italian bread is latest fad in america
by Alice Ann Pazzaglia
(return to food)
Focaccia is the food of the moment. It is so fashionable that, if you are
not making it, eating it or talking about it people wonder where you have
been. My son-in-law makes wonderful focaccia for dinner.
I bought focaccia, fresh from the bakery, in Pavia for my daughters'
morning snacks. It looked beautiful, smelled great but I, personally,
almost never ate it because I didn't snack between meals. At that time,
children were its biggest consumers.
Americans have discovered focaccia and, as they did with pizza, and as San
Franciscans did with pesto, they have adopted it as their own and are
enjoying the classic recipes and inventing new recipes and new ways to eat
it. The results of these American creations are often delicious and
In this article, we will define focaccia, explore the classic recipes for
focaccia which will include some regional Italian recipes; enjoy a
vegetarian focaccia and then we will take a look at the American
inovations, which, in some cases have elevated focaccia to the status of a
basic part of a whole meal.
Focaccia is a type of savory Italian bread that may have various toppings
such as onion or cheese. Focaccia are generally baked in a fiat sheet pan,
and then served cut in various sizes and shapes. Is it a trendy,
fashionable recent arrival on the artisan bread scene or has it been lying
dormant since ancient history? The truth of the matter is that this bread
is as old as recorded history. The name Focaccia is a derivative of a Latin
word meaning hearth. Before ovens became common, this flat bread was baked
on a hot stone under a mound of hot ashes.
The tastiest ingredients available at whatever time of year were
incorporated into this rustic flat bread. Bakers with a lot of imagination
over the years have elevated this bread to its present status. You will
find recipes for focaccia with olives, with cheese, with sea salt, from all
different regions of Italy and in the U.S.A.
Let's take a look at the classic focaccia recipes of Liguria.
Focaccia with Oil - Focaccia all'Olio
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water, 105-115 degrees (F)
1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water, room temperature
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup light extra-virgin olive oil sponge (above)
2-3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
Spritzer bottle with cold water
To make the sponge: sprinkle yeast over the warm water in a large mixing
bowl, whisk it in, and let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in
the flour and beat until smooth. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let
rise until puffy and bubbling, about 30 minutes.
To make the dough: add the water, wine, and oil to the sponge. Whisk in 1
cup of flour and the salt, then beat in enough flour until you have a dough
that is very soft and very sticky. Knead on a lightly floured board with
the help of a dough scraper and a little additional flour for 6-8 minutes,
or until the dough comes together very nicely and is silky and shiny. It
should remain soft but not wet.
First rise: place the dough in a lightly oiled container, cover tightly
with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Shaping and second rise: the dough should be soft, full of air bubbles, and
stretch easily. Press it into a lightly oiled 10 1/2 x 15 1/2 pan, dimple
it well with your fingertips, cover with a slightly damp towel, and let
rise until doubled, about 45 mminutes.
Baking: at least 30 minutes before you plan to bake the focaccia, preheat
the oven to 425 degrees (F) with a baking stone inside if you have one.
Dimple the top of the dough again and drizzle a little olive oil on top,
then sprinkle with sea salt. Place the pan directly on the stone and
immediately reduce the temperature to 400. Spray the oven walls and floor
with cold water froma spritzer bottle three times during the first ten
minutes. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden. Remove the focaccia and let
it cool slightly on a rack.
Focaccia with Cheese - Focaccia al Formaggio
1 recipe basic pizza bread (follow instructions for 1 large pizza, but form
dough into large rectangle)
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
Using a rolling pin or your hands, flatten dough to fit in your cookie
sheet. Using finger tips, poke indentions across entire surface. Sprinkle
with both cheeses, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 10 to
15 minutes until golden brown on top and bottom.
Focaccia with Rosemary - Focaccia al Rosemarino
1 once active dry yeast (2 envelopes)
1 1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cups olive oil
5 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, sage or parsley)
1 tsp salt
1 cup olive oil (1/4 + 1/2 in mixture and 1/2 cup for bowl and after baking)
1 tblsp coarse sale (Kosher)
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Let stand 10 minutes. Add olive oil,
flour, herbs and sale to make a soft dough.
