Makes 1 large loaf

Focaccia, a flat Italian bread traditionally flavoured with herbs, olive oil and salt, originated in Genoa. Shops and stalls throughout the town sell slabs of the bread and we have enjoyed perhaps more than we should have done down on the redeveloped water front. I was surprised to see trays of breads topped with potatoes as well as more predictable veg such as aubergines and tomatoes. I hesitate to call this recipe a true focaccia as it is much thicker than many that you would be served in northern Italy. However, baking in a 20cm tin like this allows for some of the bread to be split and toasted with toppings, which makes a quick lunchtime pizza-cum-panini.

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• 400g strong white bread flour

• 8g salt

• 1 tsp dried sage

• 250g active sourdough starter

• 25ml olive oil plus a little extra

• 175ml tepid water

• 1 clove garlic

• Polenta or semolina

• Sea salt flakes

1. Mix the flour and salt in a medium bowl with the dried sage, and the starter, olive oil and water in a large bowl. Peel the garlic and grate it finely into the liquid mixture. Pour the flour into the liquid, mix until coming together with a wooden spoon, then pull together into a dough with your hand. It may be sticky but don’t be tempted to add more flour. If very sticky just flour your hand, then knead the dough in the bowl by folding it in on itself and pressing down, then turning the bowl a quarter turn in front of you. Do this 10 times: fold, press, turn; fold, press, turn. The dough will start to change under your hands. Cover with the other bowl and leave for 10 minutes.

2. Press the dough out flat in the base of the bowl. If it is sticky put just a little flour onto the back of your knuckles then fold, press and turn as above another 10 times. Cover and leave for 10 minutes.

3. Repeat until the dough has been kneaded 4 times, then cover and leave for 1 hour.

4. Oil a 20cm square baking tin quite generously with more olive oil and scatter some polenta over the base of the tin.

5. Knead the dough again and then shape it into a square and press it into the prepared tin for the mega-proving which will take 4-6 hours depending on the temperature in your kitchen. Keep the dough covered during this process – I have split a large freezer bag to be flat and I oil that to place over the tin.

6. Once the dough fills the tin it is ready to bake. Dimple the top of the bread all over with your fingers – it seems a bit counter-intuitive but do it! Then drizzle with more olive oil, add any toppings (see above and below) and scatter with some sea salt flakes.

7. Place in a cold oven set at gas mark 6, 200C and bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Ease a palette or round bladed knife around the bread to loosen it in the tin then ease it out and allow it to cool before eating.

The polenta helps the loaf out of the tin and makes a crunchy crust.

Top Tips:

• I have written this as a recipe for sourdough but of course you could make it with dried yeast using your usual recipe. Simply adjust the quantity of water to accommodate the olive oil in the mix.

• I talk about ‘if the dough is too sticky’ in the method above. If it seems a little dry just wet your hands before each of the kneadings to moisten it.

• Olive oils – virgin, extra virgin, never-even-thought-about-sex……. The extraction of oil from olives has become much more efficient with the use of modern centrifuges and so much of the olive oil that we buy now is extra virgin, i.e. from the first extraction – or pressing by more traditional methods. This is great for everyday olive oils and certainly I buy the majority of mine from Lidl these days. However, for special salads and dishes where the quality of the oil can shine I use the Zaytoun Fairtrade oil, or special estate oils purchased when browsing the shelves of independent delis and retailers. If you are an olive oil fan look out for my friend Judy Ridgway – does anyone know as much about it as she does? I don’t think so!

• Toppings for your bread – as I said in the intro, when I first saw potato on bread I just thought Carb Overload but it is very good! My loaf in these pictures had 4 small cooked new potatoes from the night before sliced and pressed into the ‘dimpling holes’ (there’s probably a technical name for them but I don’t know what it is!) and a little bit of leftover shallot from a salad the lunchtime before baking. It is the shallot that has blacked but it still tasted great.

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