Olivia Cavalli is a London-based chef, stylist and writer honing her Italian culinary skills. All of her dishes emulate her love of Italian cuisine and honour her heritage, whilst bringing people together around the table.
As part of our Time to Make series, Olivia demonstrates how to make a simple focaccia to enjoy in the sunshine on summer picnics. As is traditional in Puglia, mashed potato is mixed through the dough to make the focaccia extra soft in texture, topped off with sweet onions, rosemary and even more potatoes, in this case Jersey Royals.
“You’ll want to keep a big bottle of extra by your side as you make this focaccia and liberally slosh it around when you need,” Olivia explains. “It improves the texture, adds amazing flavour and helps to get that lovely golden crust. Be generous!”
INGREDIENTS (to serve 6-8)
For the dough:
1 medium floury potato, approx. 220g, peeled
5g fast action dried yeast
1 tsp honey or sugar
450g 00 flour or plain white flour. A dash more for dusting
40ml extra virgin olive oil, plus a lot more for drizzling and greasing
For the brine:
40ml lukewarm water
¼ tsp salt
For the topping:
180g new potatoes
1 medium onion, sliced finely
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 large sprigs rosemary
To start, cut the large peeled potato into 1 inch cubes and boil for around 10 minutes until you can poke through a piece easily with a fork. Drain and leave to cool for a minute or so before passing through a potato ricer or sieve to make mash. You should be left with around 200g mashed potato.
Dissolve the yeast with 300ml lukewarm water and then add the honey (or sugar), whisking to combine.
Put the flour in a large mixing bowl with 1teaspoon of fine salt and combine. Make a well in the middle and pour in 40ml oil, followed by the yeasty water. Use a fork to whisk the liquid into the flour until combined. Add your mashed potato and start to knead the dough in the bowl a bit with your hands.
Grease your work surface with oil and turn the dough out onto it. Grease your hands too, to prevent sticking, and start to knead the dough by stretching, pulling, slapping and folding with your fingers. The dough will be soft and sticky but avoid the temptation to add flour! You’ll need to knead the dough for around 10 minutes until it is smoother and a little more compact.
Grease a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of olive oil then lift the dough into it, using a dough scraper to help you if you have one. Cover with a clean tea towel and put in a dark, warm place for around 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. You can leave the dough in the fridge overnight too for a slower prove – bringing it back to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.
Meanwhile, rinse the new potatoes and slice very thinly, around 1-2mm. Par-boil the potatoes for 5 minutes, until you can poke through them with a fork with a little resistance. Drain and leave to cool.
Put the onions in a frying pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a good pinch of salt and sweat for 10 minutes or so, until softened. They don’t need to be completely soft as they’ll have more time to cook in the oven. Once soft, set aside for later.
Grease a tin with olive oil, mine is 26x34cm. Fold the dough in on itself whilst still in the bowl by picking up a piece from the outside and putting it in the middle. Do this all the way around the circumference to knock out some of the air. Turn the dough out into the prepared tray and use your fingers to push and stretch it out so that it reaches the sides of the tray. Leave to prove again for a further half an hour.
Preheat your oven to 220 degrees Celsius. If you have a baking stone or an empty baking tray, place it on the middle rack of the oven to heat up at the same time and cook the focaccia on top of this to help it cook from underneath (this isn’t essential, but a handy tip).
When the second rise is complete, prepare a brine to brush over the focaccia. Combine 40ml lukewarm water and ¼ tsp fine salt in a bowl. Grease your fingers with a little oil and press down all over the focaccia to create dimples in the dough. Pour the brine over the top, letting it settle in the holes. Drizzle with olive oil then scatter the cooked onions evenly over the top. Toss the cooked potatoes with more oil, then arrange them on top too – no need to be perfect. Toss the rosemary in oil then break pieces off and poke them into the dough – this is important as it prevents them burning. Season with a final sprinkle of salt and another drizzle of oil.
Put the focaccia on the middle rack of your oven and cook for around 25 minutes, until golden on top and cooked through. If the top needs to brown a little more, turn the oven to the grill setting and broil for a couple of minutes, checking to see that nothing is burning – some areas will char a bit which can be quite nice. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to sit for 10 minutes before slicing.
Like most bread, it is lovely eaten warm. Any that you don’t eat right away can be wrapped and stored in a container or bread bag for a few days and reheated in a hot oven. Slices can also be frozen, defrosted and reheated as needed. Enjoy!