With Easter almost upon us, it is a joy for me to look back upon past Easter holidays with my family which were much about the food and its preparation, in addition to the blessings of the season. I remember the usual weeks leading up to the holiday with buzzing in the kitchen about getting the milk fed lamb or goat and the greens for the minestra. Bread making was a part of all this. In the Calabrisi household, back in Binghamton, NY, my parents, Loretta and Attilio, often made a rolled bread using pizza dough filled with their homemade Italian sausage (the best sausage ever created!)
Remembering this, a Neapolitan Easter favorite comes to mind – the Casatiello – which is a brioche-like bread stuffed with meats and cheeses. In the spirit of the traditional long rising and mixing of this traditional bread from Napoli, I enjoy making a shorter version and call it, FOCACCIA CASATIELLO. This is a much quicker easier process which yields a beautiful soft focaccia suitable for any occasion but especially for the Easter season. Focaccia usually has a shorter rise time, and is easier, I think, to make, even for a novice bread maker.
This focaccia is stuffed with cooked sausage, fennel seed, and Pecorino cheese. These additions fill the focaccia with extra flavor and create big flavors for little effort. It is best made the day you plan to serve it. The next day –the leftover focaccia will disappear, as your guests and family realize that this is the perfect breakfast food when slipped onto the griddle with their eggs and whatever. We love this stuff at our house, and it always flies off the serving platter.
Hint: This is the time when you’ll want to use a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle this amazing flavor bomb!
Makes: 1 9x 13 loaf
Prep: 3 hours
Cook: 12-15 minutes
1 c. Lukewarm water
1 envelope dry active yeast
1 tsp. honey
2 3/4 c. flour – divided (1 cup and 1/1/2 cups)
¼ c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. Fennel Seed
1/2 C. Italian Sausage broken into very small bits – a mixture of sweet and hot sausage – cooked, casings removed
1/2 C. Pecorino Cheese + 1/4 to 1/3 C.extra for top sprinkle – coarsely grated
Coarse Salt for a very light sprinkle (Sea Salt, Grey Sea Salt, or Fleur de Sel are good choices for this)
Additional GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzle
Fresh Chopped Sage for garnish
Brown sausage pieces quickly in a pan with a little olive oil. Set aside.
In large bowl mix water, yeast, honey – let sit for about 5 min.
Add 1 c. flour and ¼ c. oil into the yeast mixture – let sit 5 min. more
Add the remaining flour and salt. Mix together with hands and open fingers in a circular motion as for making biscuits.
Knead this mixture on a board for about 5 minutes – not long – it should come together and become a smooth dough. Add a touch of flour if sticky – but not too much.
Spread the dough out a little and add the sausage, fennel seed, and Pecorino – work these ingredients into the dough well.
Rub the dough with a couple of drops of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and place it in a bowl covered with a towel and put it in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour and a half.
When finished rising, turn the dough into an oiled rectangular cake pan – about 9 x 13 inches.
Dust your hands with some flour and push the dough with your fingers until it retains the shape of the pan. Poke dimples all over the top of the dough with a finger.
I like to cover with a towel and then put the pan aside for about 30 minutes for a second rise. Second rise will not be as much as the first.
Preheat the oven to about 450 degrees. You may prefer to place the pan on an upper rack for nicer browning.
After second rise, sprinkle a little coarse salt on top, sprinkle the coarsely grated Pecorino (1/4 to 1/3 C.), and drizzle the top with a GOOD Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Bake for 15 minutes depending on your oven. Top should be golden – not too brown.
Don’t over bake or your focaccia will be dry. The time will depend on your oven so watch it and adjust if needed!
Turn the focaccia out on a board to cool. Sprinkle on some chopped fresh Sage and drizzle generously with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Cover loosely until ready to serve and slice. Make this the day you want to serve it.
So hurry and make your FOCACCIA CASATIELLO – the table awaits! (Also try the Italian Sweet Easter Bread another Easter tradition. )
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography