by Max Brantley
I remember my first focaccia, hot from a supermarket oven in a small town in Tuscany. The olive oil soon soaked the paper bag. It didn't last long, what with everybody in car tearing off hunks as we drove on to a house we'd rented for a couple of weeks. I had to make this bread myself and soon did, following a recipe that calls for making a sponge first with a bit of flour, yeast and water before adding more flour and oil.
Maggie Smith follows a much easier path and, from the looks of her photo, it works just fine. It's good with rosemary and other herbs. It's good just topped with coarse salt. I also make a version with sauteed -- almost caramelized -- onions, kneaded into the dough. With a simple salad and grilled chicken, it makes a four-star meal. Writes Maggie:
Warm bread right out of the oven is something I begin to crave when the weather starts turning. Last night I made focaccia with fresh rosemary, thyme, and oregano, plus some onions and garlic on top. Focaccia is really easy to make. Just start with a basic dough -- 2 cups of flour, a packet of dry yeast, 3/4 cup water, salt, sugar, plus whatever herbs you like. Mix it well, knead it, oil it, and let it rise for 30 minutes or so. Then, spread it out on a pizza pan in a thick circle and mash dimples into the surface with the pokey end of a wooden spoon. Top it with whatever's handy: carmelized onions, garlic, cheese, herbs, nuts, or even dried fruit; then, bake it at 400 for around 20 minutes or until the edges start to brown. Fresh herbs are always better than dried. If you're lucky enough to live in Stifft Station, as I am, it's easy to snag bits of fresh herbs from neighbors during a morning walk, but you didn't hear that from me.