Sunday, 2 January 2011

F is for... Focaccia

Richard and I had recently been on holiday to Rome, so F night's menu was inspired by the Italian food we ate whilst there. The Italians serve bread with everything and not just a little bit. Everytime we went for dinner, huge plates of delicious breads were presented to us along with the menus.

I felt certain focaccia would be a hit with all, especially after raiding my parents' garden for fresh herbs. But, surprisingly, my nephews - usually great bread-scoffing enthusiasts - were suspicious and had to be coaxed into trying it at all. Possibly it was the spikes of rosemary poking out the top of the bread like thick tufts of hair that did it, possibly it was because the bread was round. I'm not sure if they enjoyed it or not once they'd finally taken the plunge to pop some on their plates, and neither were they. It was a hit with everyone else though, especially the gluten-dodgers who were having a day off their deprivation, being prepared to suffer the consequences later. I was long gone by the time the side effects kicked in, so I didn't fully appreciate the sacrifices they made for F's menu.

I served the focaccia with the Fagioli al Fiasco - another holiday discovery that felt far too full of F's to ignore. Little did I know at the time whilst I was tucking into my Fagioli al Fiasco in a candle-lit rustic restaurant, how apt the name of this dish was for the events which unfolded that day.

Fennel seed and rosemary focaccia

A 7g sachet of dried yeast
280 ml of luke warm water
7 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra for sprigs
1 tbsp fennel seeds
500 g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
A scattering of coarse sea salt

In a large bowl, place half the flour, salt, chopped rosemary and half of your fennel seeds. Mix briefly and add the yeast. Mix again and pour in the water and 3 - 4 tbsp olive oil. Mix until the flour is fully incorporated and gradually, spoonful by spoonful, work in the rest of the flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Knead for about ten minutes until smooth and silky, then place the ball of dough in a large oiled bowl and cover the top with clingfilm or a clean, damp tea towel. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or two until the dough has doubled in size. Knock the air out of the dough, reshape and place on an oiled baking tray or in an oiled cake tin (I used a 9" round cake tin). Press the dough up to the edges of the tin and even out. Cover and leave to rise again - about 45 minutes.

Use the tips of your fingers to indent deep dimples into the dough at regular intervals and leave to prove for 45 minutes and preheat your oven to 220 C (200 C Fan). Once risen, press sprigs of rosemary into the dough's dimples, and drizzle over the remaining oil. Scatter over the remaining fennel seeds and the coarse sea salt and bake for 20 - 25 minutes or until golden brown and turn out on a rack. Serve the focaccia warm.

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