Fig and Honey Focaccia: Focaccia di fichi e miele
The Etruscans settled in the west coast of central Italy in roughly the 8th Century BC. Although there are many surviving stone tablets with Etruscan writing, scholars have not yet been able to translate their language. However, from archeological remains, we know that they made a sort of thick dough from ground grains, which was baked underneath hot cooking ashes. The cooked dough was then topped with seasoned oils, herbs, and other available ingredients. The Romans called these ashcakes, “panus focus” which evolved into the Italian, focaccia.
Al fico l’acqua, alla pesca il vino, “Give figs water, peaches wine,” is an Italian expression which is sort of the equivalent of “To each his own” and refers to the fact that Italians generally serve figs in a bowl of water to cool them, while peaches are often served sliced in a glass of wine.
Take advantage of fig season with this fragrant and unusual focaccia. With a satisfying mix of crunch and chewy, the honey gives it just the right touch of sweetness. Focaccia with fruit is often eaten in Italy as a midmorning snack, but its great with afternoon tea or served with cheese as an aperitivo nibble.
There are hundreds of varieties of honey in Italy: lavander, sage, savory, rosemary, thyme, lemon, lime, orange, and citrus mix, miele di agrumi, as well as the very popular milliefiore, thousand flowers.
A few stand-outs include:
-Carob: Made from the blossoms of the carob tree, this is a medium dark honey with a rich almost chocolately taste. It’s a very popular flavor in Italy for using in desserts.
-Corbezzolo: From the Arbutus plant, or tree strawberry, that grows in Sardegna and parts of Tuscany. A light colored aromatic, bitter-sweet honey. Excellent too, if you can find it, is corbezzolo jam, which tastes like a cross between peaches, apricots and roses.
-Fico d’India: Honey from the blossoms of prickly pear cactus plant. Dense, rich flavor. One of my personal all-time favorites.
-Sulla: Light colored with a mild, floral taste. Made from the bright red flowers of the hedysarum coronarium plant, that now mainly grows in Abruzzo, Molise, Calabria and Sicily. Lots of sports-minded Italians create their own sort of sports drink mixing a few tablespoons of sulla honey with water.
Piedmont’s Strade del Miele, Honey Road, is a fun destination for honey lovers with special stops in more than a dozen honey-centric towns.
Serves 6 to 8
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/2 cup of warm water, and let the yeast bubble, about 2 minutes. Sift the flour onto a clean work surface or into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and fill with the water. Add the oil, sugar and salt, and slowly begin to incorporate the flour into the center hollow, combining with each addition, until dough forms. Add a few drops more water if needed. Knead the dough until smooth, and let rest in a lightly oiled bowl until it doubles, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 F and oil a 10-inch cake pan.
Using your hands, press out the dough into a circle about 10 inches in diameter. Place on the prepared pan. Pierce the dough throughout with a fork.
Carefully cut a cross on top of one of the figs, halfway down, so the figs opens like a flower. Press it into the center of the dough.
Remove the stems from the 17 remaining figs, slice them in half, and arrange them around the focaccia, cut side up, pressing them into the dough as far as possible. (Cook’s note: if you can’t find small figs, use medium or large and just cut them in thirds or quarters)
Put the honey and rosemary into a small bowl and heat for a few seconds in the microwave or over boiling water. Stir in the lemon juice. Using a pastry brush, spread the mixture over the top of the figs and foccaccia dough. Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden and cooked through. Remove from the oven and drizzle with more honey and sprigs of rosemary. Serve warm.