I’ve really been missing Italy lately. I suppose because it’s summer and because I’m reading Beautiful Ruins (which largely takes part it Italy and which I am just loving) and because this time last year we were counting down to our trip and learning bits of Italian and buying train tickets. But really, the truth is, I miss Italy all the time. At least once a week I have a moment of wishing I could be sitting on the rooftop terrace in Florence looking at the Duomo and listening to the symphony across the river, or longing to smell the Mediterranean, or just wanting some really good gelato.
There are still favorite meals I had there that I haven’t duplicated here at home yet. Although I did finally break out the pasta maker I got for Christmas earlier this month (I know…worst wife ever, but I did spend the first 4-ish months of this year hating food) so we’re on the right track. I think I finally made some focaccia I’m satisfied with though.
When we were in Cinque Terre we hiked down to a beach (our adventure in which I am glad we did not die because we did not read directions correctly) with fresh focaccia in our backpack. We had gone to this little bakery down the road, or I guess more like down the stairs and through the alleyway, from where we were staying and bought focaccia for lunch. Which doesn’t sound like much when you compare it to the pasta and the gnocchi and the florentine steaks that we had been eating. But when you finally make it to what is perhaps the most beautiful beach ever (at least to me), and you sit on the pebbles and swim in the Mediterranean and soak in that Italian sun, that focaccia becomes one of the meals you remember most.
We bought a new (used) car a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of baby coming, (and because really it was just time). It was something we saved up for for a long time, and I’m not going to lie–there were times in the past year where I thought “If we hadn’t gone to Italy (and hadn’t had to replace our A/C unit last summer) we could have bought that car much sooner (or we could have gotten a better car, etc. etc.).” I suppose it’s always like that because it’s always a trade off, deciding how you are going to spend your money. But will really never regret the fact that we spent the money to go on that trip (and I think I will always feel that way about travel). I think about that trip at least a few times a week, sometimes a few times a day. And while we are about to have a baby and have other ways we need to spend our money right now that don’t necessarily involve travel, I think both of our minds have already been turning with the next trip we want to take.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that before I went to Italy I’m not sure I fully believed that it would be worth the money. But it was. It was worth way more than what we spent. And of all the meals we had in Italy, the focaccia on the beach was probably the cheapest. But it might as well have been worth 100 euros because I think of it so fondly.
This is the closest I've been able to get to the focaccia I so loved in Italy. Make sure you give it plenty of time to rise, especially once you have it in the pan. Otherwise it will be a bit too flat and crisp. What we really want is a focaccia that is crunchy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.
- 1 cup warm water
- 1/8 teaspoon sugar
- 1 envelope active dry yeast
- 3 to 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (plus more for the pan)
- Measure 1 cup warm water (warm water from your tap is fine) in a 2-cup measuring cup. Immediately add yeast and sugar (while water is still very warm). Stir together, and set aside for 5 minutes until mixture is bubbly.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine 3 cups flour, salt, sugar, and 1 tablespoon rosemary. (Start with just 3 cups of flour, and add more later if the dough seems too wet.) Stir mixture together.
- While slowly stirring the flour mixture with a wooden spoon, add olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir until it begins to come together, or just go straight to using your hands to combine it all together into a dough. If it seems too wet, add more flour. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead dough (adding flour as necessary) until it is smooth, still tacky but not sticky, about 5 minutes.
- Grease a medium-sized or large bowl with olive oil or nonstick cooking spray. Place the kneaded dough into the bowl, turning the dough so that it is all covered in oil, or spraying the top with cooking spray. Cover the bowl with a towel, and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down, cover the dough again, and let rise for 30 more minutes.
- Grease a rimmed baking pan with olive oil. Place the dough in the center of the pan and use your hands to carefully press the dough into a rectangle. Work with it gently until it reaches the edges of the pan as much as possible. If it becomes tough to stretch out, let it rest for a minute and then try again.
- Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in height, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. (This step is very important--you want it to rise as much as possible.)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Very lightly and sparsely, dimple the top of the focaccia with your fingertips. Drizzle the top with olive oil and sprinkle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon rosemary.
- Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown on top. Slice and serve warm or at room temperature. You can store it in an air tight container for a day or so, but it is best fresh (and if reheated it is best done in an oven or toaster oven).