It has been a week of blazing sun, with bees on the clumps of thyme coming through the cracks in the stone paving, of lunches outdoors, our olive-oily fingers tearing at thick sheets of focaccia being passed around the table.
The focaccia was spiked with chopped rosemary and green olives. The whole loaf smelled of deepest summer and we ate it with roast peppers and marinated anchovies that shone silver in the sun. I have baked this loaf the day the dough is made and it rises well, with a good airy texture, but better (if you have time) is to make the dough the day before and let it prove overnight in the fridge. The slow rise seems to give the finished bread a better flavour.
If you have time, make the dough the day before and let it prove overnight in the fridge
The herbs are added at the final stage, before the second proving of the dough. Tough-stemmed herbs will survive the heat of the oven: thyme, rosemary and – if you grow it yourself – summer savoury. Focaccia will travel well to a picnic or survive happily in a lunchbox, but also makes for an interesting sandwich, sliced horizontally to give two large sheets of bread, then covered with roasted and skinned peppers, basil leaves, rocket and – if you like – thinly sliced salami.
I made a sandwich filling, as the oven was on anyway, of roasted aubergine with garlic and finely chopped preserved lemon, the seasoned oil from the roasting tin soaking into the bread. I made a little too much, so we ate it as a side dish the following day. If you get the chance, I recommend leaving the stuffed sandwiches under a weighted chopping board, encouraging the filling to penetrate the holey crumb of the loaf and for the two parts – the loaf and its luscious filling – to become one.
Olive and rosemary focaccia
If you have any sourdough starter knocking around, add a couple of tablespoons with the olive oil at the start. The bread will keep, wrapped in foil or kitchen film, for a day, after which time you could slice it in half horizontally and toast the cut sides, then place sliced tomatoes and basil oil on top. Serves 4
warm water 400ml
easy-bake dried yeast 2 tsp
sea salt 1 tsp
caster sugar 1 tsp
strong white bread flour 500g
olive oil 6 tbsp, plus a little extra
green or lemon-marinated olives 125g, stoned
rosemary leaves 1 tbsp
sea salt flakes to finish
You will also need a high-sided baking tin, approximately 34cm x 24cm
Put the water and yeast into a large mixing bowl and add the salt and sugar. Mix in the flour either by hand or with a wooden spatula. Add 2 tbsp of the olive oil and mix loosely into the dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and refrigerate overnight. (The dough will need a good 8 hours.)
Next day, when the dough has risen somewhat (don’t expect it to be as high as if you had proved it in a warm place) halve the olives and chop the rosemary leaves and mix them into the dough along with another 2 tbsp of the olive oil. Lightly oil the baking tin and turn the dough out into the tin. Push the dough out to fit the tin with your fist, gently pushing it almost into the corners – it will swell during second proving – then wrap the tin in a cloth and place in a warm spot for a good hour, perhaps two, until it has risen to twice its size.
Set the oven at 220C/gas mark 8. When the oven is ready, use a floured finger to push several hollows into the dough, then scatter the surface lightly with sea salt flakes and bake for 30 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven, pour the remaining oil over the surface, then release from its tin with a palette knife.
Roast aubergine and preserved lemon sandwiches
A juicy filling for sandwiches, but also a good side dish for grilled lamb cutlets. Once cooked and dressedmade, the aubergines will keep in the fridge, covered, for several days. It is essential to check the aubergines are completely cooked before you remove them from the heat. Prise the flesh open with a spoon – it should be completely soft and almost translucent with olive oil. Serves 4
aubergines 3 medium to large (about 800g)
olive oil 4 tbsp
garlic 3 cloves
preserved lemon 1, small
basil leaves 12
focaccia 1, see previous page
rocket 2 handfuls
Slice the aubergines in half lengthways, place them cut side up, then score a deep trellis of criss-crosses into the flesh. Take care not to cut right through the skin.
Warm 4 tbsp of oil in a shallow pan over a moderate heat. Add the aubergines scored-side down, tuck the unpeeled garlic cloves around them, then let the aubergines fry for 4-5 minutes until the cut sides are starting to take on a pale golden colour. You may need to do this in two pans or in relay. Turn the aubergines over, using a palette knife then pour 100ml of water into the pan. (Keep a lid handy to deal with the spluttering.)
Cover with a lid, lower the heat and continue cooking for 10 minutes until the aubergine flesh is soft and silky. Check it is cooked right through by tenderly prizing the flesh apart with a spoon.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Lift the cloves of garlic from the pan, scrape their flesh from the skins and put it in a bowl. Crush the cloves to a paste with a spoon or fork. Using a tablespoon, slide the aubergine flesh from its skin into the garlic bowl. Pour in any juices from the pan – there won’t be a lot – then mash together with a fork.
Remove and discard the flesh from inside the preserved lemon, then chop the skin very finely. Add to the aubergine. Shred the basil leaves and stir in. Taste for seasoning. You may need a little black pepper.
To fill the focaccia: using a long, sharp bread knife, slice the bread in half vertically to give two rectangles then cut each in half horizontally. Remove the top half of each, then cover the bottom half with the mashed aubergine and rocket leaves. Place the upper halves on top and press gently down. Leave for a good half hour, for the juices to soak in to the bread, then cut into slices at the table.
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July 17, 2022 at 03:09PM Nigel Slater