Do you, by chance, happen to have a kid in high school who's on a sports team? Like maybe a swimmer? Well, I do. My older son, Charlie, is on his high school swim team, and any evening prior to a day with a scheduled swim meet, he always requests that we have pasta of some sort for dinner. Yep, he's carbo loading, in a big way. In swim-team lingo, he's a "sprinter" and, to a sprinter, being able to produce an explosive burst of energy on demand is the holy grail. Here's the formula, just in case I didn't make that perfectly clear:
Pasta = Energy = Kid Swims like a Shark
A life-long discriminating eater, Charlie regularly emits a deep, loud, profoundly grateful "YES!!" when he walks in the door after swim practice and realizes that I am, once again, standing at the stove whipping up yet another noodle-laden meal. His affirmation is particularly joyous if I'm in the midst of making something akin to fettucine alfredo with chicken, one of his favorites. Now, if there's one thing a mom likes to see now and then, it's an overt display of just such sincere gratitude. Really warms the apron strings.
There are no less than three swim meets this week so no doubt the pasta will be flyin'. Today's herb and olive oil focaccia is going to accompany tonight's supper. It's an incredibly uncomplicated and tasty yeast bread that's fairly easy to customize. It smelled fabulous while it was baking. Anyone can make this dough. No mixer, along with no significant skill, is required. Trust me--I oughta know.
This recipe is from Nick Malgieri's 2005 book, A Baker's Tour. He calls it Ligurian Focaccia from Nove Ligure (or, Focaccia alla Novese). Sounds fancy, but it's not. Fancy no, delicious yes. I decided to augment it with a little fresh thyme, rosemary, and parsley; that was my only real deviation from the original recipe. I reworded the instructions slightly here and there, and I used less salt than the recipe calls for on the top of the dough before baking. This focaccia is definitely best the first day you make it; it starts to dry out quickly by the next day.
Herb & Olive Oil Focaccia
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Prepare a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan by coating it liberally with olive oil.
For the dough:
2 tsp. salt
4 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached)
5 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 and 2/3 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 pinch finely chopped fresh thyme
1 small sprig finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. kosher salt (I only used 1 tsp. and I think that was plenty)
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 very small pinch finely chopped fresh thyme
1 very small sprig finely chopped fresh rosemary
To prepare the dough, in a large bowl, stir the salt into the flour and rub in the oil with your hands, making sure it is evenly absorbed by the flour. Throw the chopped herbs in and toss them around with a fork. (Note from Jane: It seems weird to think of rubbing oil into flour with your hands, but the flour absorbs it incredibly quickly and the flour still feels quite dry. Interesting!)
In a separate small container, whisk the yeast into the water, then use a large rubber spatula to stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Stir vigorously to make an evenly moistened dough that does not need to be very smooth.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature until it has doubled in bulk. (Note from Jane: I placed the dough bowl in a rather enclosed spot on my counter that's somewhat warmer than typical room temperature; I don't have much luck with yeast dough if I just leave it anywhere to rise!)
Once the dough has risen, scrape it onto the prepared pan and spread it evenly with the palms of your hands. (If the dough resists and springs back, set the pan aside for 5 minutes so the dough can relax a bit, then try again.)
Cover the dough on the pan with oiled plastic wrap and let it rise in the pan until it is puffy, for approximately 30 minutes.
About 15 minutes before you are ready to bake the focaccia, set a rack in the lowest level of your oven, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Use your index finger to dimple the dough at 1 and 1/2" intervals.
Drizzle the dough all over with the olive oil (it will puddle in the little indentations) and sprinkle on the herbs and salt (Note from Jane: Be as judicious with the amount of salt as you please; Malgieri indicates to use 2 tsp. on top but I used only 1 tsp. kosher salt and even that seemed a little excessive once the bread was done).
Bake the focaccia until it is deep golden in color, about 30 minutes. Check the bottom by lifting a corner up carefully with a spatula before removing it from the oven, to make sure the bottom is well-colored as well.
Slide the focaccia off of the pan and onto a rack to cool. Or, cut it immediately and serve warm. Cut into 2" to 3" squares.
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