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Focaccia with onion and rosemary

My week was brightened no end yesterday when I discovered that Jean-Christophe Novelli was linking to one of the recipes on Gastronomy Domine. I’m cooking a lot of things like the aubergine caviar he mentions at the moment – it must be the weather. To make the most of the short English summer, it’s lovely to eat a cold al fresco supper with some good, home-made bread. This explains the bread-making binge I appear to be on at this week. Fresh bread tastes great, it makes the house smell fantastic, and there is something strangely soothing about pummelling the hell out of a wodge of dough as you knead it; not to mention the lovely feeling you get from poking your fingers into a baby-soft, freshly-risen batch to knock it down. Bread dough is deliciously tactile, but I shrink from describing the full puffy, silky, stretchy glory of it in case you all decide I’m some sort of dough pervert.

Focaccia is an Italian bread enriched with plenty of olive oil. The oil in the dough makes it a dream to work with, and although it has a long rising time to help it develop its lovely open texture, all you have to do is knead, then wait for the dough to rise a couple of times. I’ve flavoured this focaccia with rosemary and chillies stirred into the dough itself, and a caramelised onion topping slathered on top. It’s lovely cut into squares and served with some Mediterranean-style cold nibbles like caponata, aubergine caviar, hummus or panzanella, and a bowl of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip into.

To make one focaccia you’ll need:

Bread
500g strong white bread flour
1 packet instant yeast
275ml tepid water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil (plus extra for oiling bowl and dough)
5 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons Italian chilli flakes

Caramelised onion topping
2 large onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
A few sprigs of rosemary to decorate
12 olives
Olive oil to drizzle and salt to sprinkle over

Put 250g of the flour in a large mixing bowl with the yeast, chopped rosemary and chillies, then pour in the tepid water – this should be around blood heat – and the olive oil. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth, then start to stir in the remaining flour, a handful at a time, until you have a soft dough. The dough should not be completely dry – a little stickiness is fine, and should have vanished by the time you have finished kneading because of the magical development of the gluten in the wheat. You may not find you need to add all the flour – the amount you use will depend on the flour you have bought and the humidity and temperature of your kitchen. (I had about 20g left to put back in the bag when I was done.) Knead the dough vigorously for at least ten minutes, until it is very smooth and stretchy. Oil the dough ball and put it inside an oiled mixing bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise for two hours in a warm place.

The dough should have more than doubled in size. Knock it down to its original size and knead again for five minutes, then spread it out in a baking tin (mine was 25cm x 35cm), making sure the dough is even and pushed well into the edges and corners. Cover with the damp cloth again and let the focaccia rise for 45 minutes, then push the dough flat again and let it rise for a further 45 minutes while you heat the oven to 220° C (425° F) and prepare the onions by sautéing them in the oil over a low heat until they are sweet and golden (about 20 minutes), then putting them aside to cool.

Push 12 olives into the surface of the risen focaccia in a pattern with some rosemary sprigs, and spread the onions gently over the top (don’t push too hard when you spread, so the bread does not deflate). Pour over some more olive oil to fill the olive holes, sprinkle with coarse-grained salt and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top, then place on a rack to cool.

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