It’s herb season! We got thyme in the box for the first time, and basil is coming out of our ears. My neighbor’s rosemary bush, which might have made some surreptitious contributions to meals past, is exploding right now, practically covering the sidewalk. Herbs are everywhere, and I love it. I decided to put some to use in some herb focaccia. This recipe makes a half sheet (18″ x 13″) of bread, which is a lot. We sliced big chunks in half and filled them with sandwich fixin’s. Then used big pieces to sop up sauce in a pasta meal. There also might have been some breakfast focaccia consumed. At any meal, it’s good.
Fresh Herb Focaccia
For the sponge:
1/2 oz (2 packages) active dry yeast
3/4 c warm, not hot, water
1 T sugar
8 oz AP flour
For the dough:
2 c warm, not hot, water
3/4 c olive oil + additional oil for the pan
3 oz sugar
2 T kosher salt
1 lb 14 oz AP flour
1/2 c minced fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary
To make the sponge, dissolve the yeast in the water. Stir in the sugar and flour until the dough is elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until the sponge rises so much that it starts to fall back in on itself in the center.
To make the dough, add the 2 c water, olive oil, sugar, salt, flour, and herbs to the sponge. You can use an electric mixer if you choose, but this dough is soft enough to combine by hand, and it doesn’t require a long knead. When the dough has enough flour to form into a ball, turn out on a floured surface and work in any remaining flour, resulting in a soft, smooth, elastic dough. Cover with a tea towel and let rise 30 minutes.
Coat the bottom and sides of a half sheet pan with a healthy coat of olive oil. Move the dough into the pan. Oil your hands, then stretch the dough out as far as you can. It’s not an exact science, get as close as your dough will allow. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
After the dough has doubled, use your oiled hands to push the dough into all the corners of the pan. Then press your fingertips into the top of the dough, covering it with divots. Let the dough rise again until it is doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Sprinkle the top of the dough with an additional drizzle of olive oil and a couple healthy pinches of kosher salt. Place the bread in the preheated oven, then immediately reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until baked through. You can lift up a corner to make sure the bottom is golden and delicious.
Remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes. Then invert the bread onto a cookie sheet. Using a second cookie sheet, invert it again so it is top-side-up again. This keeps the bottom from getting soggy as it cools.
On another note…
I had a spectacular failure in my quest to become an Italian grandmother. It’s artichoke season, which appears to be an important ingredient in my quest. So I purchased two massive fresh artichokes at the market last week. My goal was to make Roman artichokes, or artichokes cooked with herbs and olive oil. I got home and realized the recipe called for baby artichokes, not the softball sized monsters I had purchased. No worries, we work with what we’ve got, eh? So I plowed ahead. I followed the instructions carefully on how to prepare the artichokes. I cut and pulled and peeled and was left with two small pieces of artichoke meat and a massive mound of artichoke castings. I cooked them according to the directions and then served them up, proud of my accomplishment.
I took the first bite, or tried to, before my husband made it to the table. It was like biting into needles out for blood! It was awful. Apparently I did not properly clean the inside of the artichoke, and the barbs on the very small leaves in the center were still there, like little cacti, out to tear my mouth to shreds. My husband tried to delicately work his way around the death-chokes, but was unsuccessful. I didn’t cook something properly in addition to not preparing them properly, so they were raw, inedible, and out to destroy all parts of our digestive systems. I shrugged, defeated. “Sorry…at least the chicken is good, right?” Oh, well. I’m sure all grandmothers have some spectacular failures along the way!