Focaccia

Focaccia can be toasted with jam for breakfast, used for gourmet sandwiches, served on the side with soup, used for croutons and served with the finest of Italian meals with bowls of olive oil and freshly ground pepper. My favorite time to serve focaccia is with large bowls of pasta, homemade tomato sauce, fresh basil, generous shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and red wine.

Rosemary and Olive Oil Focaccia

2 packages of (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 3/4 cups warm water

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 cups of extra-virgin olive oil

5 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1 teaspoon course sea salt for topping

2 Tablespoons of your favorite herb for topping

By hand: In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the flour, and the fine sea salt and stir with your hand or a wooden spoon until a rough ball forms. Using a pastry scraper, scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup flour to the work surface while kneading to prevent the dough from sticking.

By stand mixer: In the bowl of a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the flour, and the fine sea salt. Place the bowl on the mixer, attach the dough hook, and knead on low speed, until the dough is smooth and elastic, 5-7 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup flour while kneading to prevent the dough from sticking. Remove the dough from the bowl.

Foam the dough into a ball, transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in size, 1-1 1/2 hours. For a more flavorful bread, make the dough up to this point, punch it down, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature before shaping.

Pour the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil evenly into a half-sheet pan. Turn the dough out into the pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan. If it is too elastic to spread without springing back, let it rest for 5 minutes. Cover the pan loosely with a dry kitchen towel. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 450 degrees. Dimple the dough by pressing your fingertips all the way into it at 1 inch intervals over the entire surface. Sprinkle it with the course salt and your choose of herbs (I love rosemary, but you can use thyme, basil, oregano, marjoram, or tarragon).

Bake the focaccia until golden brown, about 20-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan. Cut it into squares and serve warm with bowls of olive oil and freshly ground pepper for dipping.

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