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Author Notes: Living in Italy, Saturdays meant two things. It meant I had to attend a half day of school, but it also meant that I would be rewarded with the best sandwich on earth when I got home.
I would return from school around the same time my father got back from the Saturday market. He would trudge up the long flights of steps to our home, carrying bags of fresh produce and bread in one arm and my little sister in the other. Once he piled all the grocery bags on the kitchen table, I would dive in, on the hunt tomatoes and fresh focaccia to make the simplest, most perfect sandwich ever.
An important part of the sandwich is the shape of the focaccia: for the ultimate sandwich, you need the round, panino style focaccia. The crispy crust is by far the best part about focaccia, and the round shape makes sure that you get a lot of it! These are the vehicles for mayonnaise, ripe tomato slices, culminating in a simple little piece of heaven for lunch.
In my recreation of this sandwich, I used Marcella’s famous focaccia recipe, adapting it slightly by switching out the large baking pans or several small pie tins.
Makes: 5 panini
Focaccia (slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking)
packet dry active yeast
cups lukewarm water
cups unbleached flour
tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 inch metal pie tins
extra virgin olive oil for smearing the pan
a baking stone
A mixture of: ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 teaspoon salt
a pastry brush
- Dissolve the yeast by stirring it into ½ cup lukewarm water, and let it stand about 10 minutes or slightly less.
- Combine the yeast and 1 cup of flour in a bowl, mixing them thoroughly. Then add the 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, Â¾ cup water, and half the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly until the dough feels soft, but compact, and no longer sticks to the hands. Put in the remaining flour and ¾ cup water, and mix thoroughly once again. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and add only as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable, soft, but not too sticky. On a very damp, rainy day, for example, you may need less water and more of the flour.
- Take the dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard several times, until it is stretched out lengthwise. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. It will have a tapered, roll-like shape. Pick up the dough, holding it by one of the tapered ends, lift it high above the counter, and slap it down hard again several times, stretching it out in a lengthwise direction. Reach for the far end, and repeat the kneading motion with the heel of your palm and your wrist, bringing it close to you once more. Work the dough in this manner for 10 minutes. At the end, pat it into a round shape. Food processor note: The preceding 2 steps may be carried out in the food processor, but the hand method, aside from the physical satisfactions it provides, produces a focaccia with better texture.
- Smear the middle a plate with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, put the kneaded, rounded dough on it, cover it with a damp cloth, and leave it to rise for about 1½ hours
- When the indicated rising time has elapsed, cut the dough into five equal portions, and stretch out the dough each tin, spreading it toward the edges so that it covers the entire pan to a depth of about 1/4 inch. Cover each tin with a damp towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.
- At least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put the baking stone in the oven and preheat oven to 450°.
- When the second rising time for the dough has elapsed, keeping the fingers of your hand stiff, poke the dough all over, making many little hollows with your fingertips. Beat the mixture of oil, water, and salt with a small whisk or a fork for a few minutes until you have obtained a fairly homogeneous emulsion, then pour it slowly over the dough, using a brush to spread it all the way out to the edges of each pan. You will find that the liquid will pool in the hollows made by your fingertips. Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Check the focaccia after 15 minutes. If you find it is cooking faster on one side than another, turn the pan accordingly. Bake for another couple of minutes if the focaccia isn’t brown on top. Lift the focaccia out of the pan with spatulas, and transfer it to a cooling rack.
fresh tomato, sliced
good quality mayonnaise
- Cut the focaccia sandwich style
- Spread each half with mayonnaise, and layer with tomato. Enjoy!
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Sandwich Recipe