One of the things I miss most about living in the provincia di Bari – is the focaccia Barese, fatto come si deve (made how you are supposed to do it). In Monopoli it is a part of life, made at home but also a street food – in the late morning and early evening you can visit the local bakeries and buy even just a slice, to eat as you wander about. A cross between a bread and a deep pizza (a focaccia is anything cooked in the fire), topped with tomatoes and oregano, maybe with the addition of olives or onion, it makes the perfect accompaniment to a salad or, cut in squares, an antipasto spread.
I have written about it before – see Puglia the bread basket of Italy but can’t quite believe I have never published a recipe.
It is actually very easy to make at home, you can even use gluten free flour. Whereas once it may have been made with a ‘mother’ culture, you can also make it with fresh or dried yeast. Everyone has their own traditional recipe, in many the addition of mashed potato makes the resultant focaccia last longer but since, in my household, it gets eaten super promptly, I prefer the texture of the version without. Here, in the summer, the tomatoes are bursting with flavor. If all you can find is rather tasteless cherry tomatoes, definitely add onion or even peppers, skinned (by charring in a hot oven or under the grill) then cut in rings.
To make two large foccacie (you can half the quantities) you will need:
1 kg flour
750 ml tepid water
25g fresh yeast or 12g dried yeast or 7g fast acting or ‘instant’ yeast
half tablespoon sugar
2 heaped tablespoons salt
tomatoes, onions, oregano, a good olive oil, preferably Pugliese, olives optional
If you are using the quick acting yeast, add to the flour. Otherwise mix the yeast with a little bit of the water and sugar to form a paste.
Combine the flour, water, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a food processor with a dough attachement and process until well mixed and sticky. If you are making it entirely by hand, place the flour, salt and sugar into a bowl, make a well in the middle into which you put the water and yeast and mix with a fork, gradually pulling the dry ingredients into the middle.
The mixture will be sticky and stringy, rather than looking like a bread dough; use a spatula to transfer into a bowl, or to scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for two hours.
After two hours scrape the mixture into mixture in one or two baking tins, pushing it down with fingers to fill your tin. spread a little olive oil over the surface (use fingers) then dot the tomatoes around (cut in half if necessary, but small tomatoes can be used whole) and onion (sliced quite thinly, raw) and or olives (ideally small, black, pitted) if you are using them. Sponge cake tins are ideal for a round focaccia, or you can use a rectangular tin, or even make your own rectangle, within a larger baking dish with foil sides
After a further hour, cover with more olive oil and an even sprinkling of oregano and bake in a hot oven (250C) for 20 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Ehen it comes out the oven and is still very hot, brush with more oil and leave to cool down.