Lemon Thyme and Fennel Focaccia
For the love of fennel – a winter warmer by Dominic Franks.
Regular readers will know of my love for fennel, both the fresh bulb with its mild aniseed flavour and fennel seeds that have a more intense and heady aniseed aroma and taste, almost verging on liquorice. The fresh bulb works wonders in a multitude of savoury dishes such as fennel risotto or a punchy curried fennel and carrot soup whilst the fennel seeds work in both savoury and sweet dishes; in a sort of miracle-of-wonders, salted-caramel kind of vibe, the liquorice sweetness kicks in.
I think it’s a bit of an unsung hero of the vegetable world and yes, I realise that aniseed as a taste can be polarising but sliced ultra-thinly in a layered beetroot and fennel salad with a sharp lemony sauce, it’s a taste of Mediterranean heaven on a plate which I think is what we need in these cold wintery days.
This is a lovely focaccia recipe and uses the best of the freshest herbs in the garden. I love the combination of the citrus hit of the lemon thyme with the mellow groove of fennel. I’ve pan-fried some finely sliced fennel bulb with some fennel seeds to add a deeper nutty topping to the bread. Extra Virgin Olive Oil features heavily here and so try and get the best oil you can afford.
• Start by very gently pan-frying the finely sliced fennel and 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds in plenty of butter over a low heat until soft and just starting to brown – should take 8 minutes – set aside.
• I use my Smeg stand mixer to knead the dough as I find it’s hassle-free and turns out a perfect dough but if you don’t have one then knead as normal on a floured surface for 10 min. Place the flour, yeast and salt into the bowl of your stand mixer and using the dough hook, begin to knead on low as you put in the water and 80ml of the olive oil. Let it all come together and do its magic kneading for 10 min.
• Stop the machine, pull the dough out and quickly oil the bowl with more olive oil then place the dough back in, cover in cling film and set aside to rise for at least an hour or until doubled in size.
• Oil your surface and remove the dough from the bowl and punch it down and scatter over some more fennel seeds. Fold it over itself and punch down again, turn one quarter, fold and punch. Repeat twice more and set aside.
• Sprinkle some olive oil into a large baking tray and spread around with your hands. Now place the dough into the baking tray and push it out to the edges. It won’t fully cooperate but play with it quite freely and it will stretch, then set aside for 30 min and during this time it will fill the tray and rise a little.
• Oil your finger and push regular indents into the dough, then take a small sprig of time and place it into each hole.
• Bake on 200C for 20 min or until it starts to turn golden then remove from the oven and generously drizzle the top of the focaccia with more olive oil and then sprinkle with salt. You can be as generous as you like here, I like it very salty.
• Set aside to cool for a few moments before tearing apart with your teeth.
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