Colorful Focaccia

Colorful Focaccia bread.
Colorful Focaccia bread.

My three stepchildren were grown, or very nearly so, when I married dear, sweet husband. Step families take time to bond, and time together is so very limited when kids are already grown. So when our family makes progress in this area, it’s something to celebrate.

On Mother’s Day my eldest stepdaughter stopped by for a while. Such gestures are especially priceless to me—a woman who had planned to birth children but never did. Last year was especially hard because our foster kids (two of whom are the only people in the world to have ever called me mommy) had returned to a parent. The grown kids were away or otherwise busy, and it was way too quiet at the house. This year was better. And fun.

This time last year my special Mother’s Day visitor was headed for a summer study program in Spain. I thought it would be fun to make a brunch together that channeled her visit and a few common interests: art, music and food. First on the list: a simple mushroom tapa served as a nod to her visit to Spain (and our love of food). 

For art (and food) we made a colorful focaccia.  I’ve seen focaccia designed like fine art. This was not the time to spend hours trying to recreate the masters… this was just a fun way to bond. Kind of like those paint parties you go to, but shorter, and instead of taking your painting home at the end, you eat it.

We couldn’t find the exact flamenco artist she had in mind for the flamenco music we played as we prepared the meal together, but what we did find set the right mood. We chopped vegetables and sautéed the tapa, and she designed the focaccia. All the while we chatted about Spain, food, college, work and life. It was a great bonding experience. Then her father joined us and we had a relaxing lunch.

Focaccia is often made a bit thicker than mine. My version often turns out a bit more like a pizza crust. One of these times I’ll grab a bigger ball of dough, but for now, I’m happy with this version. 

If the dough is made ahead, it’s super simple to make this bread … even more so if you don’t get artsy with it. Seriously, just oil a sheet pan, press the dough into it, oil the dough, rest it, add ingredients, oil the dough …. Bake, cool a bit, eat. Repeat. (Always repeat.)

This is a filling and flavorful vegetarian dish that is also low sodium (depending upon the toppings you choose). I’m testing gluten-free versions and so far I have not found a way to replicate the dimply texture and air pockets. If I succeed, I’ll post a gluten-free recipe in a future post.

“There must always be two kinds of art: escape-art, for man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep, and parable-art, that art which shall teach man to unlearn hatred and learn love.”― W.H. Auden

Ingredients

For loaf:

1 large orange-sized piece of artisan bread dough

Olive oil

For topping:

4-6 black olives

1 small red sweet pepper, sliced

1 small gold sweet pepper, sliced

About 1/8 orange bell pepper, diced at different lengths

About 1/8 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced

1/4 red onion

Two sprigs parsley

Two sprigs cilantro

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp basil

TIP: vary vegetable and herb toppings according to taste or what’s on hand. To keep it simple, onion and herbs work just fine.

Prep time

About 30 minutes prep and 1 hour set, bake and cool time

Yields:  one focaccia bread, 4 to 8 servings

Grab a piece of dough the size of a large orange.

Oil an 8×12 in. non-stick pan or stoneware. Stretch the dough into the pan. You may need to flour the dough some to work with it. You may also need to let it rest to get the fun stretch.

Drizzle with oil and let rest about 20 minutes.

While dough is resting, prep topping:

Slice olives in half, lengthwise

Slice small sweet peppers, about 1/8 in. thick

Slice bell pepper about 1/4 in. thick

Slice onion very thin

Rinse and dry two sprigs each parsley and cilantro.

Set aside.

NOTE: Depending upon how you top the focaccia, you may have leftover topping. 

Mix together salt, pepper, oregano and basil and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Press dough to create dimples. This is an important element of foccacia bread.

Lightly brush bread dough with oil, and place ingredients. You can lay them out roughly evenly spread across the bread or create an artistic design.

Lay onion as bottom layer or top. Roll into a rose. To create floral designs, lay down parsley and cilantro, spreading leaves out onto oiled dough. Lay olives onto leaf beds and surround with pepper slices. You may cut slices to various sized to create flowers. Leave some “petals” off of the flower beds. 

Sprinkle herb mixture over the top.

Carefully press topping into dough. In spaces between topping, dimple the dough again. (Be careful not to overwork the dough.)

Bake 15-20 minutes until done.

Remove from pan and place bread on cooling rack. Bread may be eaten warm. 

Colorful Focaccia at a glance.
Colorful Focaccia at a glance.

Serving Suggestions

Serve on its own as a light meal, serve with soup or salad or serve as an appetizer. This makes a beautiful addition to a charcuterie board. 

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