It’s been nagging at me that I promised further info on this, oh, about two months ago. Better late than never, right?
This recipe is a good example of where recipes come from. Here’s how this one evolved: nearly two years ago, I had lunch in one of my favorite Canberra cafes: a hearty minestrone, with pesto cheese toast alongside. The combination lodged in my brain, and when I made minestrone for guests last winter, I made pesto cheese crostini to go with it, to the appreciation of all. So now the two items are forever associated in my mind. The last time I made minestrone for guests, however, I didn’t feel like doing the last-minute faff that is required for the pesto cheese crostini. I mulled over alternatives, and then hit upon the idea of putting the pesto and cheese inside the bread, so I could get that part out of the way ahead of time.
It so happened that, around the time I was pondering all this, I was also researching focaccia recipes, trying to determine whether I could use my regular bread dough to make it, or whether I had to make a customized bread recipe. Having come to the conclusion that it’s the presentation (flat, with a dimpled top) and the accessories (brushed-on olive oil, salt, herbs, etc.) that make plain old bread into focaccia, I resolved to make a focaccia with a layer of stuff in the middle. This is the result.
I’m usually pretty lax about rising times when I make bread, but I will note that a second rise of at least an hour at room temperature is an important feature of this recipe. It helps provide the puffy texture that good focaccia has, as well as helping the whole construction to seal itself together.
1 recipe bread dough
3-5 heaping Tbsp pesto (or basil-cashew-parmesan dip, since it’s multi-purpose and I’m way more likely to have it around)
2-3 handfuls shredded parmigiano reggiano
2-3 Tbsp good-quality oil
salt (a nice chunky salt is great here)
Make the bread according to directions, and leave to rise for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or until doubled in size.
Line a large baking tray with baking parchment, and set aside. (Tip: I often spray the baking tray to get the baking parchment to stick down and not slide around while I’m maneuvering the bread dough on it.)
Knock the air out of the risen bread dough. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 2 equal pieces. Set one aside and roll the other out into a rectangle roughly the size of your baking tray. Lift from the counter and position on the prepared tray.
Spread the rolled-out dough with the pesto, followed by the cheese.
Roll out the second piece of dough to the same size as the first, and place on top. Press down lightly to help the two pieces adhere. Cover with another piece of baking parchment and leave to rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 225C/450F. Remove the baking parchment covering the risen dough. Poke your fingers into the dough all over the surface to make dimples, then spread liberally with olive oil. Scatter salt over the top.
Bake focaccia for 30-40 minutes, or until the top looks golden-brown and it smells done.
Enjoy alongside minestrone or other hearty soup of your choice. Makes 12-18 pieces, depending on how you cut them.