Focaccia is known and loved in Italy and even in other countries around the world. It is essentially a soft, salty and doughy flat bread. Although it might resemble pizza it’s just its prototype, call it a proto-pizza, being born just 2000 years later. Its name derives from the Latin word ‘focaccia’ meaning hearth or fireside and originates from the Ancient Greeks or with the Etruscans who inhabited the territory of modern Tuscany, part of Umbria and Lazio.
You might wonder “what exactly distinguishes it from other breads?”
Unlike your typical pantry bread, focaccia is made using a very heavy and gluten rich flour and is cooked on a hot pizza stone or sheet at very high temperatures to ensure the best results. The ingredients were simple back then and the basic recipe has not changed much to this day. Flour, water and olive oil are the three essentials. Focaccia can then be topped with coarse salt, rosemary, cherry tomatoes, onion or other veggies.
Early versions were cooked on the hearth of a hot fire, or on a heated tile or earthenware disk, like the related flatbreads. Bakers often puncture the bread with a knife to relieve bubbling on the surface of the bread. Also common is the practice of dotting the bread. This creates multiple wells in the bread by using a finger or the handle of a utensil to poke the unbaked dough. As a way to preserve moisture in the bread, olive oil is then spread over the dough, by hand or with a brush prior to rising and baking.
Many regions of Italy have an extensive range of flavorings they add to their focaccia. For many centuries it has had an association with Christmas Eve and Epiphany. In the Italian context one thing is obvious, namely that the addition of topping to a plan focaccia would result in a kind of pizza. However, apart from this aspect, Italian focaccia has branched out in various directions.
Today we enjoy this versatile bread alone as a snack or light meal or on the side complimenting a full-bodied Italian meal. Just like pizza, the best focaccia is delicious and best enjoyed eaten warm fresh out the oven.