The Language of Food
Riso al Forno alla Siciliana

Focaccia ai Quattro Sapori


I am in Italy at my mother's house for three weeks. It is beautiful here, and hot, and I am stuck indoors most of the time, writing recipe headnotes for the German baking book, which is due to the publisher on October 1st.


The good thing is that this means that soon - soon! - we shall have a title. Maybe even a subtitle. I am so ready to give this baby a name. Also to stop baking cake every other day, but that is a story for another time.

Back to Italy: As I have mentioned too many times to count, my mother is not a big fan of, um, cooking. She mostly just endures it, though a few recipes have managed to rouse some enthusiasm out of her, like Deb's carrot-harissa salad that I think she makes at least once a month. With gusto! Go figure.

Since we are here for three whole weeks and both Max and Hugo require more at mealtimes than a green salad snipped from the garden and the closest grocery store is a 15-minute car ride and every time one of us mentions having to leave the inflatable kiddie pool because we need more groceries another certain someone starts screeching and yelping like some sort of mortally wounded small mammal and it's just easier for everyone to keep that kind of nonsense to a minimum, I started meal planning when we got here. I work 4 to 5 days in advance. We're not talking complicated stuff here - oftentimes meals are just pasta with a sauce (spaghetti with clams, or gnocchi with butter and sage, for example) and a boiled vegetable, but it helps so much to have it written all down and shopped for. In fact, I'm not sure who's more pleased with this development, me or my mother.

To fill in a few holes here and there in the menu planning (we can't, after all, eat pasta every day, though my husband and child would be thrilled if we did), I went through a few of my mother's random recipe booklets that she tucks inside a cupboard. In one of them, I found a very promising recipe for something called Focaccia ai quattro sapori. I promised the good people on Instagram that if it turned out to be any good that I'd blog about it. And guess what.



What it is is a big square piece of plain dough topped with sautéed Swiss chard, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced mozzarella and anchovies. It helps, of course, that the chard came from the garden and the tomatoes taste like candy and the mozzarella is soft and funky and the anchovies rich and meaty, but something tells me that even with less-than stellar ingredients, this will still taste pretty darn good.

So here you go, no more dilly-dallying:

Focaccia ai quattro sapori
Serves 6 as an appetizer or 4 as a meal with a salad

1 batch pizza dough*
Olive oil
2 big handfuls Swiss chard (unless the stalks are quite thin, strip the leaves from the stalks and use the stalks for something else)
1 ball of mozzarella, halved and sliced
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved
4-5 anchovies in oil, halved

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Pat and pull the prepared dough out onto the sheet until relatively even and thin. I made a crust, but next time I wouldn't. Do as you like.

2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan and sauté the Swiss chard leaves until dark and wilted, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt.

3. Distribute the sautéed chard evenly over the crust. Distribute the mozzarella evenly over the chard. Distribute the cherry tomatoes and then the anchovies evenly over the pizza. Drizzle with a little extra olive and sprinkle with two small pinches of salt. Set aside while you preheat the oven to 190C/375 F.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let cool at least 5 minutes before slicing into squares and serving. My mother and I liked this best as an aperitivo before dinner and ate a couple squares apiece. My husband liked it best as dinner and basically housed the rest.

*If you are lucky enough to live near a pizzeria or store that sells freshly made pizza dough, just buy that. Otherwise, make your favorite pizza dough. If you don't have a favorite pizza dough, try this: Measure out 300 grams of flour (about 2 1/2 cups) and put in a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon instant yeast (not active dry!). And about a 3/4 teaspoon of salt. Then add about 2/3 cup of water (160 ml) and stir with your fingers. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil and keep stirring. You may need a little more flour or a little more water, it sort of depends on where you are. When the dough is shaggy but holding together, dump it out onto your work surface and knead. You can use some flour to keep the dough from sticking too much as you knead, but try not to add too much, which will make the dough stiff. It's always best to make a slightly looser dough than a too-tight one. When the dough is no longer sticky and is nicely smooth, put a drop of oil in the bowl, return the dough to the bowl, rub with a little more oil and cover with a cloth. Set it aside in a warm, draft-free spot for an hour. Then proceed with the recipe above.