IIt was a week of blazing sunshine, with bees on lumps of thyme burrowing cracks in the stone pavement, lunches in the open air, and our oily fingers ripping at the thick leaves of focaccia being passed around the table.
The cake was covered with rosemary and green olives. The whole loaf smelled of the deepest summer and we ate it with roasted peppers and spiced anchovies that shone silver in the sun. I baked this loaf the day the dough was made and it rises well, with an airy texture, but the best (if you have the time) is to prepare the dough the day before and let it set overnight in the fridge. The slow rise seems to give the finished bread a better flavour.
Herbs are added at the final stage before the second proof of the dough. Herbs with rough stems will withstand the heat of the oven: thyme and rosemary – and if you grow them yourself – are delicious in summer. Focaccia will travel well to a picnic or live happily in a lunchbox, but also makes an interesting sandwich, sliced horizontally to give two large slices of bread, then topped with roasted peppers, skin, basil leaves, arugula, and – if you like – thinly sliced salami.
I made a sandwich filling, as the oven was anyway, from roasted eggplant with garlic, finely chopped preserved lemon, and the seasoned oil from the roasting tin soaked in the bread. I made a lot, so we ate it as a side dish the next day. If you get the chance, I recommend leaving the stuffed sandwiches under a weighted cutting board, encouraging the filling to break through the crumbs of the loaf and for the two parts—the loaf and the savory filling—to become one.
Focaccia olive and rosemary
If you have any sourdough appetizers, add a few tablespoons of olive oil at first. The bread, wrapped in foil or kitchen film, will keep for a day, after which you can cut it in half horizontally and toast the cut sides, then put tomato slices and basil oil on top. Serves 4
warm water 400 ml
Easy-to-bak dried yeast 2 teaspoons
sea salt 1 teaspoon
fine sugar 1 teaspoon
Strong white bread flour 500 grams
olive oil 6 tablespoons, plus a little extra
Green olives or seasoned with lemon 125 g stuffed
rosemary leaves 1 tablespoon
sea salt flakes to end
You will also need a high sided baking tray, approximately 34cm x 24cm
Put the water and yeast in a large mixing bowl and add the salt and sugar. Mix the flour either by hand or with a wooden spoon. Add two tablespoons of olive oil and mix well with the dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and place it in the refrigerator overnight. (The dough will need a good 8 hours.)
The next day, when the dough has risen somewhat (don’t expect it to be as high as you would if you had proofed it in a warm place), cut the olives in half and chop the rosemary leaves and mix them with the dough with another 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Grease a baking tray with a little oil and transfer the dough to the tray. Push the dough out to fit the tin with your fist, and gently push it roughly into the corners—it will puff up during the second test—then wrap the dough in a cloth and put it in a warm place for a good hour, maybe two, until it has risen to twice its size.
Set oven to 220°C/gas mark 8. When oven is ready, use a floured finger to push several hollows into the dough, sprinkle the surface lightly with sea salt flakes and bake for 30 minutes until golden. We take it out of the oven, pour the remaining oil on the surface, then remove it from the tin with a palette knife.
Grilled eggplant and preserved lemon sandwich
A delicious filling for sandwiches, but also a good side dish for grilled lamb chops. Once the eggplant is cooked and prepared, it will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for several days. It is essential to check that the eggplant is fully cooked before removing it from the heat. Open the meat with a spoon – it should be completely soft and almost transparent with olive oil. Serves 4
eggplant 3 medium to large (about 800 grams)
olive oil 4 tablespoons
garlic 3 cloves
lemon destiny 1, small
basil leaves 12
Focaccia 1, see the previous page
Rocket 2 handful
Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and set it side up, then cut a deep trellis from the slits in the pulp. Be careful not to cut the skin directly.
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a shallow skillet over moderate heat. Add the eggplant to the bottom, put the unpeeled garlic cloves around, then let the eggplant fry for 4-5 minutes until the cut sides begin to take a pale golden color. You may need to do this in two articles or in a relay. Flip the eggplant using a palette knife and then pour 100ml of water into the pan. (Keep a lid on hand to handle the hum.)
Cover with a lid, reduce the heat and continue to cook for 10 minutes until the eggplant pulp is soft and silky. Make sure it is completely done by chopping up the meat with a spoon.
Remove from heat and leave to cool. Remove the garlic cloves from the pan, scrape the pulp from the peel and place in a bowl. Crush the cloves until it turns into a paste with a spoon or fork. Using a large spoon, remove the core of the eggplant from its peel into the bowl of garlic. Pour any juices out of the pan – there won’t be many – then mash it up with a fork.
Remove the pulp and discard the inside of the juiced lemon, then finely chop the peel. Add to the eggplant. Chop the basil leaves and stir. Taste for seasoning. You may need a little black pepper.
To fill the cake: Using a long, sharp bread knife, cut the bread in half vertically to give two rectangles and then cut each in half horizontally. Remove the top half from each, then cover the bottom half with the mashed eggplant and watercress leaves. Place the top halves on top and gently press down. Leave for half an hour, so that the juices absorb the bread, and then cut into slices on the table.
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