In Italy cafes everywhere are well stocked with any time snack treats. We don’t think of Italy as sandwich territory but they do it particularly well.Tramezzini are divine and with their trimmed off crusts and soft white bread they are refined enough for any high tea. They’re distinguished from their Anglo counterparts though by particularly piquant and savoury fillings. A little more rustic are the whole wheels of focaccia filled with moist and tasty bits and pieces. This may simply be slices of fresh mozzarella and prosciutto (that can be eaten hot or cold) or more elaborate mixtures such as the one below. All are delicious, as much because of the quality of the bread as the filling. In this respect proper Italian focaccia is an entirely different beast to the puffy, cakey and bland pretenders that we often see in our shops.
You can make the focaccia in a mixer with the dough hook attached or in a food processor. A machine is desirable because the wet nature of dough makes it a bit awkward to knead entirely by hand. For most Italian breads it is better to err on the side of wetness when making the dough. I had one of those oops moments when preparing this focaccia dough after I added what I thought was just a little extra water. Given that the dough never quite left the sides of the bowl to form a nice ball I thought I’d gone too far. Wrong – it was the best focaccia I’ve yet made. If the dough does seem very sticky when you turn it onto the bench to give a turn or two by hand, sprinkle it with more flour and keep your hands well coated.
Make sure to use strong bread flour when making any bread. It has more protein than standard flour. Developing the protein through kneading is what makes the dough elastic enough to rise. Generally I use Lowan’s Unbleached but the neighbourhood deli had a bag of special Italian bread flour and despite being initially sceptical it did make a beautiful focaccia. Lovely luncheon dish with a glass of Anselmi San Vincenzo Soave.
Herb focaccia with prosciutto and rocket filling
For the focaccia:
In a mixer bowl with the dough hook attached place 300g bread flour, 1 tbsp chopped rosemary leaves, 4 sage leaves torn into tiny pieces, 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, 1 tsp salt (generous), half teaspoon sugar and 1 tsp instant dried yeast. Blend together. With the machine running pour in 200ml medium hot water with a tablespoon olive oil. Knead the dough in the machine on medium speed for four minutes. Turn onto a well floured surface and knead for a minute or until smooth. Place in a warm, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and tea towel and stand over hot water (or in a warm place) until double in size – 1-2 hours. Knock down, knead lightly again and then press out into a large round about 1.5cm thick. Dimple the surface well with your fingers and leave to rise again – 30-45 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 220C. When the dough is ready gently smear generously with olive oil and sprinkle with salt flakes. Bake for 10 minutes then turn down heat to 180C to bake for a further 10-15 minutes. Cool on a rack.
For the filling:
Chop 15 slices prosciutto. Chop 2 large ripe tomatoes or 6 cherry tomatoes into small pieces. Rinse a tablespoon of salted capers and dry before chopping finely. Chop the white and yolk of a hard-boiled egg. Mix together the prosciutto, tomato, capers and egg with half a cup Bests (blue lid) mayonnaise.
Cut the cooled focaccia in half horizontally. Spread the bottom very lightly with a smear of mayonnaise. Layer generously with baby rocket leaves. Spread the prosciutto filling over this. Place the top on and press down gently. Cut the focaccia carefully with a bread knife into 8-10 wedges.