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Apulian focaccia The Bari focaccia contains tomatoes, the one in Altamura onions and olives, the one made in Lecce is plain. Each town, and even every family, in Puglia, has its own variation by Dario Ersetti
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Bari focaccia. Photo by Dario Ersetti

Focaccia, also known as schiacciata, a dough made with flour, water, yeast and salt, cooked over a grill or baked in the oven, was maybe the first culinary invention made by mankind after the discovery of cereals.

Sant’Isidoro, patron saint of the Internet, in his monumental Etymologiae, written in the VI century, says the word derives from the Latin focàcia, with the meaning of “cooked in the fireplace”.

Examples of focaccia can be found all over the world, from Arab or Indian breads to the Neapolitan pizza or the focaccia from Recco, with an interesting variation made in Puglia.

The Apulian focaccia can be found in Bari, in Altamura, in Barletta etc., because practically every town and even family claims its own is the authentic one.

If we analyze the hundreds of recipes available to understand which one could be the mother of all recipes, we arrive at the simplest conclusion, which, as usual, is the most probable one. Durum wheat flour, starter yeast, water, oil and salt must have been the starting block for successive variations that, with the addition of other types of flour and potatoes, made it possible to save a bit of money on the ingredients.

The difference between the various focaccias depends on the topping, too.

The basic recipe is that of the Lecce focaccia, since it is very simple, then we go on to the Bari version, with tomatoes, the Altamura one, with onions and olives, and finally the Barletta speciality with mozzarella, sausage, mortadella, etc.

The real difficulty lies in the fact that it only looks easy. The right consistency of the dough, the right amount of rising, the temperature of the oven; they are all factors that can turn a simple mixture of water and flour into a work of art.

By the way: Altamura, a town in Puglia well-known for its bread, has become famous all over the world (thanks to the New York Times, Liberation and other newspapers) because of the war the giant McDonald’s waged against a small bakery (a story told in the movie entitled Focaccia Blues by Nico Cirasola). The Apulian focaccia won: the Altamura McDonald’s had to close.

 

 

The recipe

 

For a 700 gram focaccia:

 

- 500 g of durum wheat flour

- 1 cube of brewer’s yeast

- 10 tablespoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil

- 1 teaspoonful of salt

- 1 teaspoonful of sugar

- about 300 ml of lukewarm water

- 20 small tomatoes

- oregano

 

 

Put the flour in a bowl, add 8 tablespoonfuls of oil, the yeast dissolved in half a glass of lukewarm water, the salt and the sugar. Mix and knead, adding water little by little until you obtain a smooth, soft dough.

Put the dough back in the bowl, cover it with a cloth and leave it to rise in a warm place for about three hours. After that, take the dough and place it in a rectangular, greased baking tin (20 x 30 cm) squashing it with your fingertips without flattening it too much. Leave it to rise for an hour more.

Finally take the focaccia and place the halved tomatoes on top, pushing them into the dough. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and oregano and bake at 180° for 30-35 minutes. For a more crusty focaccia cook it at 200° for the first ten 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 180°.

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