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Focaccia: deliciously versatile Italian flatbread

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With the flatbread craze upon us at most of the fast food restaurants I decided to feature a versatile delicious recipe easy to make at home.

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Focaccia is a thin, Italian flatbread that has been around for centuries. It is perfect for experimentation with toppings, whether you're dressing it up with onions and Gorgonzola cheese or paring it down with olive oil and sea salt.

Known for its main role of enhancing the meal, Focaccia is the perfect accompaniment to any pasta dish, or by itself a snack, or the perfect base for a sandwich made with additional toppings like shaved ham, turkey or roast beef, or any kind of cheese that suits your fancy, including provolone, mozzarella or the more basic Parmesan.

In my quest for the perfect recipe, I discovered there are variations in the end result. Baked untopped, the Focaccia can emerge crisp and puffy, somewhat resembling pizza; or it can end up a thin, crusty loaf of bread, after being indented with a spoon handle to dimple the surface and sprinkled with salt and well oiled with extra virgin olive oil before going into the oven.

If you're a newcomer to the homemade bread adventure the recipe I turned to - "The Easiest Focaccia Bread" - will be an excellent place to start. Containing only six ingredients, it is easy to prepare, taking me a little over an hour from start to baked and out of the oven time.

This particular recipe called for topping the dough with olive oil and salt, but after reading up on foccacia I decided to be adventurous, adding several dry herb toppings, basil, parsley, minced onion, thyme and a generous helping of crushed rosemary, topping it off with a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

I will also note that when mixing the dough, it says to add a tablespoon of water at a time to get the dough to the right consistency. I used almost a whole cup of warm water in this process, so keep adding until the dough forms together. You'll know right away when this happens. I also had bread flour on hand so I used that in the recipe instead of all-purpose flour.

Focaccia is best when served warm right out of the oven. So if you have a little extra time while you're preparing your evening meal, get your Foccacia started first and by the time you're ready to sit down and eat you'll have wonderfully delicious flatbread to savor with the rest of your menu.

The Easiest Focaccia Bread

Dough

1 tsp. white sugar

1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)

2 cups all-purpose flour (I used bread flour)

Topping

2 tbsp. olive oil

¼ tsp. salt

1. In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all the flour is absorbed. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly for about one minute.

3. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

5. Deflate the dough and turn it out on a lightly floured surface; knead briefly. Pat or roll the dough into a sheet and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. (I used a 13x9" pan). Brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt. At this point I also added the basil, rosemary, thyme, minced garlic, parsley and about a half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

6. Bake focaccia in preheated oven for ten to 20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then bake it about ten minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker on the outside, bake it 20 minutes. I baked mine 15 minutes because I was afraid at that high of a temperature it would get too dark on the bottom, but 15 minutes was just about perfect.

khuber@westfargopioneer.com

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