Once the staple of slaves and peasants, is now the bread of choice at fine Italian restaurants
As many of you know, Angelo and Romana Caputo immigrated to the Chicago area from their home town of Mola di Bari, a small coastal town in the southern Italian region of Puglia. If you think of Italy as a boot, Mola Di Bari is located on the Mediterranean, just at the top of the boot heel. While speaking to family members about a recent trip back to Mola to visit family still living there, I learned that in addition to being recognized for its seafood, the town is also known for making some of the finest focaccia bread in Italy.
For many Americans, focaccia bread is a relatively new addition to their food repertoire, although it is actually one of the most popular and ancient types of breads available today. Like so many other foods we enjoy, focaccia owes its existence to the ingenuity of peasants and rural farming families, who made up for their lack of resources with boundless imagination. It is made from a ball of basic dough, which can be flavored with an endless variety of oils, olives, cheeses, herbs and vegetables. Much like making a pizza, what you add to your focaccia is a matter of personal taste and, quite often, family tradition. Italians have mastered the ability to take a little dough, top it off with whatever fresh ingredients they have around, and turn it into a delicious and fulfilling snack.
Most historians believe Focaccia originated with either the Etruscans of North Central Italy prior to the Roman Empire forming, or in Ancient Greece at the beginning of the first millennium BCE. Unlike the traditional flat breads from other Mediterranean regions, focaccia is leavened and rises slightly. Focacius is the Latin word for fireplace; in Roman times, focaccia was cooked in the ashes of a fire rather than on a tray above the fire.
Focaccia was used as a dipping bread, usually being torn apart by hand and dipped into simple, salty soups made from water, vinegar, and possibly olive oil. In today’s times this doesn’t sound very appetizing, but for people accustomed to long hours of physical labor it provided nourishment and was a cheap and filling meal.
My how some things have changed! The same meal that was once reserved for peasants and slaves is now frequently served at fine Italian restaurants as an appetizer.
The recipe for basic focaccia dough requires five simple ingredients: flour, water, olive oil, salt and a small amount of yeast. Depending on your tastes you can flavor the dough itself by adding some seasoning, or even a combination of toppings. Some recipes will have you create a crisp-crusted focaccia, ideal for dipping in your favorite extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar. Other recipes produce thicker crusted focaccia, like those sold in our La Bella Romana Cucina, which are used for sandwiches or paninis.
Would you like to try your hand at making some homemade focaccia bread? We have several recipes available on our website, http://caputomarkets.com/recipes/search/title/focaccia
I’d love to get your feedback on any of these, and if you have your own favorite focaccia please pass it along to us! Perhaps I will share it with our Cucina Eventi readers.