Baking & Dessert

By Aine Carlin | June 6, 2011

Photo: Aine Carlin

This is not so much a Meat-Free Monday dish as opposed to an accompaniment to a Meat-Free Monday dish. I’ve had my ups and downs with bread (mainly in the whole-wheat department – why can that flour be so darned hard to work with sometimes?) but throughout it all focaccia has remained my fallback. Even when it doesn’t turn out exactly as you’d hoped, it still tastes amazing and in truth it’s pretty difficult to mess up.

Photo: Aine Carlin

Trust me, this is coming from a not so confident bread maker.
I have two focaccia making methods – the ‘knead once’ and the ‘knead twice’. Need I explain? I will anyway just to avoid any confusion.

Photo: Aine Carlin

If I’m after a light bread with a spongier texture then I only knead once, transferring it directly to an oiled tray after it has risen. This works if I’m making a focaccia with no ‘add in’s’ and merely sprinkling a few herbs on top – my favorite is rosemary and rock salt, delish! Otherwise, if I’m adding other ingredients such as olives or caramelized onions then I’ll knead a second time utilizing this to incorporate the fillings.

Photo: Aine Carlin

To me, it almost becomes like a stuffed pizza and I could happily eat it on its own. You could literally fill it with anything you fancy – roasted red peppers, olives, onions, mushrooms, maybe even all of them, why on Earth not! It’s your focaccia, customize it to your own taste is what I say. Let loose, have a ball, food is supposed to fun, after all…….now I’m rhyming? Dearie me.

Photo: Aine Carlin

This focaccia has great chew, even better flavor and tastes pretty authentic in my opinion. I can back up this bold claim with my extensive focaccia eating experience – I have eaten A LOT of focaccia. It possibly is my most favorite bread in the world after ‘normal’ bread – you can never beat a slice of toasted wholemeal in my opinion. However, there’s something so very satisfying and substantial about a hunk of focaccia, which is why it makes for a great meat free Monday side dish.
Many of us are terrified of that gaping hole in the middle of our plate when we remove meat from the equation. Even Paul McCartney said this is what frightened him when he first went vegetarian and from here Linda was inspired to create meatless alternatives to fill that void.

Meat-Free doesn’t need to mean a sad plate of over cooked vegetables. Expand your horizons, get creative in the kitchen and think of ways to make Meat-Free dishes an attractive option to die hard omnivores. Think big, think hearty, think bold flavours and rustic recipes that will get everyone’s pulses racing – not just hardened vegetarians. In my opinion, this focaccia is a great place to start.

  • 11/2 cups plain white flour
  • 1 heaped tsp pink Himalayan salt
  • 1 tbsp (vegan) sugar
  • 1 7 gram sachet instant yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the sheet and drizzling on top
  • 1 cup roughly chopped green olives
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • Sea salt

Directions

1. In a large bowl combine the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Gently stir to ensure everything is fully incorporated.

2. The water should be warm - I like to boil a kettle and then let it cool for ten minutes. Combine the water and oil.

3. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in half the water. Incorporate using a spatula, adding more water as and when needed. Form into a ball (use your hands for this part) and turn out onto a clean floured surface. Knead for 10- 15minutes until you achieve an elastic consistency. Oil the dough and return an oiled bowl (I use the same one to save on washing up!). Cover the bowl with a clean towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 11/2 hours.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/390 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Once the bread has risen, turn out onto a floured surface. Tip the chopped olives on top and knead into the bread until they are fully incorporated into the dough - about 5 minutes.

6. Line and oil a baking tray. Transfer the dough to the tray and using your hands spread the dough to fit the shape of the tray - it doesn't have to go to edges or be exact but there's no need to roll it out using a rolling pin. Cover again with the tea towel and leave to rise for a further 15 minutes.

7. Using your fingertips, dimple the dough. Sprinkle over the oregano and a generous grinding of rock salt. Drizzle over some more olive oil and bake for 25-30 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and cut into large pieces - can be eaten hot or cold. Keeps for a couple of days if wrapped and kept in an airtight container.

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