Knead with dough hook for 5 minutes til smooth and elastic, adding a little
more flour to keep from sticking. Oil the same bowl without washing and
turn the dough several times to coat it -- let rise til double -- 1 1/2 to
Punch down dough -- divide in 2 pieces, shape into balls -- and return to
bowl -- cover with olive oil -- let rise 20 to 30 minutes or until light.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Flatten each ball by hand unto a baking sheet to form large circles 1/2"
thick. Make 4 or 5 parallel slashes on each circle with a sharp knife to form tree
branches -- use your fingers to spread apart -- sprinkle with coarse salt.
Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with oil again after baking.
Let's take a look at focaccia from other Italian regions.
Apulian Focaccia - Focaccia Pugliese
A Potato-Based Pizza Dough Recipe
8 ounces potatoes, preferably yellow Finnish
1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons warm water (105-115 degrees F)
3 3/4 cups durum flour or unbleached all-purpose flour (If using unbleached
flour, reduce water by 2 tablespoons)
2 teaspoons sea salt
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large ripe tomato, cut into small pieces
2 teaspoons capers packed in salt, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
About 20 minutes before you are ready to make the dough, peel the potatoes
and boil them until tender, drain, and mash or press them, through a ricer.
Use the potatoes while they are still warm but not so hot as to kill the
yeast; they should be about the same temperature as the yeast water.
Stir the yeast into the warm water in a large mixing bowl. Add the flour,
mashed potatoes, and salt in two additions and mix until the dough comes
together. If you are making this by hand, knead the dough for 10 minutes
until the dough is velvety, firm and slightly sticky. You may want to
spread 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour on the board to reduce the stickiness.
First Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap,
and leave to rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Shaping and Second Rise: Divide the dough in half on a lightly floured surface, and shape each into
a ball. Place each ball into a well-oiled 9-inch round baking pan, and
stretch the dough toward the edges. Cover with a damp towel, let sit for
ten minutes, and then stretch a bit farther to the edges. Cover again and
leave until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Baking: Preheat the over to 400 degrees F. Just before you are ready to bake,
dimple to dough with your fingertips. Sprinkle the olive oil and distribute
the tomatoes, capers, salt and oregano over the dough. Bake for 25 to 30
minutes until golden. Remove from pans and let cool on racks.
Source: Carol Field's "Little Bites of Italy"
Roman Focaccia - Focaccia alla Romana
2 pk Fast-rising dry yeast
2 c Tepid (90F) water
2 tb Sugar
4 tb Olive oil
1/2 c Oil
1 t Salt
5 1/2 c Unbleached white flour
3 Cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 c Olive oil for topping (if -making focaccia only)
1 tb Whole rosemary (ditto)
1 tb Kosher salt (ditto)
Dissolve the yeast in the tepid water. Add the sugar, olive oil, oil, and
salt. Mix in 3 c of the flour and whip until the dough begins to leave the
sides of the mixing bowl, about ten minutes or use a mixer.
Mix in the remaining flour by hand or with a dough hook and knead the dough
until it is smooth. Allow the dough to rise twice, right in the bowl, and
punch down after each rising.
Oil 2 baking sheets, each 13 inches by 18 inches, and divide the dough
between the 2 pans. Using your fingers, press the dough out to the edges of
each pan. Allow to rise for about 30 minutes and brush with the crushed
garlic mixed with the oil for topping. Sprinkle the rosemary and kosher
salt on top.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes.
Source: Jeff Smith's "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines"
A grilled vegetable focaccia.
1 red pepper, seeded and cut in half
1 green pepper, seeded and cut in half
1 whole portabella mushroom with stem trimmed
1 sweet onion, quartered
1/2 cup creamy parmesan peppercorn dressing or other favorite such as
Caesar or ranch dressing
Focaccia bread or any other soft, thick bread
Cut onion into quarters and spear with toothpick to hold together. Place
quarters along with mushroom and peppers in shallow dish and cover with
dressing. Set aside at least 20 minutes.
Grill vegetables over high heat until tender.
Cut vegetables into 1/4-inch strips and toss together. Spread over focaccia
and cover with mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 375 degrees until cheese melts and begins to bubble.
Now, let's see what the Americans in the U.S.A. have come up with.
Turkey and Walnut Salad, Tomato and Basil Focaccia
Here's How to Make It in 20 Minutes, prepare the focaccia first.
Tomato and Basil Focaccia:
2 ripe medium-size tomatoes
8 leaves fresh basil or 2 to 3 tablespoons prepared pesto
1 storebought plain focaccia
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Core and slice the tomatoes into rounds.
