In Which the Dinner Loaf is a Mashup Involving Italy and the UK…

Smoky Double-Cheddar Foccacia

I’ve noticed that some of my favorite British celebrity chefs are so seriously into Italian food.  Jamie Oliver actually went on a road trip through Italy, sampling and trying his hand at cooking regional delicacies.  Nigella Lawson, on the other hand, frequently cites the time she actually lived in Italy and just as frequently quotes the Anglo-Italian cookery writer Anna del Conte.

It was from the fabulous Ms. Lawson that I picked up the notion of bringing British flavors into a classic Italian dish.  In How to be a Domestic Goddess, she had a recipe for pizza rustica all’ Inglese – a thoroughly Anglo-Saxon spin on that savory, overstuffed Italian cross between a standard-issue pizza and a calzone.  Instead of using the usual suspects (Pecorino, Parmesan, mozzarella, and ricotta; plus pepperoni, luganega (sage-infused pork sausage), pancetta, and prosciutto), she swapped it all for Lancashire cheese, some Cheddar, bacon, and local bangers.

Well, I wasn’t in the mood for something as Baroque as that when I was making dinner last night, but I did want to add a bit of a British twist to an Italian favorite to keep everyone in the family from suffering from palate fatigue.  Since I was cooking a chicken ragu to go on pasta (recipe tomorrow), I decided to bake a loaf of foccacia to go with it.  However, instead of doing it the usual way, I decided to bake it along the lines of standard-issue bacon butty.

Saveur magazine featured the bacon butty in its all-sandwich issue last year.  It’s a simple affair that involves tucking plenty of crisp bacon between two slices of buttered bread and served with heaps of brown sauce or ketchup.  The loaf of bread I made took some inspiration from this in the sense that it involves swapping the olive oil normally used for foccacia with rendered [melted] bacon fat to give it a good, smoky flavor.  The usual combo of basil and oregano was replaced with a mix of dried sage and marjoram – both of which partner well with pork.  To add even more British-ness to the loaf, I replaced the Italian cheeses with some grated sharp Cheddar and smoked Cheddar.  The addition of crumbled bacon to the dough was just the right touch for this loaf to serve double-duty as both a side dish and a snack on its own.

Smoky Double-Cheddar Foccacia

  • 500 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
  • 1 sachet (7 grams) fast-acting yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 300mL hand-hot water
  • 3 tablespoons bacon fat or rendered lard
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cooked bacon
  • 1 tablespoon grated sharp Cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon grated smoked Cheddar
Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl except for the cheeses. Make a well in the center. Pour in the water and 2 tablespoons bacon fat. Mix until it resembles a shaggy mess. Knead the mixture for about ten minutes, adding extra flour to ease handling. Form dough into a ball and cover with a clean dishtowel; allow to rise for an hour. In the meantime, butter a large baking dish.
When the dough has risen and doubled in bulk, press it into the prepared dish. Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees/Gas Mark 7. Cover the dough with the dishtowel a second time and let prove for thirty minutes.  Combine the remaining bacon fat and the cheeses.  Dimple the surface of the dough with your fingers, then evenly spread the cheese mixture over it.
Bake the loaf for ten minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees/Gas Mark 5. Bake for an additional twenty minutes. Allow to cool for about five minutes after you’ve taken it out of the oven before cutting into fingers.
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