Focaccia and Some Fillings

La Focaccia e i Suoi Ripieni

In my home town of Forte dei Marmi is Pietro’s, a small, back-street osteria where they make the best Focaccia I have ever tasted. The huge, round, thick and oily shapes are taken out of the oven and cooled, and you choose a filling from one of the many terracotta pots lining the counter. You can literally go wild - everything is available, from braised onions to mozzarella and tomatoes to seafood and roasted peppers. The choice is absolutely up to you, but because this is an incredibly fashion-conscious and trendy resort, every season has its ‘in’ filling. Last time I was there, in 1986, the filling of the summer was soft cheese and braised peas! Anyway, whatever you choose goes into the opened-out envelope of Focaccia that has been cut for you, and then slid back into the oven to heat through. When you get it back, take it outside and sit down with a cool glass of wine or walk with it, wandering past Gianni Versace’s boutique as you go, and take a glance at Gucci and Emporio Armani too! As you bite through the golden, crisp yet soft Focaccia, imbued with the flavour of your filling, you’ll really know you are on holiday, and in Tuscany.

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (450 g) strong white bread flour
  • 1 oz (25 g) fresh yeast or ¼ oz (10 g) Easyblend yeast or ½ oz (15 g) dried yeast
  • about 4 tablespoons warm water
  • salt
  • about 8 tablespoons olive oil

Method

If using fresh or dried yeast, blend it with the warm water and leave until frothy. If using Easyblend yeast, mix it into the flour - no water is necessary.

Tip the flour out into a mound on a work-surface. Make a hollow in the centre with your fist. Put the yeast mixture into the hole and begin to blend it together with your fingers. Add as much liquid as you need to make a pliable dough. Add a pinch of salt and about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Knead it energetically and firmly until it is elastic and workable. Keep kneading for about 10 minutes. Roll the dough up into a ball, place it in a bowl and cover it with a clean cloth. Put it in a warm place to rise for about 2–2½ hours or until doubled in volume.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 7, 425°F (220°C).

Take the risen dough out and knead it again. Oil a shallow 11 inch (28 cm) tin with half the remaining oil. Put the dough in the middle and flatten it out as much as possible with your fingertips, pushing it towards the edges. Pour the remaining oil on top and spread it all over the surface with your fingers. Sprinkle with salt and put aside to rest for about 10 minutes.

Bake until brown and crisp on top, but still fairly soft in the middle: this should take about 12–16 minutes. Remove from the oven and slide out of the tin. Cool until required on a rack. When you want to serve it, either cut it into small wedges and serve as bread, or cut into bigger wedges and slit open horizontally like a sandwich so that you can fill it with any of the following:

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