Last Friday was Labour Day, which meant we had a three-day weekend! What do Italians do when they get a three-day weekend? They get out of town. So we did, too. The journey took us to Genova, well-established as the world’s best fucking city ever, or possibly a good third after maybe, I don’t know, Glasgow and Naples or something.
The journey from Turin took us through the beautiful Langhe, a zone in the south of Piemonte, where we tasted wine and bought cheese – the stuff people normally do in the Langhe. Then onwards we went to Genova. The journey and arrival weren’t entirely without trouble, and due to a series of unlikely but in hindsight highly amusing events, we ended up sleeping in a local whorehouse for a night – which, funnily enough, is the stuff that people normally do in Genova, on account of it being a port city and all. The bed was comfortable, but predictably dirty, and not even just with the obligatory ‘dodgy white stain’ dirty, but like, strangely dirty. After we lifted up the covers, we saw the mattress was strewn with crumbs. Presumably focaccia crumbs, because that’s what the Genovese eat all the time, even when they go to visit the local cathouse, apparently.
Let’s talk about this focaccia. Focaccia is delicious. Focaccia is a giant slab of soft, white, greasy, salty bread. You can have focaccia just like that, with only salt and oil, but you can also pimp it with some rosemary, or some onion, or tomatoes, or you can go all out like they do in Recco (a town near Genova) and add cheese and stuff.
The best focaccia in Genova, if you ask me, comes from focacceria Olimpo in Piazza della Nunziata. It’s the location that does it, I reckon: right in the university hotspot of the city, so all the dirt-poor students go in there for a 1 euro slice of focaccia – the cheapest, most satisfying lunch in town. The bakers at Olimpo are constantly pulling fresh focaccia out of the oven, and you can taste it. It’s always still warm, slightly too greasy and just salty enough. I love it. Back when I stayed in Genova I went there all the time, getting my fill of delicious delicious focaccia. But now I live in Turin and I can’t do that, so we’re just going to have to make our own.
Yeah, OK, of course there are places where you can buy focaccia in Turin. But making your own is fun, and surprisingly easy! I was going to do a recipe for a yeast starter one, but then someone gently pointed out to me that most people don’t have a yeast starter, and that such a recipe would be absolutely useless to most people who read this. Fresh yeast it is, then!
For a decently sized focaccia you will need:
- 8 gr baker’s yeast (I used compressed yeast, not sure about the quantities if you want to use a different kind)
- 500 gr flour, plus extra for dusting
- 3 tbsp of olive oil, plus 3 extra for coating and 3 more for greasing
- 1 tbsp of fine salt
- 1 tbsp of honey
- a sprinkle of coarse (sea) salt
- 200 ml lukewarm water, plus a little extra for dissolving purposes
First of all, crumble up your yeast in a large bowl and dissolve it in a little bit of lukewarm water. In a separate, smaller bowl, dissolve the salt in some lukewarm water, and add the honey to the concoction, stirring well so that it’s all mixed up together.
Add about half the flour to the yeast, add the 200 ml of lukewarm water and three tablespoons of the olive oil, then mix properly so that it becomes a fairly liquid paste. Now add the salt-and-honey mix, stir well, and add the last of the flour. Dust a work surface with flour, and start working the dough. If it’s very sticky, add a little bit of flour (directly on your hands is a good option), not too much, the dough should be quite soft.
When you have a nice, smooth ball, quickly grease a baking tray, and pop the dough on there. Gently rub some oil on its surface (use your hands or one of those funky silicone brushes!). Now stick it in the oven, not to bake just yet, only to rise, so do not turn the oven on, and open it as little as possible whilst the dough is in there. The oven is a nice and cosy environment for rising dough – no draughts, no changing temperatures, no one poking their head in to see how it’s doing… Nice and tranquil. Leave it there for about 3 or 4 hours.
After a few hours, your focaccia dough ball will have doubled in size, more or less. Good. Take it out, and gently spread it around the baking tray. You want the thing to be more or less the same thickness everywhere. Try not to rupture the surface tension, as I tend to call it for lack of a better word – the dough has a sort of skin that is best left intact. OK, shove it back into the oven (still off!) for an hour. Again, it will rise a little bit.
Now pull it out again, and this time, we’re going to make that characteristic focaccia pattern. Use your fingers to press down lightly on the dough, creating little craters. At this point you can add your condiments. Mix some oil with water (mix really hard, it’ll work, trust me), rub or brush that on the surface, and also add some coarse salt, and maybe some rosemary. I think focaccia is great by itself, just salt and oil, but the rosemary version is more photogenic so I want for that one this time.
OK, one very last time in the oven to rise. Maybe about 45 minutes, and then you pull it out, turn on the oven, preheat it at the hottest you’ve got – probably 250°C. Shove it in there for about 15 minutes, then, when it’s all golden brown and delicious, pull it out, and one last time, sprinkle or brush it with a little bit of olive oil. Just a little bit more. Now cut it into strips and eat it hot. Best day ever, man.