holidays & recipes: an ancient holiday menu with focaccia recipe
According to the cookbook The Philosopher’s Kitchen, the Etruscans, who settled the west coast of Italy in the 8th century BCE, made thick dough from ground grains that was baked under hot cooking ashes and then tipped with oils and herbs. The Romans called this bread panus focus. We know this bread as foccacia. It is one of the simplest breads to bake and its versatility has made it extremely popular in the past 10 years.
Many regions of Italy have their own variety of flavorings that are add to their focaccia. Various versions of focaccia can also be found in other parts of the world. For example, in Burgundy, they call this bread foisse or fouaisse. In other areas of France it is known as fougasse.
In Italy, for many centuries it has had an association with Christmas Eve and Epiphany. It is no wonder that this simple, versatile, ancient bread has found its way onto the ancient holiday dinner menu. Using dried herbs and olive oil to season it, the focaccia is the perfect accompaniment to seared beef with lemon-herb crème fraiche.
The ancient holiday menu was adapted from The Philosopher’s Kitchen by Francine Segan. The focaccia recipe is one that we’ve used for years and it is from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. The recipe is not intimidating and it makes “one plump little focaccia”. Now, what could be better than a plump, flavorful, little focaccia cut, lathered with lemon-herb crème fraiche and topped with seared beef?
An Ancient Holiday Dinner
1 ¼ cup warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil, plus extra for the top
2 ½ to 3 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
1. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl and set aside until bubbly. Oil a bowl for the dough.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine 1 cup warm water with the proofed yeast. Add the salt, oil and as much flour as the dough will hold. Combine using the hook attachment, for about 5 minutes
3. Place in the oiled bowl and let rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size.
4. Turn out the dough and roll it into a circle or oval, about ½ inch thick. Leave it whole or slash it decoratively in several places. Place on the back of a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment or on a baking stone that has been dusted with cornmeal.
5. Brush the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, marjoram and rosemary.
6. Cover and let rise again for about 30 minutes.
7. Preheat oven to 400. Place the bread the middle of the oven and bake until the bread is browned, about 30 minutes. To develop a crisp crust, spray the bread with water two or three times during the first 10 minutes in the oven.