Have you ever looked at something and just wanted it? When I was a junior in high school, in fourth period English class, there was a red-headed guy who … Oops, wrong path here.
I was watching Lidia Bastianich on Public Television with my husband Brian. He had been in the midst of making guacamole, when we both realized that for the past five minutes he had been standing, with spoons dripping avocado on the floor, while we were both mesmerized by what Lidia was doing on the screen. We turned towards each other in disbelief.
“We’re going to do that,” he said.
“Damn right,” I seconded.
That’s why we get along. The red-headed guy is out of my mind.
The “That” Lidia was doing was an Umbrian filled focaccia that yields a “sandwich” unlike anything you have ever sampled. Without question, Lidia is a food genius. Her new book, Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy, has chapters for each region in Italy and is filled with intriguing dishes you’ve never heard of. How about Spaghetti in Tomato-Apple Sauce? Lidia says you might do a double take at that idea, but that we should all try it. Look at this important book, and you’ll have a month of ideas you simply have to try.
On to the focaccia. The idea is this. You bake a thin focaccia in a cast iron pan. Let it cool, cut it in half, fill it with good stuff — certainly cheese, and return to the oven to warm the good stuff and melt that cheese. I know the Earl of Sandwich gets credit for inventing the “sandwich” but let’s be honest here: the whole sandwich family belongs to Italy. There is panini, piadina, and this filled focaccia. That’s an unmatched spectrum of flavors and textures.
Filled Focaccia or Torta al Testo
Yield: makes 2 torts, enough for several people for appetizers, fewer as a main course
Ingredients for the focaccia:
1 package active dry yeast
3 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Filling ideas for the torte:
- Thinly sliced prosciutto: about 6 slices for each torta
- Grated Taleggio or stracchino: about 5 ounces for each torta
- Prosciutto-and-grated cheese combination: 4 slices of prosciutto and 3 ounces cheese for each torta
- Broccoli di rape or other greens, sautéed with garlic
- Tangy salad greens like arugula or mesclun mix
- Your imagination in terms of meat, cheese, and veggies!
Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup warm water in a small bowl. Let it sit for several minutes, until it starts to bubble. Put the flour and the salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few second to blend.
Combine the dissolved yeast with 1 cup of warm water. With the food processor running, pour all the liquid into the flour. Process until the dough clumps on the blade and cleans the side of the bowl, about 20 seconds. Process another 20 seconds, for a total of about 40 seconds. If the dough does not gather onto the blade or process easily, it is too wet or too dry. Feel the dough, then work in more flour or warm water in small amounts.
Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and knead for a minute into a smooth round. Put it into a large, oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Put a rack in the bottom third of the oven, and heat to 450°F. Deflate the risen dough, and cut it in half. Flatten each piece into a round, about 9 inches in diameter, and lay each round in a cast-iron skillet. [Or use all the dough in one large 12 inch skillet.] Press and stretch the dough to fill the entire bottom the skillet, then dimple the top all over with your fingertips.
If you only have one suitable skillet, put one piece of dough back in the oiled bowl and let it rise again, covered, while you shape and bake the first torta. When the skillet is empty, deflate the second piece of dough, shape it, and bake it.
Bake the breads about 15 minutes in the skillet, until light brown on top. Turn them out to cool on a wire rack. Another option is to cook it on top of the stove in the skillet over medium heat, flipping it several times until done, about 10 to 15 minutes.
To fill the torta, slice off the top half of each with a long serrated knife, and cover the bottom with slices of prosciutto, grated cheese, sautéed greens, or a combination of these. Replace the tops of the torte, set them on a baking sheet, and return to the oven. Bake another 10 minutes or so, until the torte are golden and the fillings hot. If you like, lift the top of the torta and scatter salad greens on the hot fillings, then cover. Slice the torte into pieces or wedges and serve.
Source: Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy by Lidia Bastianich