Buon giorno, friends! I am finally resurfacing to write on my blog again. Life has been busy, and since I’m already not a prolific blogger, my small corner of the Internet got neglected even more than usual. I took a break from this space to plan out my summer cooking class series at the Italian Cultural and Community Center. I taught my first class of the series at the end of last month and it was a delicious success! I’ve also been spending time in the kitchen cooking just for pleasure without the added pressure of capturing a photograph and jotting down recipe notes. The reality is that I keep this blog purely as my hobby so that it stays flexible and enjoyable for me. Nevertheless, I do want to improve upon posting more frequently (the struggle continues…). Today, I’m bringing you this recipe for a glorious focaccia di patate (potato focaccia) that I featured on my Instagram stories a few weeks ago. I brought it to the Italian Cultural and Community Center as a snack for a group of lovely women I cooked with for our Daughters of Italian Heritage club. We meet once a month for dinner and fellowship at the cultural center, and each month a “hostess committee” cooks for all the members. I was chosen to be on the June hostess committee and it was a fun experience sharing kitchen tasks with six other members. Since we met early in the afternoon to cook several recipes, I figured it would be a good idea to bring a snack to share so no one got hungry while preparing our meal. My potato focaccia turned out to be a huge hit and the tray was empty by the end of the evening. The ultimate compliment!
Except for the potato topping, this recipe is identical to my focaccia pugliese. I used the same exact recipe for the dough from the late Carol Field’s wonderful cookbook, Italy in Small Bites. The dough contains a cooked potato to keep the dough supple and flavorful, and the starch in potatoes absorbs more water than wheat starch, which helps keep the dough light. The potassium found in potatoes works a kind of culinary magic by interacting with the yeast and making the dough rise faster, creating a light, airy dough–the attributes of a perfect focaccia. Potatoes are a very common topping on pizza and focaccia in Italy and most people who are introduced to potatoes on baked bread dough are always pleasantly surprised at how delicious the carb-on-carb combination is.
After making this dough regularly, I discovered that a few extra minutes of proofing time during the first and second rise makes for a fluffier focaccia, provided that you don’t let the dough rise too much longer. The first rise calls for a 1½ hour proofing time, and I have let it rise 15-30 minutes longer before deflating the dough and shaping it for the second rise, which calls for a 45 minute proofing time. During the second rise, I’ve allowed the dough to proof for up to 1 hour. It’s been interesting experimenting with proofing times to see what end result I get with the baked dough. Be aware that it is possible to over-proof dough, but it can be saved–just read King Arthur Flour’s blog post about the topic to see how.
Since potatoes are the only topping on this focaccia, they have to be prepared carefully for the best flavor and texture. For the prettiest presentation, the potatoes need to be thinly sliced. You can do this with either a mandoline, or a sharp knife if you have precision knife skills. I do not have the latter, so I use a mandoline. Potatoes take a while to cook through completely, and even thinly sliced potatoes will not cook through if you place them raw on top of the focaccia dough before baking, so it will be necessary to blanch the potato slices beforehand. I blanch them the same way I cook my pasta: in an abundant amount of well-salted water. This will give the slices enough room to “swim” in the water and be properly salted so they’re flavorful throughout. They only need about 2-3 minutes blanching time since they are thin, and over-cooking them will cause them to break apart, so watch the clock as they cook. Once I strain them through a colander, I leave them there to cool while I dimple and season the focaccia dough. There’s no need to give into the temptation to lay the slices out on a dish towel or pat them dry. They are hot from cooking, and leaving them in the colander allows them to dry off sufficiently. The key is to handle the cooked potato slices as minimally as possible to avoid breaking them.
