Focaccia, pizza, or whatever

Don’t be fooled by all the terrific press about focaccia. It’s just a flash name for flat bread. You make it just the same way as bread, treat it the same way as bread, love it just the same way.

If you make it yourself, or buy it (usually at an exorbitant price), it makes for a terrific way to overcome the dreadful pizzas at the corner takeaway. Just slice the focaccia in half (vertically, not horizontally) and cut out a lid, leaving raised edges. Fill the exposed base with pureed tomatoes and olive oil and red peppers and all the things you like in a pizza, bake it, and you’ve got the best of all worlds, without a trip into the night.

A filled focaccia takes this particular bread right back to its beginnings. Focaccia comes from the Latin focus (meaning hearth), and it was here at the hearth the flattened bread had its humble beginnings. Smart bakers used to poke the dough on the way to the oven to provide little pools in the top for lovelies like oil, or herbs, or salt, or spices, or all of the above.

Naturally, there is nothing to making it. Just get hold of some strong flour and pour a liquid into a bowl, starting with water, then perhaps milk, or some olive oil. Add some yeast, salt, sugar, some herbs maybe, then enough flour to make into a dough. Then start kneading. Or, better still, get a machine to do it.

3 teaspoons dried yeast

2 cups just warm water, or a mix of milk and water (makes about 1kg of dough)

2 teaspoons sugar

enough strong flour to bring it all together — For this dough you can use a mix of strong flour and plain flour.

2 teaspoons salt

a handful of fresh herbs, or a teaspoon of spices

a good pour of the best flavoured olive oil


Mix the yeast through the liquid until it has dissolved, and then add the sugar, flour, salt, spices and herbs, slowly, to allow them all to come together with the liquid.


Knead by hand or with a machine until the dough glistens and feels slightly cool. Form into a ball, cover with a dampish cloth and allow to rise in a warm place. It will take a couple of hours.


When the dough has doubled in volume, or thereabouts, go at it with a gusto, punching out the carbon dioxide which has built it up. Roll it out flat, and put it onto the oiled tray on which it will be baked. You should have enough to make two focaccia or a pair of pizzas. Focaccia can be as thick or as thin as you like. I prefer it to be reasonably thick. Leave it to rise, covered again. After half an hour, you can press some dimples into the dough. Leave it to rise for another half hour.


Brush the top with some olive oil or milk and water, and spray some rock salt, or sesame seeds, or caraway seeds about. Bake in a preheated 210°C oven for about 20–25 minutes. The aroma will tell you when it is done. If you like, you can scatter some finely sliced garlic over the top after about 15 minutes baking. When it is done, turn it over for a few minutes to give the bottom a bit of free hot air.


Serve as you wish — as is, or torn in the rustic style, for sandwiches. Or freeze it for the day when you really can’t do without a pizza.

Now, how to turn a flat focaccia into a whizzo pizza.

6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled, or a small tin of tomatoes


1 bunch of basil

1 focaccia (will make two good-sized pizzas)

best virgin olive oil

dozen olives, seeded and chopped — or preserved artichokes, or mushrooms, or salami, or ham or whatever is hanging about

black pepper

12 slices melting cheese — I love Raclette, the Swiss melter, or Gruyère, or Provolone, or even cheddar.


Cook the tomatoes, with a little salt, in the microwave, for 25-30 minutes, until they have broken down and the resulting sauce is rather thick. (You can add chilli here, if you like it.) Break up with a fork, add the basil leaves, and set aside to cool.


Cut the focaccia in half and make a slit halfway through the top crust, 2 cm from the edge, all the way around each half. Gently remove the lid and any loose crumbs, until halfway through. You should be left with something like a pie crust, with four high edges.


Heat the oven to 200°C and place the case inside for about 10 minutes, until the bread base is firm and crisp, but not brown.


Remove from the oven, and drizzle olive oil across the base. Spoon the tomato mix on the base, to the edges. Sprinkle the olives (or whatever) about, make several turns of the pepper mill, and cover with the sliced cheese.


Return to the oven, and cook again until the cheese melts — about 10 minutes. Serve in wedges.