Not your Typical Wonder Bread
I’ve had the great privilege of growing up in Brooklyn, New York, with it’s myriad of cultures flooding in from across the globe. This has given me the opportunity to experience the many kinds of foods that represent for many, a sort of ancestral spirit that connects the wayward soul to their home away from home. I’m sure any reader can imagine that food or dish that provides infinite amounts of comfort and reprieve from never-ending waves that crash down and scatter us and spread cultures across the globe.
My family is rooted heavily in the artificial culture created around the Italian-American diaspora that carved out a new home for itself in Brooklyn many years ago. Sunday dinners were a part of my childhood, with Mom’s biggest pot resting on the stovetop and cooking sauce from the earliest parts of the morning until dinner time around 5 o’clock. Though infrequent, the food that I want to share with you all is Focaccia. It represents a kind of warm and comfortable place in my childhood.
|Don't you just wanna smell it?|
In its earliest incarnations, Focaccia was called panis focacius literally meaning “bread baked in the hearth,” (OED). In Roman times, the hearth was found in the center of the home. Even at the roots of Focaccia, that sense of home rests at crusty, soft, and flavorful core. Focaccia is by no means an exotic dish. In its basic form, Focaccia lacks any real complex flavor. Focaccia is made with flour, oil, water, salt, and yeast. Very simple ingredients for a very simple dish. But Focaccia is only as simple as the baker wants it to be. Focaccia has a long history, tracing back thousands of years to the dawn of the Roman Empire. It has been reinvented hundreds of times over, evolving to nourish the appetite of the wayward soul.
As I know it, Focaccia is similar in taste to pizza. Often a side dish, Focaccia is lightly topped with tomato sauce rosemary, and sundried tomatoes, giving it a taste reminiscent to those early childhood memories of Sunday dinner.
|It also makes great sandwich bread.|
One of my favorite parts about Focaccia lies in the process of making it. Once the dough is kneaded and shaped, little cuts are made along its surface. This allows little pockets of air to occur during the baking process that add to the airy and almost sponge-like texture of Focaccia. The bread would not be complete without the signature fingerprints that trace the entire top of the bread, leaving little divots that often become craters for the flavorful olive oil and other ingredients to pool.
Whether it is a croissant, Naan bread, roti, or simply Wonder Bread, Focaccia stands to represent for me the taste of comfort and domesticity that exists in every culture. In a world of fast food, GMOs, Fad diets, and Protein powder shakes, the sense of home-cooking is a fleeting concept to many. Only by keeping your culture close and sharing it with one another can we keep these foods of comfort alive and well for thousands of years, just as Focaccia has.
This is my go-to recipe for Focaccia as it allows for creativity and experimentation with different flavors.
If I had to recommend a method of consumption, it would be a Focaccia Caprese which includes slices of fresh Mozzarella, sliced tomato, and basil leaves in a sandwich with the Focaccia as the bread.