There is such a love for bread products in Italy that the types of bread people have invented are numerous. Focaccia is one of them, a kind of flatbread that has been in use for centuries. The name comes from the Latin word ‘focus’, which vaguely means fireplace, where the focaccia was baked.
There are many versions of focaccia, depending on the region in Italy. Probably one of the oldest recipes is from Liguria, thick and rich, sometimes topped with onions, or sometimes sliced in two and filled with creamy cheese and green vegetables.
In Rome, we have a version also called pizza bianca, chewy, a bit scorched and very rich in olive oil. In Puglia the fantasy went the extra mile, and the soft, pillowy focaccia baked there has an incredible secret ingredient: the flour is mixed with a boiled potato. The boiling water of the potato is also used in the mix! The potato is rich in starch, which helps retain the humidity in the dough, giving an airy and soft consistency to the focaccia: it will be perfectly cooked and raised inside and a little crusty on the outside.
Focaccia has become extremely popular around the world, and available in many restaurants and bakeries. But it is extremely simple to make at home, and the smell of a focaccia baking in the oven is priceless.
Focaccia is usually prepared with white wheat flour but can become a nutritious and satisfying food when topped with healthy ingredients, like fresh tomatoes and onions, or grilled zucchini, or any other roasted vegetables. It is still a food high in carbs – to be enjoyed in moderation. If you want to part with tradition, I suggest using whole grain flour for a healthier version of the focaccia.
- 700 gr all-purpose flour
- 200 grams approximately of boiled and riced potato
- 550 grams water, lukewarm
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons of instant dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons EVOO
- Fresh Rosemary or Sage
- More EVOO for the baking tray
1. Boil a large potato with the skin, approximately 30 minutes, in salted water.
2. Remove from the water and peel. Rice the potato or mash it. Set aside.
3. Put the flour (less a cup) in the standing mixer with the paddle attachment. Add the other dry ingredients and mix.
4. Add the riced potato, mix again and slowly add the water and olive oil until a ball forms.
5. Substitute the paddle attachment with the hook.
6. Mix again, adding slowly the remaining flour one teaspoon at the time, throwing it against the walls of the bowl so that the dough does not stick.
7. Mix until you have a smooth ball of dough, very soft but not too sticky.
8. Remove the hook, mix with your hands a couple of times more. Cover with saran wrap and let it rise for an hour or two in a warm place, away from cold air.
Oil a baking dish – or use parchment paper.
Flip the dough onto the baking dish. Put a few drops of oil on your fingertips and start spreading out the dough pushing it towards the borders of the baking sheet until evenly distributed. Cover again and let it rise for one hour more.
Start your oven at 450F convection.
Remove the cover from the dough. Make some small, regular holes on the surface of the Focaccia with your fingertips. Put some Rosemary sprigs in each hole. Drizzle once more with olive oil. Season with some salt.
Bake for 15 minutes in the oven or until when it gets a nice, even golden color.
Remove from the oven and with the help of thongs and spatula gently flip the hot focaccia.
Cook again for 6-7 minutes, so that the bottom is also nice and golden in color.
Remove and let it cool on a rack.
A Few Notes:
- If your potato is smaller, just add some flour to compensate, so that the total weight will be the same.
- Use all or some of the cooking water to mix the dough.
- If you have the time, let your dough mature in the refrigerator overnight: it will acquire an even deeper taste! Just leave it at room temperature for 3-4 hours before spreading it out in the baking sheet pan.
- Never use a rolling pin with focaccia dough: you would squeeze out all the air that makes it so soft and airy!
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.