At school, Joseph Vargetto’s lunch boxes were always a little different to those of his classmates. “I never had a lunch order at school. I didn’t understand what it meant to have someone other than your mum prepare your lunch. I thought that the kids who had lunch orders must not have had families.”
The compartments of Vargetto’s lunch box were filled with the kind of homely Italian cooking that many Melburnians have come to know and love: focaccia, panini, cotoletta, meatballs. Here he shares a recipe that’s the starting point of many good Italian sandwiches: fresh focaccia.
“Mum always made bread and there was always rosemary in the backyard,” says Joseph Vargetto in his book Siciliano. “The smell of bread being made was a constant in our house. The kitchen was often full of bowls of proving and rising dough covered with towels. It was a simple process with the focaccia – flour, water and yeast with oil, salt and rosemary on the top. That’s it!”
If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can mix all ingredients in a large bowl and use your hands to knead the dough on a work surface. You will need to allow more time for kneading.
310ml warm water
2 tbsp dried yeast
2 tsp honey
3½ tbsp olive oil
450g plain flour
1 tsp salt
To sprinkle on top
2 tsp sea salt flakes
1½ tsbp fresh rosemary leaves
Combine all the dough ingredients together in the bowl of a stand mixer, except for the salt, as we add this near the end of the mixing to ensure the growth of the yeast is not impacted. Mix with dough hook for at least 5 minutes, then add salt and continue mixing for another 5 minutes, making sure the mixture is consistent and smooth.
Leave to rest for 30 minutes at ambient temperature (28°C). Once the dough has nearly doubled in size, roll it out on a baking tray that has been greased well. Poke your fingertips into the dough to achieve a ‘crater’ effect.
Brush the dough well with more olive oil, and sprinkle rosemary and sea salt on top. Let the focaccia rest again at ambient temperature for approximately 20 minutes to allow the yeast to rise. While the focaccia rests, preheat the oven to 220°C.
Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with your favourite preserves and salami.
This is an edited extract from Siciliano by Joseph Vargetto, published by Melbourne Books (RRP $49.95). Available from 24 November from good booksellers, online and in-store.