High summer and we’re inundated with an abundance of impossibly sweet, gloriously fragrant , deeply hued vine ripened tomatoes. At the moment I can’t seem to get enough of the mini cherry and roma varieties. Little peak season flavour bombs bursting with deliciousness. I can eat them by the punnet, each pop transporting me back in time to my father’s garden and the simple pleasure of plump tomatoes plucked directly from the vine. I’d inhale their sun kissed sweetness before taking them into the kitchen.
As with all perfectly ripe “in season” produce, the simplest preparations are always the best. A classic caprese salad, a fresh tomato salsa or perhaps this; a roasted cherry tomato and garlic focaccia. Served as part of a simple antipasto platter, with cured meats, baby bocconcini and pesto, it’s quickly becoming our go to meal for a lazy Friday night. Each bite filled with peak summer deliciousness, washed down with an aperol spritz or two for good measure.
Last Friday night, in a nod to Valentine’s Day weekend, I even baked half my dough in little heart shaped tins, reducing baking time to just 20 minutes. It’s an incredibly forgiving recipe, the trick is to activate the yeast first and make sure it’s nice and frothy before adding it to the flour. Yeast loves tepid, lukewarm water and like a recalcitrant child can be rather fickle. Too hot or cold and it stubbornly won’t comply. Once mixed and kneaded to a smooth, silky elasticity, prove the dough until it doubles in size, punch down, divide amongst your baking tins and top with tomatoes, slivered garlic and plenty of extra virgin olive oil (or whatever else takes your fancy). It really is one of the easiest and most delicious breads you’ll ever bake. I promise. A worthy rival to our other tried and true family favourite Annabel Langbein’s crusty mashed potato flatbread.
Roasted Cherry Tomato And Garlic Focaccia
Makes one large rectangular focaccia or two 20cm rounds.
2 sachets (5 teaspoons) active dried yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 cups luke warm water divided
5 cups strong white bread flour
1/2 cup finely ground semolina
1 tablespoon salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided, plus a little extra for oiling your bowl and baking tin
1 large punnet cherry tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
sea-salt flakes and freshly ground pepper, to season
fresh basil leaves, to garnish
COMBINE yeast and sugar with 1/4 cup luke warm water. Set aside to stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. When activated the mixture will bubble and froth. A useful rule of thumb for lukewarm water is to use one part freshly boiled water to two parts cold.
PLACE flour, semolina and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add activated yeast, three tablespoons olive oil and one and a half cups of the remaining water. Bring together with a wooden spoon to form a soft (but not too sticky) dough. Add more water if needed.
DUST a work bench with flour. Turn the dough out onto the bench and knead for 10 minutes by hand until the dough is smooth, springy and elastic. Use the heel of your hand to push and stretch the dough. Lift and fold it towards you, making a quarter turn. Continue kneading, turning the dough a quarter turn each time, for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth.
PLACE the ball of dough into a clean oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave in a warm place to rest and relax for about an hour or until it has nearly doubled in size.
WHEN the dough has risen, punch the dough with your hands to knock the air out of the dough.
GENEROUSLY brush a large baking tin (about 30cm x 20cm) or two 20cm round tart tins with olive oil.
PLACE deflated dough into prepared tin(s). Gently flatten and stretch to fit your tin, press fingertips over the surface of the dough to create dimples.
HALVE cherry tomatoes and slice garlic into thin slivers. Press tomato halves and garlic into the dimples and drizzle over the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scatter with sea salt and freshly ground pepper
LEAVE focaccia to rise, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 200 C and just before baking, gently dimple the dough again with your fingertips.
BAKE in hot oven for 30 – 35 minutes until focaccia is golden and tomatoes blistered. Remove from tin, turn over and tap the base; if it sounds hollow it’s ready.
TRANSFER focaccia to a wire rack, drizzle over another tablespoon of olive oil. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before scattering over fresh basil leaves and slicing. Serve warm or at room temperature.