Blogging from the mountains of Abruzzo has proven a bit trickier than I had anticipated. Between spotty internet connections and busy days of exploring this magnificent region of “mare e monte,” I haven’t written as many posts as I had intended. However, rest assured, I’ve collected countless recipes and tasted an infinite number of local artisanal products (you should see what I’ve accumulated – I’m pretty much leaving all of my clothing behind to make room in my suitcase for an obscene amount of olive oil, olive paste, jam, honey, farro, flour and about 4 different types of legumes) on which I plan to write in the coming months.
I wanted to share at least one more recipe before I head home (kicking and screaming) to New York on Friday. In my last blog post, I shared a recipe for Celli Ripieni, a traditional grape jam-filled cookie that I learned from Mamma Anna Maria, the affable mother of my friend, Fabrizio Lucci of Italia Sweet Italia Experience Breaks. About a month before I left for Italy, Fabrizio posted a photo of a basket of luscious, freshly-picked figs. My 7-year old son, Mikey, who was standing over my shoulder, practically dove through the computer screen.
Like his mom, figs are Mikey’s favorite fruit and their preciously short season makes them all the more tempting. Like many Italian immigrants, my parents always had a fig tree in our backyard in Queens, NY. One of my favorite summer rituals was going outside in the evening and standing under the fig tree with a large bowl while my dad, perched on a ladder, picked the precious fruit and handed them to me. It inevitably took us less time to empty that bowl than it did to fill it! Last summer, the New York Times printed an article on the abundance of fig trees growing in Brooklyn, most of which were planted my newly-arrived Italian immigrants. A similar tradition exists in Queens and my dad continues our evening fig-picking ritual with my children.
When I told Fabrizio about Mikey’s reaction, he replied that focaccia stuffed with figs and drizzled with olive oil was his favorite childhood snack, and when we joined Fabrizio and his family for dinner, a platter of “focaccia e fichi” generously awaited us. Figs work quite well in savory dishes. Their almost honey-like sweetness pairs beautifully with the salt-crusted focaccia and peppery olive oil. This dish is divine as is, but adding a few slices of prosciutto would make this a terrific summertime lunch. Buon appetito!
Focaccia e Fichi
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © (inspired by Mamma Anna Maria Lucci – Italia Sweet Italia Experience Breaks)
- 1 3/4 cups warm water
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 5 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading
- 1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
For the filling:
- 12 ripe figs, peeled and cut in half
- A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
- 6 thin slices of prosciutto (optional)
Combine the warm water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Put the bowl in a warm place until the yeast is bubbling and aromatic, at least 15 minutes. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/2 cup olive oil and the yeast mixture on low speed. Once the dough has come together, continue to knead for 5 to 6 minutes on a medium speed until it becomes smooth and soft. Give it a sprinkle of flour if the dough is really sticky (although it is a very sticky dough)
Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly floured surface, then knead it by hand a few times. Give it another sprinkle of flour if the dough is too sticky to handle. Coat the inside of a bowl lightly with olive oil and add the dough to the bowl. Cover it with a slightly damp towel and put it in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size, at least 1 hour.
Coat a baking sheet with the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Put the dough onto the baking sheet and begin pressing it out to fit the size of the pan. Flip the dough over to coat the other side with the olive oil. Continue to stretch the dough to fit the pan. As you are doing so, spread your fingers out and make finger holes all the way through the dough. Put the dough in the warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising a second time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Liberally sprinkle the top of the focaccia with some sea salt and lightly drizzle a bit of olive oil on top. Bake until the top is golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the focaccia from the oven and let it cool slightly before cutting and serving.
Slice the whole focaccia in half (like a layer cake) and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Scatter the halved figs on the bottom layer evenly and return the top layer. Slice into squares and serve. Buon appetito!