the magpies.
Finish up your toppings in this time, and also preheat your oven to 'basically as hot as it gets’ . If you have a pizza stone, or even another baking tray you can place upside down in the oven, do that now if you’d like your focaccia to have a crusty bottom. I know, I know, it’s a gazillion degrees out there. But this is a pretty quick baking process and I promise it’s worth it!
Spread your toppings over the dough as desired. I did half with caramelised onions and blistered tomatoes with basil, and half with garlic oil, zucchini and oregano. There was some artistic overlap in the middle because I am an artiste. Try to put the basil leaves underneath the tomatoes where possible so they don’t dry out too much. I lightly press my toppings into the dough and then leave for another 15 minutes to allow it to recover and rise a little around the ingredients. This helps to stop them all falling off when you eat it.
Bake in the centre of your hot oven for about 20-15 minutes. Finish it off for another 5 on a higher shelf if it needs a little help browning.
When it comes out, drizzle the whole thing with a generous glug of nice extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
Enjoy it warm, cold, toasted the next day, outside in the sunshine or inside under your air-con.