(The Nosher via JTA) — Focaccia is made with a very soft dough, slightly rich from generous amounts of added oil that helps it become crisp-edged as it bakes. As I was working on this recipe, Netflix’s “Salt Fat Acid Heat” premiered, and suddenly making focaccia felt particularly timely.
In Samin Nostrat’s excellent, highly acclaimed series about the fundamental elements of making good food, she invites the viewer to learn how to make Ligurian focaccia. In Liguria, Italy, they add the unique step of topping the focaccia with a salt brine before baking the dough. I was captivated by the simplicity and beauty of the focaccia-making process, and have rewatched that part of the “FAT” episode countless times.
While the focaccia recipe here differs from its Ligurian counterpart, the essential components are the same and the lessons learned from Nostrat are helpfully applicable. Primarily, one is reminded that when a recipe has so few ingredients, each ingredient should be of good quality. Focaccia requires extra virgin olive oil, and that olive oil should be good, fresh and have a robust flavor.
Choosing the olive oil can be a matter of preference. I’m partial to California olive oils with their smooth butteriness; high quality affordable varieties can be found in most grocery stores. You could also splurge on an Italian olive oil from a specialty market. The olive oil will help your focaccia get a crisp crust, and will perfume the dough with its flavor.
I like using kalamata olives in this recipe for their fruity wine-like flavor, but you could certainly use your favorite olive variety. The olives serve to accentuate the flavors in the oil, and the dough also gets topped with za’atar to bring a welcome herby earthiness to this rich bread.
Just before putting it in the oven, I top the focaccia with flake salt for crunch and savoriness. After oil, salt is focaccia’s best friend.
I love to serve this olive and za’atar bread with an Israeli-style spread: fresh salads, good feta, hummus and baba ganoush. Leftover focaccia is always a gift, and it can be turned into delicious croutons, stored in the freezer for future snacking or even become the base of an unexpected Middle Eastern-inspired stuffing. Thanksgiving is around the corner, after all.
And soon after Thanksgiving is Chanukah, which provides another opportunity for this oil-centric recipe.
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