Focaccia and pizza: in the dough, Italian-style

October 24, 1993|By Nick Malgieri | Nick Malgieri,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Focaccia and pizza are my favorite things made from bread dough and they are as good as they are easy to prepare. Focaccia, the Italian flat bread, can be made in round or rectangular shapes, and its dough is nothing more than flour, water, yeast, salt and a little oil, which is added for flavor and ease of handling. Usually no more than an inch thick, most focacce (the plural) are served as an accompaniment to a meal, or, especially in the rectangular shape, split for sandwiches.

Typically, a focaccia is baked with a topping, often nothing more than a drizzling of olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt. More elaborate toppings include fresh and/or dried herbs, sliced raw or sauteed onions, slivers of garlic, anchovies, cooked mushrooms and even chopped tomatoes. Focaccia toppings are meant to flavor and enhance the dough, and are never as generously applied as the toppings for a pizza, which is the principal difference between the two.

Pizza, of course, needs very little explanation. According to Pizza Today magazine, Americans bought approximately 30 billion pizzas in 1991! My favorite pizza is the thick-crusted variety, which is similar to a focaccia but has more topping. These thick-crusted pizzas are baked in large rectangular pans and sold by the piece in many Roman pizzerias. This type of pizza is often prepared at home, since the bread dough can be purchased at the local bakery or made simply from scratch.

Sicilian pizza, a thick-crusted variety generously covered with toppings typical of American pizzas, is a creation of the American pizza industry and does not exist in Sicily. But there is a kind of focaccia called sfincione, with a typically Sicilian topping of bread crumbs, onions, garlic, anchovies and just a bit of tomato.

Easy Italian focaccia

Makes 4 to 6 servings

5 cups unbleached flour

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups warm tap water (about 110 degrees)

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

6 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt

You will need a 10 1/2 -by-5 1/2 -inch jelly roll pan or 14-inch round pan, plus a second pan of the same size or larger to insulate the first pan if bottom of focaccia browns too quickly.

Measure flour and 2 teaspoons salt into mixing bowl and stir well to combine. Measure water into another bowl and whisk in yeast, then add 3 tablespoons olive oil.

With rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir yeast mixture into flour mixture until all flour is evenly moistened. Beat vigorously 1 minute. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour.

Spread 1 1/2 tablespoons of remaining oil on jelly roll pan. Scrape dough out of bowl into pan. Pat and press dough to completely fill pan. If dough resists, wait a few minutes and continue. Cover ++ dough with piece of oiled plastic wrap (oiled side down) and allow dough to rise again until doubled in bulk, up to 1 hour.

Once it has sufficiently risen, dimple surface of focaccia by poking cavities in dough at 2-inch intervals with fingertip. Drizzle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake focaccia on rack in lower third of oven at 450 degrees about 25 minutes or until deep golden. Check bottom about halfway through baking by lifting side of focaccia with spatula or pancake turner. If it is coloring too deeply, slide pan onto another pan to insulate bottom.

To serve immediately, slide focaccia from pan to cutting board. To serve, cut narrow slices or squares to split horizontally for sandwiches. Keep focaccia loosely covered at room temperature served on day it is made. For longer storage, wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze.

Sfincione

Makes about 6 servings as hors d'oeuvre or 4 servings as main course

DOUGH:

1 batch Focaccia dough (recipe above)

TOPPING:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 medium onion (about 6 ounces), halved and thinly sliced

1 (2-ounce) can anchovies packed in olive oil, drained and cut into 1/2 -inch pieces

1/2 cup tomato puree

1 cup finely shredded cacciocavallo cheese or 1/2 cup finely shredded Pecorino Romano

3/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs

You will need a 10 1/2 -by-15 1/2 -inch jelly roll pan, plus a second pan of the same size or larger to insulate bottom of pan, if necessary.

Prepare Focaccia dough and allow to rise until double.

Use 1 tablespoon of oil to grease jelly roll pan. Using rubber spatula, scrape dough from bowl to oiled pan, without stirring or folding dough. Oil hands and press, pull and pat dough into pan. If it resists, let dough rest 5 minutes, then continue.

Heat oven to 400 degrees and set rack in middle level. Cover dough with sheet of oiled plastic wrap. Place pan of dough in warm place about 30 minutes, or until it puffs slightly. Meanwhile, prepare topping by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in saute pan. Add onions and cook over low heat until onions are limp, about 10 minutes. Add anchovies and cook 2 minutes. Add tomato puree and cook until sauce is somewhat thickened, about 5 minutes longer. Cool sauce.

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