This weekend has been most pleasant. Partly because of the sunshine, partly because I’ve been able to fully indulge in my hobbies. A combination of it being the weekend, spring (optimal planting time) and the sun donning its hat has meant an inevitable trip to my local nursery in Merton. I once again spent too much time and money on plants, but few things give me more satisfaction than putting something in the ground and watching it live and transform, attract wildlife, die back into the earth, and return next year. I can, and do, spend hours just observing my garden. There is always something going on, especially at this time of year. Watching fat furry bees heavy and drunk on pollen meandering from one petal platform to the next; pulsating peristaltic worms burrowing into the dark and cool depths of the borders; watching a male robin ‘courtship feed’ his mate from the sunflower seed feeder, getting her ready for imminent egg-laying. The list goes on. I don’t have a large garden, but the life within it and the immense pleasure it gives me is deeply comforting.
So I got to do a lot of digging, lifting, planting, sitting, watching, listening in it today. The wonderful weather called for sustenance to match, and so in between admiring my anemones and pandering over my passionflower, I decided to rustle up a foccacia to have with dinner, thus allowing me to satisfy another slightly more obvious hobby of mine, cooking (and subsequently, eating). A focaccia is a flat oven baked Italian bread, wonderfully savoury and full with the flavour of good olive oil. It can be topped with a variety of typically Mediterranean toppings of your choice and is one of the easiest breads to make. It’s also made from ingredients you’re likely to already have in stock – a perfect impulse bake.
Makes one large focaccia, serves 8-10
500g strong bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1½ tsp salt
Pinch of caster sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 x 7g sachets fast-action dried yeast
Olives (whatever colour you like)
Small handful fresh rosemary leaves
A bulb of garlic
Put the flour into a large bowl, tip the sugar and yeast on one side, and the salt on the opposite side. Make a well in the centre and pour in one tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil. Add 300ml of lukewarm water into the well and combine with your hand until it all comes together.
Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for around 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Shape into a round and drag across the surface with your hands cupped around it to make the skin of the dough ball taught. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave in warm place until the dough has at least doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Tip You can incorporate other ingredients into the dough when you knead it if you wish, such as chopped up sun dried tomatoes.
|before first prove|
|doubled in size|
Once the dough has risen, tip it out into an oiled large sandwich tin or a shallow baking tray (the former will give you a smaller and thicker focaccia, the latter will make it larger and thinner – I did the latter). Push the dough flat and right into the corners with your fingertips so it fills the space. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place for its second prove, until it’s doubled in size again.
Preheat your oven to 250°C/Gas Mark 10, or as high as it will go. When the bread looks puffed up and airy, use your thumb to poke deep holes across the whole surface, almost to the bottom. Fill these holes with olives and garlic cloves. Drizzle the top generously (but not swimmingly) with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes. Pierce the dough all over with rosemary leaves.
Tip Tilt the tray so the oil covers the whole surface. Also use the back of a teaspoon to ensure the oil has coated the rosemary too.
Bake for about 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to about 200°C/Gas Mark 6 and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden brown.
Focaccia is best eaten warm, but not hot; leave to cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before serving, or leave to cool completely.