Place the focaccia on a cookie sheet.
Place the basil leaves or spread the pesto on the prepared focaccia. Top
with the fresh basil or pesto with the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and
drizzle the foccacia with the olive oil.
Place focaccia into the oven. Bake until the tomatoes soften and bread
warms through, about 10 minutes. When warm, remove to bread board and put
on the table with a serrated knife.
Meanwhile, make the salad.
Turkey and Walnut Salad:
4 medium-to-small red skin potatoes, scrubbed
1/2 cup shelled walnuts
1 pound cooked turkey breast, sliced
bottled Italian salad dressing as needed, OR
3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, more to taste
Salt and pepper
6 to 8 ounces prewashed mesclun greens, washed spinach, or any dinner-ready
Cube the potatoes and place into a microwave proof bowl with a teaspoon of
water. Cover and cook until the potatoes are tender on high, about 3
minutes. Let them rest an additional 3 minutes in the microwave.
While the potatoes cook, pour the walnuts on a sheet pan and place into the
already preheated oven or toaster oven and toast until golden, about 3 to 5
minutes. Remove the nuts and let them cool.
While the walnuts toast, shred the turkey.
In a bowl, toss the potatoes and dressing together, add the turkey, and
toss again. Season the salad with salt and pepper and more dressing to
taste. Line a platter with the 6 to 8 ounces greens. Mound the Turkey and Walnut
Salad on top.
To Serve. Take the salad to the table, and serve with the Tomato and Basil Focaccia.
Serves: 4 to 6.
Source: Minutemeals.com, Inc., 2000
Grilled Black Olive and Rosemary Focaccia - Focaccia al Rosemarino ed Olive
Although focaccia is traditionally baked in an oven, this recipe employs
the use of a grill, enabling the bread to take on a hint of smoky smell
and flavor. Preparation time: 3 hours 55 minutes.
6 fl oz water, 105�-115�F (40�-45�C)
2 3/4 c bread flour, more as needed
1/4 oz active dry yeast 1/4 tsp granulated sugar, or honey
1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more, to taste
24 calamata olives, pitted and halved
1 tsp rosemary, chopped
1/4 tsp black pepper, fresh cracked, to taste
2 fl oz extra-virgin olive oil
Make a sponge by thoroughly combining the water, 1 3/4 cups of the flour,
the yeast, and sugar or honey in a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy-duty
mixer fitted with a dough hook.
Cover and let sit in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The sponge
should be thick, foamy, and bubbly with a strong yeasty aroma.
Blend in the remaining 1 cup flour and the salt.
Knead the dough until a smooth, elastic dough is formed. Shape the dough
into a ball and rub it lightly with olive oil, cover with a damp towel or
plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, or until
doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Shape into rounds
and let rest while preparing the pans: Lightly coat two 8-inch round cake
pans with olive oil and sprinkle generously with cornmeal. Gently tap out
the excess. Place a ball of dough in each pan. With your fingertips, push the dough
out, working from the center, until it covers the pan. (If the dough
sticks to your fingers, dip them in some olive oil.). Press the olives
into the dough. Sprinkle with the rosemary and pepper.
Cover the pans with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place until nearly
doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat a grill to high heat. Place the pans on the
upper shelf, cover the grill and cook the focaccia until done. While still warm, brush
generously with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cool on
wire racks. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature.
Yields: 2 Loaves.
Source: The Culinary Cafe
Focaccia with Eggplant, Tomatoes & Anchovies
One of the tricks of good pizza has to do with the thing you cook it in/on.
I have a round glazed terracotta dish which I bought in Italy which, I'd
say, is about 12/14 inches in diameter. It has an edge of about 1 inch. So
what I am going to tell you would be in relation to that dish or an
equivalent thing, like a baking stone. You could also do it on a heavy duty
cooking sheet, adjusting temperatures.
1 loaf good quality frozen bread dough
1 average sized eggplant
5/6 Roma tomatoes
Leaf basil (as much as you wish)
Anchovies (optional if you don't like them)
grated Parmesan/Romano cheese (or mozzarella)
Let the bread dough rise in a heavy-weight bowl, covered with plastic wrap.
Overnight to be ready for dinner on the following day.
Peel eggplant and slice in about 1/4 slices to make circles. Place on a
greased cookie sheet, bake at 350, turning till browned and slightly soft.
Peel tomatoes by dipping in boiling water to separate skins. Cut into small
thin rounds and drain. Remove the seeds.
