lIt’s been a week of blazing sun, with bees on the thyme nuggets coming through the cracks in the stone pavement, of lunches outside, our olive-greasy fingers tearing at thick sheets of focaccia thrown across the table.
The focaccia was spiked with chopped rosemary and green olives. The whole loaf smelled of the deepest summer and we ate it with roasted peppers and marinated anchovies that shone silver in the sun. I baked this bread the day before the dough is made and it rises well, with a good airy texture, but better (if you have time) is to make the dough the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight rise. The slow rise seems to give the finished bread a better taste.
The spices are added in the last stage, before the second rise of the dough. Tough herbs survive the heat of the oven: thyme, rosemary and – if you grow it yourself – summery savory. Focaccia goes well on a picnic or survives happily in a lunch box, but also makes for an interesting sandwich, sliced horizontally to give two large sheets of bread, then topped with roasted and peeled peppers, basil leaves, arugula and – if you like – thin sliced salami.
I made a sandwich filling, because the oven was on anyway, of roasted aubergine with garlic and finely chopped candied lemon, with the seasoned oil seeping into the bread from the roasting pan. I made a little too much, so we ate it the next day as a side dish. If you get the chance, I recommend leaving the filled sandwiches under a weighted cutting board so that the filling can penetrate through the hole crumbs of the bread and the two parts – the bread and its luscious filling – become one.
Olive and rosemary focaccia
If you have a sourdough starter, add a few tablespoons with the olive oil at the beginning. Wrapped in foil or cling film, the bread will keep for a day, then cut it in half horizontally and toast the cut sides, then top with sliced tomatoes and basil oil. Serves 4
hot water 400ml
easy-to-bake dried yeast 2 teaspoons
sea salt 1 teaspoon
caster sugar 1 teaspoon
strong white bread flour 500g
olive oil 6 tablespoons, plus a little extra
green or lemon marinated olives 125g, stoned
rosemary leaves 1 tbsp
sea salt flakes to finish
You will also need a tall baking pan, about 34 cm x 24 cm
Place the water and yeast in a large mixing bowl and add the salt and sugar. Mix in the flour by hand or with a wooden spatula. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and mix loosely into the dough. Cover the bowl with a cloth and refrigerate overnight. (The dough will take a good 8 hours.)
The next day, when the dough has risen a bit (don’t expect it to be as high as if you let it rise in a warm place), halve the olives and finely chop the rosemary leaves and mix together with 2 more tablespoons the olive oil. Lightly grease the baking tin and pour the dough into the baking tin. Push the dough out with your fist to fit the mold, gently push it almost into the corners – it will swell during the second rise – then wrap the dough in a cloth and place in a warm place for a good hour, maybe two, until the dough has doubled in size.
Set the oven to 220C/Gas 8. When the oven is ready, press several indentations in the dough with a floured finger, then sprinkle the surface lightly with sea salt flakes and bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven, pour the remaining oil over the surface and release it from the mold with a palette knife.
Roasted eggplant and candied lemon sandwiches
A juicy filling for sandwiches, but also a good side dish for grilled lamb chops. Once cooked and dressed, the aubergines will keep for several days in the refrigerator, covered. It is essential to check that the aubergines are fully cooked before removing them from the heat. Pry open the pulp with a spoon – it should be completely soft and almost translucent with olive oil. Serves 4
eggplant 3 medium to large (about 800g)
olive oil 4 tablespoons
garlic 3 cloves
preserved lemon 1, small
basil leaves 12
Focaccia 1, see previous page
rocket ship 2 handfuls
Cut the aubergines in half lengthwise, lay them cut-side up and carve a deep criss-cross mesh through the flesh. Be careful not to cut right through the skin.
Heat 4 tablespoons of oil in a shallow pan over medium heat. Add the aubergines, score line down, fold in the unpeeled garlic cloves and cook for 4-5 minutes until the cut sides turn a pale golden color. You may need to do this in two pans or in relay. Turn the aubergines over with a palette knife and pour 100 ml of water into the pan. (Keep a lid handy to prevent sputtering.)
Cover with a lid, reduce the heat and cook for a further 10 minutes until the aubergine flesh is soft and silky. Check if it is cooked by gently pressing the flesh apart with a spoon.
Remove from heat and let cool. Remove the garlic cloves from the pan, scrape the flesh from the skin and place in a bowl. Crush the cloves into a paste with a spoon or fork. Using a tablespoon, slide the aubergine flesh from the skin into the garlic bowl. Drain any juices from the pan – it won’t be much – and mash it with a fork.
Remove and discard the pulp from the preserved lemon and finely chop the rind. Add to the eggplant. Chop the basil leaves and stir in. Taste for taste. You may need some black pepper.
To fill the focaccia: Using a long, sharp bread knife, cut the loaf vertically in half to get two rectangles, then cut each loaf in half horizontally. Remove the top half of each and top the bottom half with the mashed eggplant and arugula. Place the top halves on top and press gently. Leave for half an hour to allow the juices to soak into the bread, then slice them at the table.
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