The coming week is one of departures. My friend Carly is venturing south to Nicaragua, where she’ll live and work until the end of summer. By Tuesday afternoon, Ben and I will have flown the coop for a much-needed (state-side) vacation. And all these openings-up and movings and transitions into new places and phases seem timely, because I think we can finally say safely that spring is here.
As soon as the weather gets above 70 degrees or so, my appetite drops off dramatically. We’ve had a few above-average temperature days here, and I’m generally happy to eat some good cheese, an apple, and a beer for dinner, sitting on the front porch. This focaccia bread fits the bill nicely for those days. A big square of aromatic, sea-salted bread and a glass of wine is totally satisfying (if not, you know, balanced).
This particular focaccia takes its cue from the wonderful David Tanis. I’m not really one for celebrity worship, but if I were, he’d probably be at the top of my list. I mean, come on: He spends 6 months of the year as a chef at Chez Panisse, and the other 6 months in Paris where he runs an exclusive dinner club in his 17th-century apartment. He’s also a fantastic writer, the kind that makes you curl up with his cookbooks and start reading straight through, only to stop once you realize you’re halfway done and want to save some to savor later. The kind of book you buy as a birthday gift and then, after paging through it, don’t want to actually give away (I did, though! I gave it to Louise, after a horribly tormented few days where I actually considered keeping it.)
Tanis’ second book, The Heart of the Artichoke, came out a while ago, but I hadn’t spend any real time with it until recently. It’s as stunning as the first, but more global in its scope, taking readers through recipes inspired by Sicily, Vietnam, or the southwest U.S., but grounding every style of cuisine in one principle: creating food to gather people around a table.
The menu that includes the foccacia is from a chapter he titles, “The Wisdom of Flatbread.” Isn’t that intriguing? What, exactly, is the wisdom of flatbread? I snuggled in and read, waiting for David to give me some contemplative insight into focaccia bread. But it never came. He just told a story about a bakery that made good focaccia.
Making the focaccia, though, clued me in a bit to its wisdom. A very normal bread dough gets a long overnight rise in the fridge to develop some flavor. The next day, you press it into a pan (no crazy kneading techniques or loafmaking here), let it rise a little more, and deck it out with whatever topping you want. Then—here’s the best part—you use your fingers to gently dimple the top of the soft, soft dough. Tanis describes this as ‘primal’, but to me it just felt transgressive. In a good way. Like a kid sticking her fingers in the cake frosting. Then a drizzle of olive oil and generous coarse sea salt before putting it in the oven. Done.
Except you’re not done, because within minutes your entire home will start to smell like bread and herbs and onions. And here’s where I think I found the wisdom of flatbread: All the sensory pleasure of a loaf of bread. Less fuss. Wise, indeed.
Focaccia bread with scallions & sage
Adapted from David Tanis, The Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys
You will need
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fine-grained salt
1/2 cup olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
1/2 cup roughly chopped scallions
Sage to taste, torn
Coarse salt for sprinkling
Mix yeast into 1/2 cup of the water in a large bowl, and ‘feed’ it with 3 tablespoons flour. Let sit until bubbly, about five minutes.
Add the rest of the ingredients (except toppings: scallions, sage, coarse salt) and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a sticky, shaggy ball. Sprinkle with a little flour, turn out onto the counter, and work with your hands just for a minute or so. Lightly oil a bowl (if you’re like me and want to minimize dishes, wash the bowl you mixed the dough in and then oil it), place the ball of dough inside and cover the bowl tightly. Put the bowl in the fridge overnight to rise.
The next day, gently press the dough into an oiled baking sheet (with sides). Allow to rise again in a warm place for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle with scallions and sage, then lightly dimple the surface of the dough with the pads of your fingers. Drizzle with olive oil and coarse salt, and bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown.