My poor stomach has been really confused these days, so it was time for a little intervention. After spending ten days soaking my insides in Tokyo ramen, and stuffing myself with sushi, I have since been indulging in a few different extravagant Arabic Iftars (while still experimenting with Asian cooking at home). This week it was time to clear the slate with an Italian's favorite palate cleanser. Bread. A little water, yeast, flour, and salt can go a long (delicious) way, especially if you add in a generous glug or two of Italian olive oil. 

For once, I happened to have an incredible olive oil on hand from Frantoio Santa Tea.  It is from just outside of Florence, Italy, which is not the most common origin for Italian olive oil, as most of it is produced in the southern region of Puglia.  This exact producer also is not available here in Abu Dhabi, and in fact, not in most places outside of Italy, but can easily be found online. Most olive oil here in the UAE is from Lebanon, which in itself has its own great producers.

     In some other recent blog related research, I have been speaking with chefs around the city to get insight into some really great restaurants and hotels, and more importantly, the people behind them. I have been happy to discover more than a few chefs and their teams who are really passionate about food and want to share that with Abu Dhabi.  I have to admit that it was hard to see that passion behind all the hotel glitz and glamour.  

The point is, one common thread that links these really obsessed chefs, are their ingredients and their basics. They don't mess around with average. They want the most flavorful olive oils, the freshest fish, and the best bread...just to name a few. And what they can't source they will make themselves. So with that, I wanted some focaccia, and on my blogger budget, I could not fly it in from Italy, so I made it myself.  And you should too! In these hot summer days, where are you going to go?  Back to the mall?  Stay home, proof your bread, and read that book that you have been meaning to get to while you wait.  You will feel SO rewarded.  

    Crispy exterior, warm soft interior, olive oil and red sea salt. (If plain is not your thing, before you bake it, you can also throw on some toppings, i.e cheeses, sliced tomatoes, olives, etc). I like simple.  When I took the hot focaccia out of the oven, I ripped off a bite and went trendy with some smashed avocado...

adapted from Martha Rose Shulman for the NYTimes

1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
½ cup/120 ml lukewarm water
¾ cup/90 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon/4 grams active dry yeast
1 cup/240 ml lukewarm water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups/375 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoons/12 grams fine sea salt

1. Sponge: Combine the yeast and water in a large bowl and stir to dissolve. Whisk in the flour. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until bubbly and doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

2. Dough: "By hand" version: Combine yeast and water as directed and whisk into the sponge along with the olive oil. Whisk in the all-purpose flour. Add the salt and remaining flour, one cup at a time, folding it in with a spatula or a wooden spoon. When you can scrape the dough onto a work surface, add flour to the work surface, scrape out the dough and knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until soft and velvety. Return to the bowl (oil the bowl lightly with olive oil first).

3. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

4. Shape the focaccia. For a thin bread, oil a 12-x 17-inch sheet pan (sides and bottom) with olive oil. Turn the dough onto the baking sheet. Oil or moisten your hands and press out dough until it just about covers the bottom of the pan. Cover with a damp towel and let rise in a warm spot for 45 minutes to an hour, or until dough is full of air bubbles.

5. Preheat oven to 425 degrees after 30 minutes of rising (30 minutes before you wish to bake). With lightly oiled fingertips, dimple the dough, pressing down hard enough to leave indentations. Drizzle on the olive oil for the topping. (Here you can also add any other toppings to your desire)

6. Place pan in oven on baking stone. Spray oven 3 times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking, and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until edges are crisp and the top is golden.


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