Just as Naples is the capital of Italy’s thick-rimmed wood fired pizza pies, Bari and its surrounding Pugliese towns are home to a beloved regional flatbread, focaccia. This high-hydration, olive oil-rich dough is baked in cast iron pans at places like Panificio Fiore on Strada della Città in Bari Vecchia. The pan is drenched in oil before the soft dough is stretched into place, so when it all goes into the oven, the dough practically fries in the pan as it bakes, rendering the bottom and sides crispy and pleasantly oily. This recipe, which was developed by my amazing and talented friend John Regefalk, master of all Italian doughs, for my currently untitled South Italy Cookbook features cherry tomatoes and olives, but you can use sliced onions or even blind-bake the dough, omitting the toppings and just seasoning with salt and herbs.
To get the unique texture of Focaccia Pugliese, you need to bake with intense heat from underneath–using seasoned decades-old cast iron pans doesn’t hurt either. Since these conditions are difficult to replicate in a home oven, you will get the best results by using a frying pan or skillet with only metal and no plastic or wood parts for baking the focacce. If you have enough all-metal 10 to 12-inch diameter pans for all 3 focacce, you can prepare them simultaneously. Otherwise, set the dough aside in the refrigerator to prevent it from over-fermenting at room temperature while you work one piece of dough at a time.
Makes 3 (10 to 12-inch) focacce
200 grams bread flour
300 grams semolina (semola di grano duro)
100 grams boiled, riced, and cooled potato
2 grams active dry yeast
12 grams sea salt
5 grams sugar
155 grams extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling bowls
350 grams filtered water
500 grams mature cherry tomatoes
3 teaspoons dried oregano
About 30 black olives
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the bread flour, semolina, potato, yeast, salt, sugar, and 50 grams of olive oil. Mix on low for 2 minutes, then increase the speed to medium and mix for 18 minutes more. The dough will come together and become smooth and slightly sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, allowing it to gently release from the bowl, and cut it into 3 equal pieces about 330 grams each with a dough scraper or knife. Shape each piece into a ball and place each in a bowl generously greased with olive oil. Brush lightly with olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside to rise at room temperature for 2 hours.
Pour 25 grams of olive oil in a cast iron pan and make sure it covers the bottom and an inch up on the sides, turn one of the doughs into the pan. Using greased fingers, carefully push and stretch the dough into the shape of the pan, taking care not to tear it.
Gently press the halved cherry tomatoes, cut side down, and olives into the dough, distributing evenly. Cover the pan with a cloth and set aside to rise for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425ºF.
Remove the cover and sprinkle dried oregano over the dough. Season with salt. Drizzle 10 grams of olive oil over each pan. Using greased fingertips, press into the dough around the tomatoes and olives to form dimpled impressions.
Place the pan on a stove top and heat over medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until the oil starts to bubble and crackle. This will create a crispy and oily crust that cannot be achieved in most home ovens. Check the underside of the dough, gently lifting with a heat-proof spatula. It should be a very dark golden color. If it has not browned cook 30 seconds to 1 minute more.
Transfer the pan onto a pre-heated baking sheet or pizza stone set on the middle rack in the oven. Bake until the Focaccia has a dark golden crispy crust about 17 minutes; focacce brown irregularly so having darker spots mixed with lighter parts is normal.
Transfer the Focaccia to a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes before slicing.
Repeat with the remaining dough.