How Focaccia Saved Summer
It has been a very strange summer, and I realize that, by now, we are well into fall, but it takes me some time to get my system up and running at full speed again after the summer season. Because I hate it. It’s sweaty and exhausting, and it makes all the parts of living in a crowded city that are already bad unbearable. My dog agrees with my sentiments about the heat, as well, which means he refuses to go for walks longer than 10 minutes, and long walks with Charlie have become the closest thing I have to therapy.
On top of all of that? Baking and cooking become somewhat nightmarish endeavors once the temperature crosses a certain threshold. And those are two more of my biggest stress relievers. This summer, however, I found a way to minimize my time spent in the (home) kitchen, while making satisfying meals that felt like they were still thoughtful and very much homemade. As a bonus, I got to wring at least one positive out of Korea’s unbearably hot, humid season — the ability to rise bread with very little fussing and no praying.
Focaccia, I think, is most familiar to Americans as a bread eaten on its own as a side or cut down the middle for sandwiches, but it’s also often used in place of a pizza dough base in Italy, piled with sauce, cheese and other toppings. That’s where the effortless part came in this summer, as I almost always have leftover pesto hanging around in the warmer months, and I realized focaccia also made a great receptacle for any leftover veggies I had laying around after most of the week’s grocery shopping was exhausted.
Eggplant, peppers, onions, mushrooms, asparagus — all of these and more made appearances in the weekly focaccia rotation, with, of course, a little cheese grated over the top. I even got into the habit of keeping a mason jar full of olive oil and herbs on hand to make the process even easier (something I recommend for everyone anyway — infused oil not only good for focaccia and pizza, but salads and, of course, pasta).
It takes about 20 minutes to pull the dough together and knead it, and then another 5 to get it in the pan for the final rise (add 10-15 to chop veggies or grate cheese to go on top, if that’s your thing), and you can even make a big batch of this to keep in the fridge and pull from throughout the next few days to have fresh bread with little more than a few minutes’ worth of hands-on work each day. The flavor will only get stronger as the dough is allowed to slowly ferment.
Overall, this is one of the most convenient and versatile breads I’ve come across so far, because it doesn’t require any fussy shaping or rigging up the home oven to try to get a decent crust (you should see the situation I have going for regular loaves of bread — it requires the use of fireproof gloves and loose straight razors, and I feel an inevitable emergency room visit creeping ever closer with each loaf).
This recipe was very slightly adapted from this one from Inspiredtaste.net, so a big thank-you to them for providing that.
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- At least a day before you make the bread, put the olive oil, garlic and rosemary in a container so the oil has time to infuse.
- Combine the water, honey and yeast and stir until well mixed. Leave the yeast mixture to stand for about 10 minutes, until it is frothy.
- In the meantime, gather your dry ingredients and combine the flour, salt and black pepper in a large bowl. Add 1/2 a cup of the infused oil and all of the yeast mixture and stir together until a dough forms. Then tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is elastic and smooth, about 7-10 minutes.
- Coat a large, clean bowl with more of the infused oil and place the dough inside, brushing more oil over the top. Cover it with a damp kitchen towel and set it aside to rise until it has at least doubled in size, anywhere from an hour to two-and-a-half hours (this will go much more quickly in summer and may take quite a bit longer in winter).
- Once the dough has risen, coat a 9″x13″ pan with the infused oil and press the dough evenly into the pan, punching out any big pockets of air. Use your finger or the round end of a wooden spoon to poke little divots across the surface. Coat the surface of the dough generously with the remaining infused oil (you may also want to sprinkle it with a little sea salt if you plan to have the bread on its own with no added toppings), cover and set aside once more to rise for about 20-30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 425 F (218 C) and bake until the top is golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. **Note: If you are using this recipe to make a pizza and have piled on a lot of toppings, you may need to keep the bread in the oven longer to make sure it bakes through — between 30 and 45 minutes in my experience.
Freelance writer and editor. American in Seoul. I write about Korean food. I blog about all food. Last year I wrote a monthly column about traveling to different places around the country to explore Korean ingredients and cuisine. This ignited my interest in local foods and cooking, which I blog about regularly now. I also blog restaurant and cafe recommendations, recipes and some background and history about Korean food.