Garlic, Rosemary and Black Olive Focaccia

I’ve played around with so many focaccia recipes this past year, given there was not much else to do during lockdown! But with most of the recipes I tried I failed to reach that light and airy texture that you get in a good Italian restaurant. I then discovered the ‘slapping’ kneading technique – you literally have to slap the dough against the counter and pick it up again – and my life changed forever, I was left with a soft and airy loaf of bread. I also place a tray of water on the bottom of the oven which creates steam during the cooking process, which all contributes to creating the perfect loaf of bread.

I love olives and garlic so have stuffed my loaf with these, but you can omit these or substitute with sundried tomatoes, regular tomatoes, onions or cheese for example.

Ingredients:
Makes one large loaf

  • 500g strong white bread flour,
  • plus extra for dusting
  • 8g dried yeast
  • olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and halved
  • handful of black olives
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 6g fine sea salt

Method:

  1. Place the flour into a large bowl, and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast and 360ml of lukewarm water, and leave for a few minutes. Gradually pour the yeast/water mixture into the well, stirring with a fork and bringing the flour from the outside to form a dough. The dough will be pretty wet but don’t be alarmed and don’t add more flour, it will start to come together in the kneading process.
  2. Knead the dough on a surface lightly dusted with flour by picking it up and slapping it back down. Continue for 8-10 mins or until the dough is smooth and springy.
  3. Grease the same mixing bowl you used for the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil using your hand. Place the dough into the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to prove in a warm place for at least an hour. I like to turn my oven on for 1 – 2 mins and then turn it off again to create a warm space ideal for proving.
  4. When the dough has almost doubled in size, leave in the bowl and sprinkle a little water on top and add half the sea salt, then fold the dough a few times. To fold the dough, wet your hand with a little bit of water and grab the dough at one side, lift it up, and fold it over on top of itself. Fold the dough four or five times. Then cover the bowl and let the dough rest in a warm place until doubled in size again, this should take roughly another hour.
  5. Line a deep baking tray with baking parchment (about 40cm x 30cm). Take the dough, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top and spread the dough all around the tray by pressing it with your fingers and then use your fingers to make dimples. Place the olives, the halved garlic cloves and the sprigs of rosemary on top and press them into the dough. Try to place them fairly deeply into the dough so that they don’t burn. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle the remaining sea salt all over the dough.
  6. Preheat the oven to 230°C/gas 9 and place a small tray of cold water at the bottom of the oven (this will be used
    to create steam in the oven and create the perfect environment for the bread to bake).
  7. Bake the focaccia for 15 to 20 mins, or until nice and golden.
  8. Once the focaccia is out of the oven, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil on top and let it cool for at least 30 mins.
  9. Store in foil or an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week. It also freezes nicely!

Za’atar Cacio e Pepe

I was really hesitant to play with the classic cacio e pepe recipe, as it’s such a classic – butter, cheese and pasta is an almost perfect combination in my opinion. However, the addition of za’atar is such a game changer, and works SO well. For those unfamiliar, za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb that usually includes a combination of dried oregano, thyme, marjoram, sumac and toasted sesame seeds. It’s rich and flavoursome but isn’t overpowering, and it goes incredibly well with cheese! This recipe is based on an Ottolenghi recipe that I’ve experimented with and adapted to make it easier to prepare (I personally found the original recipe had a few pitfalls and did not have enough cheese for my liking!)

Ingredients:
Serves 2

  • 200g spaghetti
  • 25g unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5g za’atar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 15g pecorino cheese
  • 85g parmesan cheese
  • Salt
  • Sumac, to garnish (optional)

Method:

  1. Bring 1L of water to boil in a saucepan on a medium-high heat and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add the spaghetti and cook for 9 minutes (you want it to be al dente).
  2. Drain your pasta, but reserve all the pasta water as you’ll need this for your sauce.
  3. In a large saucepan (large enough to eventually hold all your spaghetti), add the butter and olive oil on a high heat for 1 minute, then add your za’atar and cook for another minute. It’s really important you add olive oil when cooking your butter, otherwise it will burn! (A huge problem I found with the original recipe).
  4. Add 3 ladlefuls of your reserved cooking water to the saucepan and boil on a high heat for 5 minutes, it should reduce a little.
  5. Turn the heat to low. Add the spaghetti to the sauce and stir so it is covered in your sauce. Add the parmesan and continue to stir so it melts through, then add your pecorino until melted and season with salt and the cracked black pepper. If your sauce is looking a little thick you can add more pasta water. Garnish with sumac.