Biting into a piece of focaccia–crunchy, chewy, fragrant–I try to picture Etruscans eating this ancient flatbread.
Their flour, milled from whole grains, was surely coarser than my bread flour.
The degree to which their flatbread rose depended on whatever helpful microorganisms could be captured from the air. I rely on commercial yeast for consistent results.
Their herbs grew wild in the Mediterranean soil. Mine are cultivated.
They likely cooked their version of focaccia in embers of an open fire. I crank my oven up to 425F and it works, every time.
Then and now, not the same. But it’s a mark of how forgiving this flatbread is that variations have been made around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years.
The difference between focaccia and pizza? Focaccia generally rises faster and higher, thanks to generous amounts of yeast. Usually it contains more olive oil, resulting in a crisper crust. Toppings, if they exist, are not as generous or numerous as for pizza. Often there’s little or no cheese.
But there are no absolutes. The line between pizza and focaccia (or schiacciata, as it is called in Tuscany) has blurred because cooks can juggle these variables as they wish.
Sometimes I make this herbed focaccia as one element in a meal. Alternatively, toppings such as tomatoes and black olives make it pretty enough to cut in small squares for aperitivo time.
On visits to Canu, a popular bakery in the Tuscan city of Montevarchi, I used to order pizza with colorful toppings, until a friend taught me the real game. Big squares of schiacciata, split and filled with mortadella carved off an enormous log. Easy to do, even when your mortadella is packaged more prosaically in butcher paper.
Whatever you do with focaccia, eat it all. This is a carpe diem bread, at its best the day it is made.
So easy to make with a food processor, which chops the herbs while forming the dough.
- 4 sprigs rosemary or sage
- 2½ teaspoons dry yeast (one envelope)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Up to 3½ cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
- Coarse sea salt or kosher salt
Pluck or slide herb leaves off stems. If sage leaves are large, cut in ribbons.
Combine yeast and 2 tablespoons oil with 1 1/3 cups lukewarm water in a small bowl.
Combine 3 cups flour, 2 teaspoons salt and half of herb leaves (about 2 tablespoons) in a food processor bowl.* Whir briefly to mix.
Add yeast mixture to flour mixture. Mix on medium speed for 1 full minute; the food processor will chop the herbs as well as form the dough. Add additional flour as needed for a dough that pulls away from sides and is only slightly sticky.
Smear a large bowl with a little olive oil. Place dough inside and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours (or refrigerate for a slower rise), until doubled in size.
Lightly coat a baking sheet (10 ½ in. x 15 ½ in.) with olive oil. Press dough into pan, making sure it touches all sides (if dough resists, allow it to rest for a few minutes and try again). Cover and let dough rise again until doubled, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 425F. Brush dough with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon). Dimple dough by pressing with fingertips to make small cavities. Pick up pinches of herbs with thumb and forefinger and press into cavities.
Bake in lower third of oven until browned on both sides, about 25 minutes (check after 15 minutes and move to an upper shelf if top is not browning).
Slide focaccia onto a cutting board. Using a large knife, cut in serving-sized squares.
*A mixing bowl with dough hook can also be used. If so, chop herbs in advance.
Split focaccia squares and fill with mortadella, salami or prosciutto slices.
Focaccia toppings should be sparser and spread more thinly than for pizza.
- 1 pound plum tomatoes or small “cocktail tomatoes” or halved medium tomatoes
- Sea salt or kosher salt
- Herbed Focaccia Dough with or without herbs, after second rising*
- 1 cup grated mozzarella or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- ½ cup black or green pitted olives cut in slivers
Cut ends off tomatoes. Lay slices on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Cover with additional paper towels, pressing lightly to absorb moisture.
After brushing oil on dough, dimpling with fingertips and adding herbs, sprinkle half of cheese over focaccia. Top with tomatoes, olives and remaining cheese.
Bake as specified in Herbed Focaccia recipe. Cut focaccia in two-inch squares for appetizers or larger squares for a meal.
*Omit herbs if you wish.