Roasted garlic, rosemary and Parmesan focaccia

A rustic, but immensely satisfying focaccia, using three of my favourite savoury flavours: Parmesan, garlic and rosemary – very much a case of allowing simple ingredients to shine.

This is a bread that is hard not to devour; it is great either by itself, dipped into balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil or eaten with a gutsy, vibrant soup: roasted red pepper soup or a hearty bean and sausage soup are two of my particular favourites. But for an amazing sandwich, slice it horizontally and fill it with Parma Ham, Fontina cheese and rocket: this is great either cold or toasted, panini-style!

Thick or thin?

I prefer focaccia to be slightly on the thinner side rather than be a thick wedge.

This is crispy, but with a nice bounce to it, and is packed with the characteristic irregular shaped holes. The flavour of the olive oil comes through and the small chunks of Parmesan worked gently into the dough melt as the dough bakes, adding a subtle but gorgeously rich salty tang: a lovely note that works so well with the sweetness of the garlic and the gentle punch of the rosemary.

Flavouring the dough:

In a flavoured bread I always prefer the bread itself to be the star, with any of the flavourings coming through the bread, rather than just being thrown on top, often there almost as an after-thought. It might seem a lot of garlic in this recipe, but roasted garlic takes on such a wonderfully sweet, intense flavour, without the harshness of raw garlic.

The three key differences with this focaccia compared to many I make are:

(I) The dough itself is flavoured throughout with roasted garlic, rosemary and the wonderful garlic and rosemary oil that is made during the roasting process: the garlic almost becomes a paste as it is worked into the dough during the kneading, giving it an amazing depth of flavour throughout the crumb. The dough is also topped with a few chunks of the roasted garlic and a little rosemary prior to baking for additional bursts of flavour.

(II) The dough is given an overnight prove in the fridge before shaping. This enhances the flavour of the focaccia significantly, making an already good bread even more special!

(III) I use less yeast than I would normally use given the long proving period. This, along with the low proving temperature, ensures the rise will be slow and gentle, a combination resulting in greater depth of flavour of the bread than a quicker rise in a warm environment.

Slow-roasted garlic:

Roasted garlic cloves
Some of the roasted garlic cloves

Roasting the garlic in extra-virgin oil and a little salt for the best part of an hour at a low temperature gives the most wonderfully sweet, almost nutty flavour to the garlic – even more so than baking the bulbs whole and squeezing out the garlicky pulp. You also get a fantastic flavoured oil that is great for salad dressings, used in dips or, as is the case here, worked into the dough for extra flavour.

It might seem a bit of a chore to peel each clove, but it really is worth it. However, I often roast many more bulbs this way at the same time, popping the ones I don’t immediately use into a jar of extra-virgin olive oil and storing it in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks. These come in very handy when chopped roughly and thrown into risottos at the end of the cooking, or used instead of raw garlic for an insanely more-ish pesto. Mind you, a very simple and near-instant dip made just of the roasted garlic, a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, ricotta and lemon juice always gets polished off eagerly!

Roasted garlic, rosemary & Parmesan focaccia (makes one large focaccia)

Roasted garlic and rosemary:

  • 4 large bulbs garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
  • about a teaspoon of roughly crushed sea salt
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • about 150ml extra-virgin olive oil

Focaccia dough:

  • 500g strong plain flour
  • 10g well crushed sea salt
  • 5g easy-blend yeast
  • 420ml cold water
  • about 80ml of the garlic- and rosemary-flavoured oil (from the roasting of the garlic and rosemary)
  • 80g Parmesan, chopped into small chunks

To finish:

  • some of the garlic and rosemary oil made from the roasting
  • a few small sprigs of fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • a little extra sea salt, roughly crushed

(1) For the roasted garlic and rosemary for flavouring the dough, mix the garlic and the rosemary with the oil and the salt. Roast in an oven pre-heated to 150°C (fan) for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and softened. Leave to cool: the oil will take on a wonderful garlic and rosemary flavour that will get kneaded into the dough. NB: keep an eye on the garlic – you don’t want it to over-cook as will become firm and taste bitter; soft and quidgy is what you are after!

(2) Make the dough: mix together the flour, yeast and the salt in a large bowl. Add about 300ml of the water along with just over half of the garlic-flavoured oil, and mix until the ingredients start to come together. Add most of the roasted garlic and rosemary. Adding more water, a little at a time, mix to form a very soft and sticky dough: it might feel hard to handle but trust it!

(3) Leave it for about an hour, covered with clingfilm before kneading for 10-15 minutes, crushing the garlic well into the dough as you knead. This can be done with the dough hook attachment in a food mixer or by hand in the bowl(!) as below:
NB: As this is a particularly wet dough, though, I find it easier to knead it by grabbing an oiled handful of the dough, stretching it up out of the bowl and letting it drop back onto the main dough. I repeat this process fairly rapidly many times until the dough turns softer and silkier in texture: the gluten will develop further during the slow overnight prove.

(4) Add the Parmesan and incorporate it gently into the dough, trying to retain the chunks of Parmesan without crushing them. Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover tightly with clingfilm and chill overnight until at least doubled in size.

(5) The following day, gently turn out the dough onto a large baking tray lined with non-stick greaseproof paper – I use a shallow baking sheet that almost takes up one shelf in the oven. Lightly pat and stretch the dough to fill the base of the tray, trying not to deflate the dough too much. Cover and leave for a couple of hours at room temperature until well risen and puffy.
NB: you can split the dough to fill several smaller trays. I tend to put the focaccia into a large bin bag, arranging the bag so that the air inside it domes above the dough, preventing it from sticking.The dough needs about a hour or so to return to room temperature and then about an hour to rise enough: don’t rush it! For focaccia, I allow it to get to the stage where a few bubbles or “blisters” of dough form on the surface. 

(6) When the dough has risen, make holes with your fingers all across the surface of the dough, going right into the dough and just down to the greaseproof.  Poke the remaining roasted garlic into some of the holes, this time keep the garlic chunky, and sprinkle over a little fresh rosemary. Drizzle over a little of the oil and bake in an oven pre-heated to 200°C(fan) for 20-25 minutes until deep golden. As soon as the focaccia comes out of the oven, drizzle over some of the remaining oil and just a little salt. Leave to cool before cutting and devouring! NB: you don’t need to use up all of the oil both prior to and after baking, but be more on the generous side rather than exercising caution here!

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

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