Almost every part of Italy has their own version of focaccia. Some make theirs thin and crunchy, some a bit thick, and some just somewhere in between. They also put different kinds of herbs and toppings on it. One of the popular ones is using thinly-sliced onions on top, or a combination of rosemary and cherry tomatoes. My favorite is simple – BASIL. I think ‘Basil Focaccia’ strikes the perfect balance of the bread not being overpowered by what’s in it, and can still complement whatever is paired with it, either as an appetizer or as a sandwich.
Focaccia originated from the region of Liguria. So, when we visited Cinque Terre last Easter, I had my first taste of their focaccia in the village of Riomaggiore. It was late in the afternoon and you know how it is; all places are closed for lunch except those that sell bread and salami (AND gelato!). We stepped into one and we asked the lady if she can make us a sandwich. She asked what kind of bread, and we just said ‘the best kind’ – and she smiled and started cutting some focaccia in half. She asked what do we want with it, and we told her ‘whatever Riomaggiore normally eats with it’; and she started slicing some mortadella. That, ladies and gentleman, is how my ‘love affair’ with focaccia and mortadella began. 🙂
This focaccia recipe is the closest that I can remember to how that Cinque Terre version was like. I have never made focaccia any other way after I discovered this. Admittedly, I might change the toppings, but I always use the same base for dough.
Now back to the ‘love affair’. 😉 In Sweden, there is a tradition called ‘Taco Fredag’ (Taco Friday) which is connected to ‘Cosy Friday’. Yep, you guessed it, tacos are eaten on this day, and some still do it every week. Well, NOT in our household. For us, ‘Cosy Friday’ means ‘Basil Focaccia and Mortadella Day’, and yep, ALMOST every week. 😀
- 2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 tsp sugar
- 8 tbsp olive oil
- 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped roughly
- 3 tbsp Parmigian-Reggiano, grated
- some sea salt for garnish, (optional)
Combine the yeast, sugar and ½ cup warm water in a bowl and set aside until the yeast foams up (5 to 8 minutes normally).
In a mixer bowl, combine the remaining 1 ½ cups of warm water, 2 tbsp olive oil and the proofed yeast. Add the flour and salt. Mix in low speed to combine.
Turn the mixer speed to medium and knead the dough until it becomes springy and smooth. (Mine took around 5 to 7 minutes). Alternatively, you can knead the dough by hand, but it will take a longer time to get a smooth dough with this method.
Form the smooth dough into a ball, coat with a bit of oil and place it in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside somewhere warm until it has doubled in size. This normally takes 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Pour 2 tbsp of olive oil on a baking sheet. Deflate the dough by punching in the middle and place the dough in the baking sheet. Use your fingers to spread and fit the dough in the baking sheet. Set aside for 30 more minutes.
Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 degrees F).
Gently press your fingertips in the dough to create indentations on top. Bake for 10 minutes, take out of the oven and brush the top with 1 tbsp of olive oil.
Put back in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 more minutes, until the focaccia has turned a bit browner on top.
Combine the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil with the basil and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Once the focaccia is out of the oven, spread the basil mixture on top of the focaccia and sprinkle some sea salt, if desired.