When I was 29 I contracted Mononucleosis for the first time (even though it is commonly known as a teenagers illness, I’d never had it before). We had been invited to a brunch at a friend of a friend’s place (we usually met up at a pub but this time it was brunch at her place) and one of the guests had it. Ironically this guest was the daughter of a nurse and she STILL ill advised her to attend the brunch in a totally infectious state. Two of us (Barb and I) were gifted with Mono that day. I was reminded of this story because my friend Charlie’s daughter (Hotly Spiced) is suffering through ‘the glange‘ herself (glange in Australia, Mono in North America — hey, I wonder what they call it in England?).
I was home for about a month from work, and my boss was very understanding. In those days we only had internet by dial up, so it was quite painful doing any form of work. But they kindly sent home a
large paperweight Mac and some floppies so I can drudge through my boring day. The nature of the illness is that it robs you of any energy, so I worked for a bit, but mostly watched TV like a zombie which for the by and large was brutally bad in those days.
There were a spattering of cooking shows on TV during that time, I don’t believe Food Network existed or it was just being born. At any rate, I got onto Biba’s Italian Kitchen. I loved her food and how accessible she made it (like John does at from the Bartolini Kitchens). I was sleepy watching Biba when she started making a sponge for focaccia bread. Now this is interesting…I jumped up (OK, maybe I wasn’t as close to death as I may have made out I was) and grabbed the nearest scrap of paper and oil pastel (OK I may have also been drawing in bed) and scribbled down the recipe. Years later JT bought me her cookbook Trattoria Cooking which is not as impressive as I had hoped (no photos at all). But the Focaccia recipe is in it and I recently made it for a dinner party we had.
Adapted from Biba’s Trattoria Cooking
Makes one 12″ x 18″ sheet of focaccia
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 tsp quick rising dry yeast dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- Prepare the sponge by mixing the flour and yeast water together and knead for 3-4 minutes by machine. My sponge was very wet, so I had to add quite a bit more flour to the mix. You want the sponge a little softer and sticker than a normal bread dough.
- Allow to rise in a bowl wrapped tightly with plastic wrap for 2-3 hours (I proofed my sponge in the fridge overnight, cover lightly in olive oil).
Focaccia Ingredients second rising:
- 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 1/2 tsp quick rising dry yeast dissolved in 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1/2 cup loosely packed rosemary leaves, washed and dried
- 3 tbsp EVOO, plus extra for drizzling
- 1 tsp salt
- If you have proofed your sponge in the fridge like I did, you will need to allow it to come to room temperature.
- Combine all of the ingredients for the second rising in your mixing bowl with a dough hook attachment. Add the sponge and kneed energetically for about 5-7 minutes. After kneading, the dough should be smooth and pliable.
- Cover with a light drizzle of olive oil and tightly wrapped plastic wrap. Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for 2 hours.
- Preheat oven to 450°F for 30 minutes before baking. Lightly oil a 10″ x 14″ cookie sheet and roll out the foccacia until it is about 1/2″ thick or to the edges. Dimple with your fingers. Bake until focaccia is golden in colour.
- I like a chewy focaccia, so I generally brush water on the entire surface after it has finished baking (the crust won’t set hard this way). Serve warm with your best olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
You can also see some pretty impressive focaccia bread recipes below: