Onion and Sage Focaccia
by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, Published by Plum, RRP $44.99, Photography by Armelle Habib
Remember in the 90s when focaccia was all about roasted ‘mediterranean’ vegetables and LOTS of semi-dried tomatoes? I sure do, and although it served a purpose, let me tell you, focaccia is neither daggy nor outdated. In fact, focaccia is a daily staple for many Italians.
When I lived in Italy, we would buy it fresh from the ‘Panificio’ almost every day and it would be sliced lengthways and stuffed with mortadella to feed the hungry workers. I was normally in charge of morning tea, and loved providing food for all the gardeners and office staff on the property. Sometimes, we would also eat focaccia in a ‘ploughman’s lunch’ style with burrata, anchovies and fresh tomatoes. I love the combination of onions and sage and sometimes add olives to mine too.
In Michael Pollan’s book ‘Cooked – A natural transformation of food’, Samin Nosrat says “Most people people don’t cook their onions nearly long enough, or slow enough. They try to rush it.” I am first to say that I am guilty of this on occasions however I cannot stress how much better your meal will be if you give them time and cook them over a low heat. Especially in a recipe like this, where the onions are not just a background flavour adding to a complicated dish. Here the onions are laid bare for all to see and there is nowhere to hide your hastily sauteed onions.
Samin also states that “Great cooking is about the three ‘p’s: patience, presence, and practice” – Something to ponder whilst your dough is rising and you’re contemplating the renaissance of the focaccia!
15 g yeast
1 tsp sugar
300g strong bread flour
1 egg, lightly whisked.
2 tsp sea salt, plus extra for the top
50ml olive oil, plus extra for brushing and drizzling
2 large onions or 5 shallots, finely sliced
1 tbsp sage leaves, finely chopped
In a small pan, heat the milk to luke warm temperature. Pour half the milk into a bowl and set the rest aside. Crumble the yeast into the milk in the bowl and add the sugar. Leave for 15 minutes or until the mixture begins to bubble. Now add 100g of the flour. Stir well to form a loose mixture – it should be slightly thicker than pancake batter so if it is too runny, add a little extra flour. Cover and leave for 1 hour in warm place. The mixture is ready when the surface is covered in bubbles.
Now add the whisked egg, the remaining 200g of flour and salt. Slowly add the remaining milk into the dough until you have a soft but workable dough. You may not need all of the milk so just use your hands to test the consistency. Turn onto a floured board. At this point, the dough should be a little sticky, but still workable. If you need to add flour, have a pile on your board and slowly bring it into the dough as you need. Knead for 5-10 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for an hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 180C.
Meanwhile, heat a large pan over a low flame and add the olive oil, onions and sage. Slowly sauté them for 20-30 minutes until they are translucent and caramelised. Season to taste and set aside.
When the dough is ready, add nearly all of the onion mixture to the dough, leaving some for the top. Mix with your hands just until it is combined. Gently shape the focaccia, pulling and stretching with your hand to reach the desired thickness and shape. Brush the base of a tray with olive and gently place the focaccia. Spread the remaining onion mixture on top, drizzle with a little oil and bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes or the centre bounces back when gently pressed. Cover with foil if onions brown too quickly.
Serve warm with a drizzle of olive oil and extra sea salt.