Spray or grease the pizza pan and take the risen dough (it should be very
well risen by this time) and spread it into a circle of about 12/13 inches.
You will find that it will "try" to recede. Let it "rest" for 5 minutes or
so and proceed until it pretty much keeps its spherical shape. Bake in a
preheated oven (400) for about 10 minutes. It should rise but not have
Remove from oven and arrange baked eggplant slices over it, then arrange
tomato slices over eggplant, sprinkle on chopped anchovies, if desired, and
as much fresh basil (leaves whole) as you wish. Sprinkle with olive oil to
make sure that the dough is slightly covered (not too much) and sprinkle on
grated parmesan (or mozzarella).
Bake for about 20 minutes, raising the heat for the last 10 minutes to 450
or so. Keep an eye on it. It should be nicely browned and bubbly. The type
of cooking utensil will determine times.
Nutty Honey-Cinanmon Focaccia
Frozen bread dough, thawed 4 pounds
Melted butter 2 oz.
Honey 9 oz. (3/4 cup)
Cinnamon 2 tsp.
Pine nuts 4 oz. (1/2 cup)
Let dough proof; punch down.
Stretch to fit greased 18" x 26" x 1" sheet pan; let proof for 30 minutes.
Brush with butter.
Bake at 400�F for 10 minutes.
Brush with honey; sprinkle with cinnamon and pine nuts.
Bake until crust is golden brown, about 10 more minutes.
Cut into 24 pieces, 6" x 6-1/2".
Serves: 24 (6'"x 6-1/2").
Source: National Honey Board.
Walla Walla-Style Focaccia (Onion Pizza Bread)
Your Food Editor attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington which
is an important agricultural center and specializes in sweet onions.
1 (1/4-ounce) package dry yeast
1-1/4 cups warm water, divided
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 Walla Walla or other sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil
Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the warm water. If using a food processor,
measure flour and salt into the processor bowl, add yeast mixture and 1/2
cup of the remaining 1 cup of warm water while machine is running. Add 1
tablespoon of the olive oil, then add enough of the remaining 1/2 cup of
warm water to form a soft dough (but not sticky). Let dough rest for a few
minutes, then process a couple of seconds and turn dough onto lightly
floured board. (If not using processor, place yeast mixture and the 1/2 cup
of water in bowl, add flour, salt and 1 tablespoon of oil and mix by hand,
adding additional water as needed to make a soft dough.)
On a floured surface, knead dough for 10 minutes. Let rest for 2 or 3
minutes, then knead another 5 minutes, or until dough is very smooth. Place
in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until double in
bulk, about 1-1/2 hours. Punch the dough down and roll out to 1/4-
thickness, shaping it to fit into a 12- by 16-inch pan. Press onion slices
into the dough. Add the minced garlic and chopped basil to remaining 5
tablespoons of olive oil, then drizzle this mixture over the onions,
smoothing the oil over the onions and dough with your fingers or pastry
brush. Let the dough rise uncovered, in a warm place, for 30 minutes.
Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese. Bake in middle of a 400 degree oven for
about 25 minutes, or until golden.
Sausage, bell pepper & onion focaccia
3 bell peppers of assorted colors, sliced thin
2 onions, sliced thin
2 large garlic cloves, mashed to a paste with a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 lb fresh hot Italian sausages, cut into 4" lengths
six 4" squares of thick focaccia
In a large skillet saut� the bell peppers, the onions, the garlic paste,
and the fennel seeds in the oil over moderately high heat, stirring, until
the vegetables are browned lightly, cook the mixture over moderate heat,
stirring, for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened, and season
the mixture with salt and pepper. While the vegetables are cooking, in a
well-seasoned ridged grill pan or large skillet grill the sausage lengths
over moderately high heat, turning them once, for 6 to 10 minutes, or until
they are cooked through, and halve them lengthwise. Halve the focaccia
squares horizontally, leaving one edge uncut to form a hinge, and fill them
with the pepper mixture and the sausage.
After baking, allow the focaccia to cool completely, then wrap
tightly in heavy duty foil or freezer wrap. Focaccia will keep frozen at 0
degrees F. for 6 to 8 months. To serve, thaw in wrapping at room
temperature, unwrap, and bake in 350 degree oven just until heated through,
about 10 minutes.
If you would like more focaccia recipes, please feel free to post your request in the