Focaccia silences my self-restraint and my manners. If someone gives me focaccia, I’ll have eaten half of it on the drive home. If I bake it myself, I’ll slice off bit by bit every time I walk through the kitchen. Others in my family have a similar reaction, causing me to realize—as we all greedily eyed the last piece of focaccia during one lazy backyard happy hour—that this simple Italian bread could become my best party trick, ever.
Italy made focaccia famous, but the yeasted flatbread originated on the north shores of the Mediterranean centuries ago. Flour, water, and yeast form a basic dough that gets dimpledand baked with lots of olive oil and salt to produce an incredibly tender, moist bread. Since the bread is so simple, it often becomes a canvas for highlighting other ingredients like herbs, olives, or tomatoes. In fact, at the beginning of quarantine earlier this year, America became briefly entranced by “focaccia gardens”—focaccia studded with a variety of ingredients to form floral designs.
That moment faded, but focaccia’s renaissance has not. It’s one of the easiest breads to make and one of the hardest to mess up. With a little thinking ahead, you can time it so you’re pulling a warm pan of focaccia out of the oven to slice and serve with drinks before dinner. This recipe lets the dough rest in the refrigerator overnight or longer to develop the flavor before getting topped with flaky salt, fresh herbs, curls of roasted squash, and a drizzle of honey.
It is comforting and crave-worthy and looks impressive: the perfect thing to serve at a small dinner party, or even just a family supper to brighten dark autumn evenings. That is—if you can bring yourself to share.
Ingredients: Honey & Herb Focaccia with Autumn Squash
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups lukewarm water
2 tsp. instant yeast
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 small butternut squash
2 Tbs. rosemary leaves
1 Tbs. thyme leaves
4 Tbs. olive oil
Pepper and coarse, flaky salt
Honey, for drizzling
1. The day before you plan to bake focaccia, stir together flour, yeast, and kosher salt in a large glass bowl. Stir in lukewarm water until a sticky dough ball forms. Rub a bit of olive oil over the dough, cover the bowl, and let dough rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight, or at least 12 hours.
2. The next day, before baking pour 2 Tbs. of olive oil into a quarter-sheet pan (or 9×13 glass baking dish). Gently deflate the risen dough in the bowl and turn it out onto the oiled sheet pan. Turn to coat and then gently stretch the dough to cover the sheet pan. Allow the dough to rest on the counter for 3–4 hours to finish rising.
3. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Remove outer peel from butternut squash and then use the vegetable peeler to peel long, vertical curls of squash, rotating the squash as you work around, until you have enough curls to generously cover the surface of another quarter-sheet pan (you may have some squash left over). Toss the squash curls with 1 Tbs. of olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes in the oven until softened.
4. When dough has risen, pour 1 Tbs. of olive oil over the dough. Use your fingers to dimple the surface of the dough, creating little craters and stretching the dough to fill the pan, if necessary. Sprinkle with flaky salt and half of the fresh herbs. Press roasted squash curls into the dough (use more than you think; the squash will shrink in the oven) and season again with more salt and the rest of the herbs.
5. Bake in oven at 425ºF for 25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let cool in pan on cooling racks for 10 minutes. Drizzle generously with honey, cut into slices, and serve warm.
Photography by Jivan Davé