Focaccia isn't actually a word I've ever heard in Spello. Which was initially confusing. The kids would get pizza at school, and I was picturing slices with oozing cheese, when in actually it was pizza bianca (the kind of focaccia you probably think of when I say focaccia, with rosemary and salt) or pizza rossa (a kind not often found outside Italy, with just tomato sauce, no cheese or herbs or anything).
Time was, I found both of these pizzas boring when they weren't actively unpleasant. But then I saw a focaccia pizza at Spello's Forno Artigiano with zucchini flowers and I thought that was worth trying for the blossoms alone. The topping was indeed wonderful, but the dough was so springy and chewy, I decided maybe I should be giving focaccia another try. It wasn't at all the stiff board I had always assumed. When I went for a walk with a friend in Spello, she popped her head in the forno and asked that they save her a piece of pizza rossa for when we got back. I decided I should try it myself, maybe it would also be better then expected. That very afternoon, pieces of pizza rossa came with my Aperol spritz at Bar Tullia. It was a revelation. The red sauce made the top of the focaccia unctuously soft and piquant, and there was this beautiful variation in texture as I bit through the focaccia.
I made it my mission to investigate the forno's daily offerings. Sometimes guanciale e scamorza, sometimes zucchini. Oh, goodness, every day was an exciting surprise.
So small wonder that when I got home, I'd be set on polishing my focaccia skills. Focaccia pizza is particularly wonderful for a party, because it's practically effortless (if you have a standing mixer), generously forgiving, time efficient, and you can make up batch after batch hours before your guests arrive since it's usually served at room temperature. Leaving you plenty of time to attend to your own pre-party self-care—a bath, emptying the dishwasher, a walk, or even just a bit of a pausa to read and put your feet up.
Focaccia pizza is a host's ace in the hole, a way to make your party a delicious success.
And now, for the recipe.
recipe works for what we think of as focaccia (just brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with rosemary and salt) as well as focaccia with toppings, see topping suggestions.
recipe can be doubled, though you will have to divide the dough to rise or else risk it escaping and threatening to hold your kitchen hostage. Another note of caution, doubling is pretty intense work for a mixer.
this recipe was only tested using a standing mixer.
measurements are imprecise because humidity varies, go by feel/how the dough responds to the mixer rather than relying on measurements.
2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons dry yeast
1 tablespoon of sourdough starter (optional: ask your friends, I bet someone has some)
4.5 cups all purpose flour, plus another cup to add until you get the right texture
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil for dough, plus another 3 for oiling the pan and topping the dough before you slide it in the oven
Combine warm water and dry yeast (with optional sourdough starter, if using) and let sit for 10 minutes in a mixing bowl.
Add flour, salt, and 2 T olive oil to the mixing bowl and use a dough hook to mix in a standing mixer (you can absolutely do this by hand, but it will take longer).
Add additional flour a bit at a time until a ball forms around the dough hook (about 5-10 minutes) and the dough loses most of its tackiness. It will still be a bit sticky. That's okay, you don't want to add too much flour which will make it too dense. Don't stress this, remember, it's forgiving!
Oil a bowl, add the dough then turn the dough in the oiled bowl so that dough is coated with oil. Cover with plastic wrap.
I prefer a long rise as it leads to a more complex flavor, so at this point I like to the put the dough in the fridge. But you can instead leave the dough out for about an hour and a half until it's doubled.
Punch the dough down, knead it, and then return to the bowl and cover back up (skip this step if you've done a slow rise in the fridge, instead just take the dough out of the fridge to let it warm for about 20 minutes until the next step).
Spread a tablespoon of olive oil to coat a 18 by 13 inch cooking sheet. Using your fingers, spread the dough, pushing it until it fills the pan.
Let the dough rest and rise for an hour. After a half hour, start preheating the oven to 425.
Dimple the dough with your finger, brush with olive oil, and then top as you choose (ideas below).
Bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool in the pan, then cut before serving.
Topping suggestions (after the olive oil):
pizza bianca: sprinkle with salt (I like black sea salt for visual interest, but just don't use fine sea salt—you want the salt to have a little texture) and chopped rosemary.
pizza rossa: top with red sauce (simply made from adding garlic to warm oil in a saucepan, then adding tomatoes, not the liquid, from a can of Italian tomatoes, then sprinkling in some oregano and/or basil and a bit of red pepper flakes. Cook briefly, about ten minutes until the flavors have melded but the flavor is still bright, then crush or blend to make a sauce. Some day I'll tell you my two secrets to a flavorful red sauce.)
zucchini flower: snip the bottoms off of zucchini flowers, then cut along a side to open them up. Leave open, inside down, on the counter to allow them to relax into shape as you brush on the olive oil, then sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese (not fresh, which would release too much liquid), then cover with the blossoms.
margherita: on the brushed olive oil, spoon over the red sauce, then sprinkle with mozzarella cheese (again, not fresh mozzarella, that would release too much water), then sprinkle with thinly sliced basil leaves.
pesto: cover the pizza with pesto, then sprinkle with cheese or leave cheese-less.
get creative! you can take the bianca or rossa and cover with anything you like—anchovies and capers and olives, clams and garlic, slices of spicy salumi. You can even make a bianca or rossa and then top it when it comes out of the oven and has cooled, like with arugula or prosciutto or smoked salmon. I have been known to top my pizza with leftover (wait for it) dumpling filling. Somehow it's always delicious.