Earlier this month I prepared a new favorite of mine for dinner, slow cooker lasagna. I probably will never make baked lasagna again as cooking it in the slow cooker is so incredibly simple (roughly 15 minutes of prep time, turn the switch on and voila). Since I was (relatively) copping out with my easy to prepare meal, I wanted a little bit of a culinary challenge and decided upon focaccia, specifically a type from the Italian port city of Genoa. (Lest you think focaccia is just focaccia, this is not at all the case. Dozens of different types exist all throughout Italy.)
With the exception of perhaps the croissant, I don’t feel bread making (from scratch that is) deserves the unfair reputation that it has been saddled with (it’s scary and time consuming to do). My advice on having it be somewhat of a simple endeavor? Never use expired yeast (this is one culinary pearl of wisdom I would swear by), be patient (no one said bread making was an instant gratification kind of affair), and cheat if you have to by turning your oven on to warm and letting your dough rise on top of it. You will be amazed at fast your small ball of dough doubles in size.
If you’re not familiar with focaccia, it’s a flat oven-baked Italian bread product similar in style and texture to pizza dough. It’s so much better than just your standard “Italian bread” since the toppings on the focaccia usually give it such a distinct and great taste. And personally, nothing beats the taste of fresh basil. It’s also a pretty terrific bread to just dip (dunk) in olive oil.
Genovese Focaccia (Focaccia Genovese)
recipe courtesy of Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali
FOR THE FOCACCIA
1 packet active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for working the dough
2 teaspoons kosher salt
FOR THE TOPPING
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
-Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/2 cup warm water. Let the mixture sit a few minutes, until the yeast is bubbly.
-Put the proofed yeast in a mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. Pour in another 1 1/2 cups warm water and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the flour, holding back about 1/2 cup of the total measured amount. Add the salt. Mix on low speed to combine into a wet dough. If the dough is still dry or seems tight, add up to 1/2 cup more warm water, a little at a time. If it seems too wet, add up to the remaining 1/2 cup flour, a little at a time. Knead the dough on medium speed until it is soft and springy and leaves the sides of the bowl clean, about 3-4 minutes. Dump the dough on a floured counter, and knead a few times by hand to bring together into a ball. Oil a large bowl and toss the dough to coat. Cover, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the temperature of your room.
-Punch down the dough. Oil a half sheet pan with olive oil, and dump the dough into the sheet pan. Press with your fingers to fit dough to the edges of the pan. Let rise another 30 minutes, uncovered. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Once the dough has risen, gently press indentations in the dough with your fingertips , about 1 inch apart. Bake until set, about 10-15 minutes, pull out of oven, and brush with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Finish baking until the focaccia is golden brown on the top and bottom, about 25 minutes in all.
-While the dough finishes baking, in a bowl stir together the basil, grated cheese, and the remaining olive oil. As soon as you remove the focaccia from the oven, spread with the basil mixture.
Notes: I don’t have a mixer with a dough hook attachment and just mixed/kneaded the dough the “old fashioned” way. Minus sore arms, it came out fine.
I doubled the topping ingredients since the original amount listed wasn’t nearly enough to coat all of the focaccia.