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Recipe: Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia

Fancy trying your hand at making focaccia? Head chef at Food Social Andrew Wilkinson explains how

Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia
Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia

There's nothing to rival the smell of freshly baked bread and we serve our own homemade varieties here at Food Social.

One of the most popular is our focaccia, which we serve with locally produced Yellow Fields rapeseed oil and dukka (a delicious Middle Eastern mix of herbs, toasted hazelnuts and spices) which is great for tearing and sharing over a pre-dinner drink.

We also do a fab homemade baba ghanoush (eggplant puree) and hummus teamed with grilled pittas – another popular side order.

I’ve never understood why more people don’t make their own breads. It’s easy, therapeutic (a great way of punching out any frustrations!) and you know what’s going into it.

Admittedly, some varieties are easier than others to make, but that’s one of the joys. And it’s a myth that it takes ages. In terms of your time it actually takes very little – it’s the dough that does all the work for you.

You can go off and do other things while the dough gets to work of its own accord. You don’t need any fancy equipment either, unless you want to spend lots of money on elaborate bread making machines.

All you need is your hands (working the dough is great exercise) and an oven. Honestly. If you don’t mind the mess, you can make the dough straight on your kitchen counter top. If you don’t like the idea of the flour going everywhere, get a good sized bowl.

You don’t even need bread tins unless you want to make regular sized and shaped sandwich loaves. If you prefer something more rustic, then just form the dough into your own shapes and bake on a tray.

Among the easiest, trendiest and most versatile breads are wraps and flatbreads. Not only are they quick to make (many don’t require a raising agent like yeast), but they’re terrific for getting kids cooking and for al fresco summertime dining as you can easily fill them with lots of exciting and healthy ingredients.

Even better, you can add lots of exciting ingredients to the flatbreads themselves. Wild garlic is amazing, but you can also use roasted peppers and fresh or roasted cherry tomatoes, herbs and spices likes cardamom, coriander and chives, cheeses, chopped nuts, raisins and sultanas.

Homemade flatbreads, wraps, tortillas (call them what you want) taste so much better than the mass-produced ones.

They are best eaten heated through in a frying pan and left to blacken a little so you get a fabulous flamed flavour. Then add your favourite fillings or tear them into chunks to scoop up freshly made hummus, as diners are invited to do here at Food Social.

Our focaccia takes slightly longer to make but is far from fiddly. And it’s really adaptable. We may serve it for tearing and sharing (I love the way it soaks up the rape seed oil), but focaccia is a great sandwich bread and also makes a good alternative to a normal pizza base.

Ours is made with sea salt and rosemary, but cheese, olives and red onions all taste equally good and turn an everyday staple into something special.

For a long time bread was seen just as a lunchbox staple. It came in white or brown and was churned out by commercial bakeries.

While we like to keep things local here at Food Social, ensuring as much as possible comes from within a 50-mile radius of the Newcastle restaurant, it’s our love of foreign travel that has given rise to a new and more adventurous bread lover willing to try more exotic and unusual types.

And while some purists may turn their noses up at naan, chapatis, ciabatta and focaccia, I’m putting my dough on people realising there’s more to the staff of life than sliced white.

Andrew Wilkinson is head chef at David Kennedy’s Food Social, 16 Stoddart Street, Shieldfield, Newcastle, NE2 1AN, 0191 260 5411, www.foodsocial.co.uk . Open 12-2pm and 5.30-10pm, Monday to Saturday, and 12-3pm, Sunday.

RECIPE OF THE WEEK Rosemary and Sea Salt Focaccia (Makes two loaves)

Ingredients

1 kilo plain white flour

20g sea salt

Bunch rosemary, roughly chopped

10g fresh yeast

4tbs olive oil

700ml tepid water

Method

Put all the ingredients, including the rosemary leaves and water, into a large bowl. Bring everything together with your hands and form into a rough ball. The dough should be soft, but not sticky.

Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for between 10-15 minutes to form a smooth and fairly soft dough.

Put the dough back into a lightly oiled bowl, cover loosely with film and leave to rise in a warm place for 90 minutes until it has doubled in size.

When it’s ready, turn it out onto a floured surface and lightly knock it back with your knuckles to let the air out.

Cut the dough in half. Line two large baking trays with greaseproof paper (or you can lightly oil them). Form both halves of the dough into rectangles, place one on each tray and gently ease out towards the edges. Loosely cover with cling film again and leave for a further 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C /425F/gas mark 7. Drizzle each focaccia with a little olive oil, allowing it to sink into the dough, sprinkle over the sea salt and bake for 25 minutes or until risen and golden brown.

As an alternative try adding black olives, 100g of sundried tomatoes or even caraway seeds to the dough.

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