One of the first cookbooks I bought when I moved to Italy was Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread. I have a track record of stuffing up anything with yeast, so no knead Italian focaccia was right down my alley. Who cares if you have to wait 24 hours before you can indulge in your carb craving? You’ll never have to worry about whether you’ve kneaded enough or too much/ if it’s risen enough or if it’s “passato al lievito” (over-yeasted) as my parents in law say. Well, they also laughed at the idea of 24-hour bread making. My mother in law can knock out a perfectly risen and baked loaf of Italian bread in 30 minutes. Bakers, right?
So I put Lahey’s book back on the shelf and dedicated myself to learning how to knead bread properly… then Italy got swept up in the long-rise pizza craze. I blame Bonci, the famous pizza shop in Rome, which is absolutely and insanely good if you’ve never been. They’ve opened up stores in Florence and Rome’s Mercato Centrale and their pizzas are these gorgeous fluffy slabs of bread that are about 5cm thick – an affront to the traditional Italian preference for pizzas so thin you can slide them under a door without ruining the topping.
Bonci’s pizzas are slow risen for 72 hours. In that time, the dough’s structure develops, creating a complex and nuance flavour and a deep bronze crust that comes from all those starches that have had the time to properly transform into sugars.
My no knead focaccia is inspired by this incredible pizza, but with a few twists. For starters, I’m using majority wholewheat flour or farina di grano integrale as they call it over here. Not only is it better for you, but it also has a nutty flavour that is great with the tapenade I spoon over the top.
My nonna taught me to make focaccia from left over pizza or bread dough. It’s a strange idea and there are plenty of great recipes out there strictly designed for a focaccia, but I don’t really see the difference and I think a really good bread dough recipe makes a focaccia that is just as delicious and light as anything you buy in store.
So this recipe is simply my go-to no knead wholewheat bread recipe. What’s great about it is that you can adjust the level of wholewheat without affecting the texture of the dough. So if you want only a hint of wholewheat flavour, swap it out for mostly white flour. Whereas if you’re on a health kick, you can go almost all the way with 3/4 wholewheat flour and only a hint of white flour. You don’t have to adjust anything else in the recipe.
Then after the bread has risen overnight, you shape it into a rectangle and create those lovely little dimples that are so iconic of focaccia.
Traditionally, an Italian focaccia recipe is topped with nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. My nonna loves to add green olives five minutes before she takes it out of the oven that way the olives toast and their briny deliciousness seeps into the bread.
But and it’s a big but! I prefer my Italian focaccia with something a little more decadent, which is where this tapenade comes in. It isn’t strictly Italian, but it’s a great fit for any Italian focaccia. The saltiness of the olives, anchovies, garlic and capers transform the bread into almost a pizza of sorts. I like to bake my topping for a few minutes rather than just spread it on raw. That’s only because Giulio absolutely hates raw garlic and I can’t stand to listen to him complain for five days afterwards.
With a final flourish of burrata, this Italian focaccia is the perfect antipasto for any summer barbecue. I whipped one up for a few friends last week and it was great served warm with a lovely Prosecco.
And the best part about a no-knead, long rise bread is that you can make it in the morning, head to work and do your thing and come home to a perfectly risen Italian focaccia. Since the second rise only takes 30 minutes, you can have fresh bread for dinner in less than an hour! #winning
If you can’t find burrata or you don’t like this super creamy cross between a mozzarella and cream cheese, then you can use normal mozzarella or even blue cheese or a little bit of parmesan. They would all be delicious with the tapenade. While if you feel like something a little more substantial, consider adding a few slices of prosciutto just before serving!
NO KNEAD WHOLEWHEAT ITALIAN FOCACCIA
200g wholewheat flour
200 g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
For the tapenade
200g black olives
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1 tablespoon capers
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
fresh burrata or mozzarella, to serve
basil leaves, to serve
Combine all the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Cover and leave to rest overnight or until bubbles dot the surface.
Line a large baking tray with baking paper. Drizzle over some oil and carefully spoon your dough onto the tray. Wet your hands with oil and gently pull the dough into a rough rectangular shape. Leave to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 200°C.
Use your knuckles to create dimples in the focaccia and drizzle over a little extra olive oil. Carefully place on the middle oven rack and bake for 30 minutes or until your focaccia is a nice golden colour.
Meanwhile, make your tapenade by combining all the ingredients in a blender and whizzing until you have a smooth paste.
Remove your focaccia from the oven and spoon the tapenade over the top. Return to the oven and bake for 5-10 minutes or until the tapenade has become golden and crunchy.
Transfer to a pan and cool completely before serving with chunk of burrata and a sprinkling of basil leaves. Serves 10.
Looking for more Summer dessert recipes? Try my Cornetto biscuits with from-scratch grapefruit jam or Spiced Elderflower Italian Sponge Cake (Pan di Spagna)