One for an early summer lunch –goat’s milk cheese in thick, chalky slices, magenta ribbons of pickled red cabbage, and this focaccia, torn into oily tufts.
Recipe extracted from A Cook’s Book by Nigel Slater (HarperCollins, RRP $60)
Food image taken by Jonathan Lovekin
warm water 400ml (about 13 fl oz) easy-bake dried yeast 2 teaspoons sea salt 1 teaspoon caster (superfine granulated) sugar 1 teaspoon sourdough starter 2 tablespoons (optional) strong white bread flour 500g (1 lb 2 oz) olive oil 6 tablespoons, plus a little extra for the baking tin green or lemon-marinated olives, stoned 100g (3-4 oz) thyme the leaves from 6 bushy sprigs sea salt flakes
Enriching a basic bread dough with olive oil gives a soft, open-textured bread that is sublime for tearing apart and thrusting into soft, fragrant mounds of hummus, beetroot or bean purée or just more olive oil. The oil you knead into the dough lends a richness that leaves traces of deliciously salty, herb-scented oil on your fingertips.
The best focaccia I have eaten was one made with a sourdough starter and begun three days in advance. I like a quicker fix, so I have settled on a recipe that requires just one overnight spell in the fridge. Something of a compromise, I agree, but the result is a more open crumb and, I think, a better flavour than those that are risen and baked on the same day. Crisp on top and bottom, a good spongy, chewy crumb and satisfyingly olive-oily, this is seriously good focaccia.
1 You will also need a high-sided baking tin approximately 34cm (13-14”) × 24cm (about 10”).
2 Put the water and yeast into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and sugar. If you
are including a little of your sourdough starter, do so now, stirring it into the water till dissolved. Mix in the flour either by hand or with a wooden spatula. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and mix loosely into the dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and refrigerate overnight. (The dough will need a good eight hours.)
3 Next day, when the dough will have risen to about twice its original size, chop the olives and the thyme leaves and mix them into the dough along with another 2 tablespoons of the oil. Lightly oil the baking tin and turn the dough out into the tin. Push the dough out to fit the tin with your fist, gently pushing it almost into the corners –it will swell during the second proving – then wrap the tin in a cloth and place in a warm spot for a good hour, perhaps two, until it has risen to twice its size.
4 Set the oven at 220°C (425°F). When the oven is ready, use a floured finger to push several hollows into the dough, then scatter the surface lightly with sea salt flakes and bake for 30 minutes till golden. Remove from the oven, pour the remaining oil over the surface, then release from its tin with a palette knife and serve.