A little over eleven years ago I was working as a nanny of two young boys, oblivious to the future I had in professional cooking and unaware of the wild and wonderful journey into the culinary world that I was about to embark on and never return from.
At the time, my family was fortunate enough to be friends with the owners of the best restaurant in our small
town. Two heads and shoulders above the Chinese buffets and truck-stop cafes that lined the highway, the Little Onion Restaurant offered succulent dishes such as Smoked Alaskan Black Cod and Jamaican Jerk Rack of Lamb. They were the best for countless reasons, among them being their homemade sorbet and ice cream, and perhaps most impressive of all, daily fresh-baked focaccia. British Columbia
It usually was just coming out of the oven when the doors opened at 5-o-clock and as soon as clients were seated, it arrived at their table: warm, sliced into generous wedges and served with accompanying olive oil and balsamic vinegar. (remember the oil and vinegar of the 9o’s?)
There was no one in town eating better that night than those guests.
My path crossed with the Little Onion one day when the sous chef walked out on George, head chef and owner, hours before a busy Saturday night service. Over an espresso at the bar, George lamented to my father that he didn’t know what he was going to do and so my father offered:
“My Aimee is pretty handy in the kitchen. Why don’t you have her come in and help out?”
I guess George figured he had nothing to lose and so that evening I found myself thrust into the most thrilling environment I had ever encountered: a bustling, swinging, hot, professional restaurant kitchen.
I loved every minute of it.
At the end of the evening, George poured me a glass of chilled Riesling and spoke three words that I'll never forget.
“You’re a natural."
Then, to my delight -and terror- he offered me a permanent position.
The rest is history. George took me under his wing and gave me a crash course in culinary education. It was in that small kitchen where I got my first second degree burn from boiling sugar, left a piece of my palm in the mandolin, and got hooked, really hooked, on espressos.
It was the best of times.
George's focaccia was something I never got sick of, even though I had it for dinner most nights, stuffed with some caramelized onions and homemade charcuterie. The smell of it baking never failed to make my stomach growl and it was one of the recipes I kept over the years.
It's simple to make and always a crowd pleaser, whether you are throwing an antipasto party or just dining on a humble lasagna.
400 ml warm water
1 tablespoon dry yeast
½ teaspoon sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, yeast and sugar. Whisk quickly with a fork, then leave to sit for five or ten minutes until the yeast starts to dissolve and bubble.
Add half of the flour and the salt to the yeast mixture. With a dough hook attachment, beat batter on medium high until well combined. Add remaining flour and combine slowly, scraping down the dough hook and sides of the bowl as needed, until mixture comes together in a smooth dough. Knead on low speed for 3 to 4 minutes until dough is soft and elastic. You may need to add another handful of flour or two. Dough should still be slightly tacky.
Remove from bowl. Wash bowl, dry well and coat with olive oil. Place dough back in bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk- about 1 ½ hours.
Preheat oven to 400F
Generously oil two 8-inch round pizza pans with olive oil. Turn dough out onto counter and without punching dough down, divide in two with a sharp knife. Place a round of dough on each pizza pan and press gently with fingertips to flatten slightly and fill out the pan.
Allow to rest 10 minutes.
Drizzle a little olive oil on top of the focaccia and sprinkle with your choice of fresh herbs and a generous helping of coarse salt.
Bake about 15 minutes until bottom of focaccia is lightly golden and the top has a nice color as well.
Cool slightly, then slice into wedges and serve warm.
This focaccia is best eaten the same day it is made, but it does freeze well. To reheat, crisp in oven.