You can arrange the potato slices on the focaccia any way you like. I like a lot of potatoes on my focaccia so I arranged them shingle-style, but if you want to see some of the top surface of the focaccia, you can arrange the slices more sparsely and randomly. Once the focaccia is topped, all you have to do is season it with flaked sea salt, a few grinds of pepper, finely minced fresh rosemary, and a generous drizzle of olive oil. As the focaccia bakes, the dough will begin sizzling in the olive oil as it puffs up, and the potatoes will begin to brown and curl slightly at the edges, while a mingled aroma of freshly baked bread and roasted potatoes wafts from the oven. The best part of making focaccia is that it’s best enjoyed straight out of the oven when it is still warm and crisp, so have a cutting board, knife and maybe a chilled glass of Prosecco ready for one of the best Italian snacks you’ll ever eat.
Adapted from Italy in Small Bites by Carol Field
Special Equipment: 18″ x 13″ (46 cm x 33 cm) sheet pan (half sheet pan)
8 ounces (225 grams) Yukon Gold potatoes (1-2 potatoes, depending on size)
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon honey
1½ cups + 2 Tablespoons (400 mL) warm water (100 °F-110 °F/37 °C-43 °C)
3¾ cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour plus more for the work surface
2 teaspoons sea salt, divided
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for the proofing bowl
12 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 large Russet potatoes, peeled, washed and dried well
4 teaspoons Kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
Make the dough
Peel and wash the Yukon Gold potato and boil them until tender and thoroughly cooked. Drain and transfer the potato back to the pot, and mash or rice them. Place a clean dishtowel over the pot of mashed potatoes–this will allow most of the heat to dissipate while still keeping them warm.
In a large mixing bowl, stir the yeast and honey into the warm water and let stand for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to begin blooming (it will start to look creamy). Add in the flour, mashed potatoes, and 1 teaspoon of the salt and mix briefly with a wooden spoon. While the dough is still wet, add in the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and use your hands to mix the dough until it begins to come together. Transfer the dough to a well-floured board and knead for 10 minutes until the texture of the dough is smooth and firm. The dough will be slightly sticky, so flour the board as necessary.
Place the 2 Tablespoons of olive oil in another large mixing bowl and use your hands to rub it around the interior of the bowl. Place the dough in the oiled bowl and roll it around to coat it thoroughly. Cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and place it in a draft-free area to rise until doubled, about 1½ hours.
Finish the focaccia
Place 4-6 Tablespoons of olive oil onto the sheet pan and use your hands to rub it around the bottom and sides of the pan. Turn out the risen dough directly onto the oiled sheet pan, and use your fingertips to gently press the dough towards the edges. Do not force the dough–the dough may not reach the edges completely. Cover the sheet pan with a clean dishtowel and let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then use your fingertips to finish stretching the dough to the edges. Cover the pan again and place it in a draft-free area to rise for 45 minutes.
While the dough is in its second rise, slice the peeled and washed Russet potatoes thinly with a mandoline. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add in 2 Tablespoons of salt. Add the sliced potatoes to the boiling water and stir them carefully. Blanch the potato slices for 2-3 minutes, or until they are tender (but not breaking apart). Drain the potato slices through a colander and leave them in the colander to cool slightly.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Set the rack in the center of the oven.
Uncover the dough on the sheet pan and use your fingertips to dimple the dough, making sure not to press through to the bottom. Drizzle 4 Tablespoons of olive oil over the unbaked focaccia and gently spread it around with your fingers, making sure to coat the surface evenly. Dimple the dough again if necessary. Next, arrange the blanched potato slices over the surface of the focaccia. Drizzle 2 Tablespoons of olive oil over the potatoes and sprinkle them evenly with the remaining 2 teaspoons Kosher salt, the black pepper, and the minced, fresh rosemary.
Bake the focaccia for 25-30 minutes until puffed, and golden. As the focaccia bakes, you should hear it sizzling on the baking sheet as the bottom fries and crisps in the olive oil. The potato slices should be golden and crisp at the edges. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow it to cool on the baking sheet set on a cooling rack for 5-7 minutes. To remove the focaccia from the sheet pan, run a knife around the edge and either gently lift it out or invert it onto a cutting board and flip it back over, potato-side up. Serve immediately.