Cherry Tomato And Red Onion Focaccia

Cherry tomato and red onion focaccia

I love the introduction to Domenica Marchetti's The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. She recalls a trip to Venice with her family and writes that she remembers most vividly the vegetables at the Rialto farmers' market -- more so than Piazza San Marco or the gondolas. I know exactly what she means, and as soon as I read those lines, the images of all the vegetables I'd seen at the market in Venice popped back into my head too. She writes about how Italian cooking is a celebration of vegetables and goes on to show that through the many recipes in the cookbook.

Following the introduction, there are pages and pages on what she calls the "vegetables that are the heart and soul of Italian cooking." They range from artichokes to olives to winter squash. And with each description, Marchetti includes cleaning and preparation instructions.

As with any new cookbook, I had a lot of trouble deciding which recipe to try first. So many of them caught my attention: Crostini with Fontina and Tomato Marmalade, Minestrone Verde, Farro Salad with Gorgonzola, Capricci with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cream, Eggplant "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce… I could go on. Eventually I went with the Cherry Tomato and Red Onion Focaccia.

Cherry tomato and red onion focaccia

I've been on a bit of a bread-baking kick, and as I read through the focaccia recipe, I realized it would be a step up from the breads I'd attempted so far. It wasn't as easy as mix, let rise, shape, let rise, and bake. This bread required mixing followed by 3 to 10 hours in the fridge and then 12 to 18 hours on the counter. After that it gets transferred to the pan and goes back in the fridge for 4 to 24 hours. Finally it is set on the counter for another 2 to 3 hours, topped, and baked. It took a good deal of planning and timing to be sure I wouldn't be waking up at odd hours to tend to the bread. It does help a lot that Marchetti gives time ranges rather than strict timing to adhere to.

I started working backward from Saturday dinnertime and figured that I'd need to mix the dough on Thursday evening and put it in the fridge at 9 p.m.

Focaccia dough

When I got up for work on Friday morning at 7, I moved the dough to the counter.

Focaccia dough

I left it on the counter until 7 that night, divided it and spread it in two 6-inch cake pans (the recipe calls for a 10-inch cake pan and I realized there's actually a piece of bakeware I don't own), brushed it with olive oil, and transferred it to the fridge, where it stayed until 5 p.m. Saturday.

Focaccia doughFocaccia dough

Then I set the pans on the counter for their final rise.

Focaccia dough

After about 2 hours, I topped them (I used red onion, rosemary, and grape tomatoes for one and just red onion and rosemary for the other) and popped them in the preheated oven to bake.

Cherry tomato and red onion focaccia

Rosemary and red onion focaccia

After about 30 minutes in the oven and 10 minutes of cooling, they were ready for a late dinner.

Rosemary and red onion focaccia

Cherry tomato and red onion focaccia

It took a little finagling with an offset spatula to get the focaccia out of the pan, but it's very forgiving and can handle a little pushing.

Rosemary and red onion focaccia

We enjoyed the focaccia alongside bowls of pork rib ragu (another Marchetti recipe, from Rustic Italian) and pasta. The bread was fluffy, with nice chew, and had crispy edges. Its lengthy, slow rise contributed so much flavor to the dough. And the toppings -- though I didn't have gorgeous tomatoes like those at the Rialto market -- complemented the bread and brightened a cold winter evening.

Cherry tomato and red onion focaccia

Cherry Tomato And Red Onion Focaccia
Recipe from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti
(Chronicle Books, 2013) Printed with permission

2 3/4 cups/350 g bread flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/3 cups/315 ml ice water
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil plus more for brushing

3 oz/85 g pancetta, cut into 3/4-in/2-cm dice (optional)
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup/30 g diced red onion
1 tsp coarse sea salt

To make the dough: Whisk together the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Pour in the ice water, stirring vigorously as you pour and mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and stir vigorously. The dough should be slightly stiff but still wet enough to stir and slightly sticky. Brush the top with a little olive oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for several hours--anywhere from 3 to 10. Then remove the bowl from the refrigerator and let the dough rise, covered, at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. Stir it once partway through the rise.

Generously coat a 10-by-2-in/25-by-5-cm round baking pan (I use a straight-sided cake pan) with olive oil. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the dough into the pan, taking care not to deflate it more than necessary. Drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the top, and with your fingers, gently press the dough out to the rim of the pan. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for several hours--anywhere from 4 to 24. I recommend closer to 24 if you can, since the extra time allows the dough to develop a wonderful yeasty flavor. Then remove the pan from the refrigerator and let it rise at room temperature until puffy and almost doubled in size, 2 to 3 hours.

To make the toppings: Prepare the toppings while the dough is in its final rise. If using pancetta, put the pancetta cubes in a dry nonstick skillet (I use a small cast-iron skillet) over medium heat. When the pancetta begins to sizzle, lower the heat to medium-low and sauté, stirring from time to time, for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the pancetta has rendered some of its fat and is browned and crispy. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a paper towel-lined bowl and set aside.

Combine the rosemary and the 2 tbsp olive oil in a small bowl. Let the oil sit until the dough is ready.

Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven and heat the oven to 475 F/240 C/gas 9.

When the dough has risen, remove the plastic wrap. Arrange the cherry tomatoes on top of the dough, pressing them in lightly. Then press in the diced onion, and finally the pancetta cubes. Gently brush the rosemary-oil mixture over the top of the dough and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake the focaccia for 20 minutes; rotate the pan in the oven and bake for another 10 to 12 minutes, until the top is beautifully browned. Set the pan on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then, using an angled spatula, carefully lift the focaccia out of the pan and set it on the rack. To serve, slice the focaccia into wedges or rectangular pieces.

Cook's Note: Focaccia is best served fresh, still warm from the oven or at room temperature.

Notes: I baked my dough in two 6-inch pans instead of one 10-inch pan and my focaccia came out much taller that what's pictured in the cookbook. I loved the tall fluffy wedges, but I may even divide the dough among three 6-inch pans next time and come up with three different toppings. And as with all recipes, before you start this one, make sure you read the whole thing. Then figure out your timing. It's really important with a recipe like this one that spans days.

I can't wait to try other recipes in this cookbook after the success I had with the focaccia. And I can definitely see myself making the focaccia again and playing around with the toppings.

Do you own any of Domenica Marchetti's cookbooks, or have you tried any of her recipes?

I received a review copy of The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, but as always, all opinions are my own.

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