Roughly three years ago Rachel Roddy, Carla Tomasi and I sat in Carla’s kitchen with mugs of tea, looking out onto Carla’s blooming kitchen garden and chatting about how Market to Table would become our chance to cook together with curious travelers from around the globe. Market to Table has become a glorious celebration of the Roman seasons, of recipes we love and a true sharing of culinary knowledge. I have learnt so much from both Rachel and Carla, and literally pepper my other classes with ‘Carla does this’ and ‘Carla taught me that’. Even when I am pottering around the studio doing something else, I always have one ear tuned to what Carla is saying.
Carla always makes focaccia for Market to Table, and the smell of it, just baked and often topped with onions and herbs, has dealt a swift end to many a proposed diet. Focaccia is the simplest of breads, but, in order to tick all the right boxes – light, airy, crisp on the outside – it needs a good mix of flours and the right hydration. Yes, dough is a sticky, slightly scary mess when it has a lot of water in it – a high hydration – but it only takes a few times to feel comfortable with it.
You can bake a focaccia just so – sprinkling sea salt and rosemary on it when it comes out of the oven, or cook vegetables in to it for more of a meal. For onion lovers there is the classic Foccacia alla Genovese covered with finely sliced onions with a little oregano. Focaccia alla Pugliese is lovely when tomatoes are in season, the tomatoes cooking into a sort of confit while they are baking cushioned by the bread. Sliced zucchini is lovely, potato works, and Carla makes another heavenly version with blue cheese and red onions. So, focaccia is like pasta in a way, a blank canvas with which to follow the seasons or a whim.
Foccacia, the simplest of breads, based on a recipe and cooking advice from Carla Tomasi
Oven temp. 190°C with fan
This is a good quantity for two round focaccia of approx 20 cm diameter.
250 g 00 flour (plain or all purpose) – for Australians I like the Caputo flours which are available at good stores like Bocaccio IGA
250 g manitoba (strong bread flour)
1.5 tsp of dry yeast (lievito di birra secco)
10 g of fine salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
380 ml tepid water
Note: Measure the full amount but never add it all at once because there are many variants (flour quality, heat, humidity etc) that affect the ability of flour to absorb liquid.
MIX: Place flours, yeast and salt in a suitable mixing bowl (glass, ceramic or plastic) and swirl around. Drizzle in the olive oil and then pour in the water. Maybe on a very cold day the water temperature ought to be on the warm side of tepid. Plunge one hand in and use it as if it was a dough hook. If you want to use a stand mixer you can, with the dough hook. As you go around the bowl, gather flour from the side towards the centre.
REST: Once all the flour has been incorporated, pat into a shaggy mass, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. The dough will be very loose and sticky – this is because it has a high ‘hydration’.
(At this point you can let THE DOUGH RISE OVERNIGHT IN THGE FRIDGE. If you want to use the dough the next day, you can place in the fridge and let it rise overnight. Likewise if it is a very hot day day and you won’t be using it for many hours you can let it do some of its rising in the fridge.)
TURN: When resting time is over the dough will feel soft and pliable. Pour a little olive oil on the work surface and plop the dough on it. Flatten it out gently and then pull the dough from the edge towards the centre and every time give it a quarter turn. Pull the dough four times.
REST AGAIN: Upturn the mixing bowl over the dough and again leave to rest for about 15 minutes.
TURN AGAIN: Repeat this process once more.
RISE: Now gather the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover well with plastic wrap or a damp clean cloth, and leave to rest until it has doubled in size (around 45 minutes). How quickly the dough rises depends on the temperature of where you are cooking. In winter I often leave dough to rise on a heater or in the kitchen with the oven open.
TRANSFER TO BAKING TRAYS: When the dough is ready ease it out of the bowl, pull the ‘corners’ of the dough once more and gather into a ball. Split the dough into two pieces and lightly oil your baking tin(s) and gently transfer the dough on it. During the colder months it is best to leave the dough to relax on a wooden surface.
RELAX: Leave to rest until the dough has relaxed (approx. 30 mins). Try to finger massage the dough into shape and if it keeps springing back leave it to rest for a while, something like a further 15 minutes. When the dough is ready gently stretch and massage it into the shape you wish to bake it in.
FINAL RISE: Once the dough has been spread out leave it to rise (preferably uncovered) well away from droughts or direct heat. If the day is really hot you may need to cover it. Could take from 20 mins to 40 mins.
COOK: If a thin skin forms on the surface of the dough it is fine, it will be easier to brush it with olive oil. When well puffed up gently dimple the surface with your fingers and drizzle a little more oil. Pop into a 190°C fan forced oven and rotate the tin at lest once. Takes around 20-25 minutes to bake but much depends on your oven. I like to paint the focaccia with a little more oil once out of the oven.
Carla’s tip: avoid baking the focaccia with herbs strewn on the surface, especially rosemary because the essential oil within the herb will turn bitter due to the strong heat. The best way to add rosemary is to roughly chop and shower the focaccia along with sea salt flakes as soon as it is out of the oven.
Photos by Lida Meyer.