Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Foccacia with Mozzarella, Sweet Red Onion, Rosemary and Garlic

Charity begins at home.

Go into a branch of Waitrose supermarkets, and you may find three, metre-high, clear plastic cases near the exit door containing differing amounts of bright green, 2cm circular counters - just as I did at the Edgware Road branch. On closer inspection, the three cases have a small placard above a slot, which tells you something about a charity which is being represented. The idea is that after you have done your shopping, the cashier gives you a counter to place into the case of your choice. Each counter is worth £1, which will be donated, on your behalf, by the store.

A fantastic idea, until you notice that one of the cases is almost full, one is half-full and one is nearly empty. So, which was the almost empty one? Well, it was a homeless shelter for Bangladeshi women. And the full one? Cancer Research.

It may be that most people think that if they are being forced into making a decision to invest into something, that it would be better to be something they might (although, hopefully not, obviously) benefit from, rather than something they definitely won't.

If so, that's all well and good, but why the hell are the cases transparent? Instead of three charity boxes, which under normal circumstances should be a heart-warming sight, all I could see was yet another display of typically uncharitable human behaviour. But before you say that it may well be that people actually think that cancer sufferers are a worthier cause than homeless people, I say: OK, but why publicise it?

Oh, and what was the charity represented by the middle case? I can't remember - I was too busy putting my counter in the Cancer Research container to notice. You can't be too careful, you know.

Today's dish really is a heart-warmer, even if my little pre-recipe rant ain't. I first had this foccacia in a restaurant in north London about ten years ago. I haven't made it myself until now, and I'm so glad I did. It is, by far, the best foccacia I have ever had.

A quick tip: Make sure that when you push the pieces of mozzarella into the dough, that they stay at least partially there after the proving process, and before you put the bread in the oven. You don't want then sitting on top of the bread, otherwise they'll just burn and the crust won't get crunchy and golden. Just before the bread goes into the oven, very gently push your finger onto the mozzarella pieces to submerge them, but without knocking the air out of the rest of the bread.

Bread-making is so rewarding. It is therapeutic and the results almost always turn out far better than you would imagine. There are a few stages to this recipe, but they are all very easy and quick. £1 per serving is all it costs.

Serves 8 (makes 2 foccacias) 

Focaccia Dough


500g strong, white bread flour
500g semolina flour
20g dried yeast
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
50ml olive oil 
450-500ml water, as needed

In a large bowl, mix the two flours with the yeast, sugar and salt, and make a well in the centre. Add the olive oil and most of the water and stir, until the liquids and dry ingredients have become a sticky, lumpy dough. If it's too wet, add a little more water. Turn the dough onto a floured board, and knead vigorously until the glutens in the flour have developed, and the dough is a flexible, smooth, single ball (20 minutes approx). Set aside until needed.


Sweet Red Onion Topping


1 large, or 2 small red onions, sliced into fine half moons
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of demerara sugar

Mix the ingredients in a small pan, and cook on a low heat until the onion is soft and translucent (1 hour approx). Set aside until needed.


Rosemary and Garlic Oil


Handful of fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
75ml olive oil

Mix the olive oil, garlic and rosemary in a bowl and set aside until needed.


To Make the Foccacia


2 balls of mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
2 tablespoons of rock or sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 200c.Cut the dough into two equal pieces and set one aside. Roll out one of the balls of dough to a 1cm thickness and place on a floured baking tray, stretching it so that it fits perfectly. Make deep holes in the dough with your fingers and place a piece of mozzarella into each. Strew the dough with half of the sweet red onion topping and then evenly sprinkle half of the rosemary and garlic oil over the entire surface of the bread. Repeat with the other ball of dough, or freeze/refrigerate it for later use, along with the unused toppings. Leave the breads to rise in a warm place for an hour, or until the mozzarella pieces are half submerged in the dough. Carefully, so as not to lose the air in the risen dough, place the breads in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden and crunchy and the cheese has melted. Sprinkle with rock salt, cut into 4cm wide lengths and serve warm.

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