Artichoke & Roasted Red Pepper Focaccia

Located near Pittsburgh’s downtown core is a one half square mile area known as the Strip District. This landmark neighborhood is home to a wide variety of gritty independent retail shops, ethnic food emporiums and local restaurants. The place is not for those seeking to wrap themselves in the sanitized comfort of a suburban strip mall or a corporate grocery store. It’s packed on the weekends and the sidewalks are always cluttered with tidbits to purchase.

I started to crave the ever evolving energy that surrounds the Strip as the weather began to get warmer. With each Saturday morning visit, something different seemed spark my interest and inspire me to cook differently. It was a recent visit where I discovered an amazing loaf of focaccia bread that was piled high with artichokes and roasted red peppers. A perfect complement to the pasta dinner I had planned that evening. There was one unexpected catch though. The bread was so darn good; I kept slicing tiny slivers until it was completely gone. The last piece disappeared hours before dinner!

This recipe was adopted from the notes my friend Diana took while attending a fresh mozzarella making class we took together back in March. It’s extremely easy and versatile to make. There’s no problem if you don’t like artichokes and red peppers. A simple sprinkling of course salt on top before the final baking process is a perfect universal alternative.

Artichoke and Roasted Red Pepper Focaccia
1 ½ cups of warm water, between 110 – 120 degrees
1 quick rise yeast packet
2 Tbl. extra virgin olive oil + more for pan
3 ½ cups flour + more for kneading
1 tsp. kosher salt + more for top
6 – 8 oz. marinated cooked artichokes, drained
1 red pepper, roasted and deseeded
½ Tbl. dry oregano
3 – 6 Tbl. parmesan cheese, grated

In a medium measuring cup, combine the water and yeast. Stir until the yeast dissolves and let sit for 5 – 8 minutes until small bubbles appear around the edges. Add the olive oil to the wet mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and salt. Slowly pour the wet mixture into the flour while stirring at the same time. Continue to stir just until the dough forms into a ball.

Lightly dust a board with flour. Knead the dough roughly 10 times while adding flour with each turn. The dough should be wet, but not overly sticky. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a clean large mixing bowl. Add the dough to be bottom and flip to completely cover the ball with olive oil. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until double in volume.

Coat the bottom of a half sheet pan with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. You can use a 9” X 13” cake pan if you want. Just be sure to oil the sides. Lightly punch down the dough and turn it out onto the oiled pan. Pat the dough evenly into the pan. While using the tips of your fingers, punch small holes in the dough. This will create dimples during the second rise. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled in volume.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roughly dice the artichokes and red peppers into medium sized chunks. Brush the top of the dough with 2 tablespoons with olive oil. Sprinkle the top with the diced artichokes, red pepper oregano, parmesan cheese, and generously season with salt.

Bake the focaccia at 400 degrees for approximately 25 – 30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Lightly tap the bread. It will have a hollow sound when it’s fully baked.

Authors Note: I learned it’s important to generously season the top with kosher salt before baking. It really adds a nice salty crunch to the bread. Also, I do not like using a mixer or food processor to make this dough. I feel it causes the bread to be too tough.

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