It’s something to behold when the very rare opportunity for an actually-sunny picnic arises in England, (as opposed to the all too familiar sandwiches-in-the cold-and-rain, huddled against a wall under a shop canopy, pretending it’s fine) and has to be taken full advantage of. Honestly even the most basic of picnics taste pretty good when paired with actual sunlight and natural warmth on your skin, and I for one am not ever going to knock an egg mayo roll and a bag of Wotsits. But with a little advance preparation in the morning, a regular picnic can be turned into a real event with one masterful centrepiece; not only will fellow picnickers ooh and aah at your amazing creation, but a great picnic centrepiece will cut out all the endless tupperwares and incorporate what would otherwise be several separate parts of your picnic spread into one handy dish, which you can proudly whip out and offer around to everyone… be sure to rip off your own bit, first.
If you don’t want to get technical with the ring shaped dough, you can make it simpler by making one like this square one, instead. Simply lay your fillings on one side of the dough rectangle and fold horizontally, like a book, and seal the edges. This will create more of a sandwich-style filled bread when you cut into it.
For the focaccia
- 250g strong white bread flour
- 5g salt
- 5g instant dried yeast
- Olive oil, about 100ml
- 180ml cold water
- Sea salt
- Dried shallot
- Semolina for dusting (optional)
For the filling
- Roasted peppers, home roasted or from a jar
- Sun dried tomatoes
- Black olives
- Feta cheese
- Fresh basil
- Optional nuts if desired, eg. pine
Begin with the basic focaccia.
- Lightly oil a small plastic container or bowl.
- In a large mixing bowl place the flour, salt and yeast. Pour in 20ml of olive oil and a little of the water to begin to combine. Mix with your fingers, slowly adding in more water, a little at a time. All of the flour must be incorporated in the dough, with none left on the sides of the bowl. Don’t be alarmed by the consistency of the dough after adding the water – this should be a very wet, sticky dough.
- Oil well your counter top, and ease out the dough. Persevering with it’s current sticky state, begin to knead. Although it is a little tricky to manage, don’t add any extra flour as this may ruin the texture of the focaccia. You will need to knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is very elastic and is starting to become a little softer.
- Now place the dough into your oiled container and cover with a tea towel. Leave at room temperature for about an hour, until it is roughly double in size.
- After this time, prepare your baking tray with greaseproof paper, drizzled with plenty of olive oil (this will be very useful later on) and either a little semolina or some flour. Turn the dough out onto the tray, and very gently coax it into a large rectangle with thickness as even as you can. Sprinkle over some dried shallot. Cover again and leave a further hour to double in size once more.
Pre-heat your oven to 220ºc. While the dough is proving…
6. Prepare your fillings. If you are roasting your own peppers, slice them and place into a roasting dish. Lightly drizzle with oil and some oregano and roast at 180ºc for about half an hour. Place on some kitchen paper to drain off excess oil. Slice the sundried tomatoes and once again, place them on some kitchen paper to soak up their oils, to prevent the focaccia becoming too wet when you add in the fillings. Halve the olives and cube up the feta. Place a few stalks of fresh basil, leaves and stalks, into a pestle and mortar (if you have one), and crush. If you don’t have one, crush them with your hands.
7. Check your dough is ready by gently prodding it with your finger; it should be very soft and elastic, and leave a dimple.
8. Gently smear the crushed basil over the dough. Then add each ingredient. Be careful not to over-fill as it will not roll up properly.
9. Once all your fillings are in, begin to roll up the dough into a sausage, lengthways. I find the best way to do this is to lift up the far end of the greaseproof paper so that the dough gently rolls towards you into a long, thin sausage. Transfer the filled dough sausage back onto a greased tray and arrange it in a ring. You may need to gently pull and stretch the dough to open up the ring, so that it is wide enough to not close in on itself (shape-wise, imagine an onion ring rather than a doughnut). Lightly drizzle with a little oil, some oregano and some sea salt.If this is too technical to bother with, refer to my alternative stuffing method just above the ingredients list. (It won’t look as fancy though…)
10. Cut slits at intervals around the dough and pull at the dough around the gaps to really open them up, to ensure they remain open during baking when the dough expands.
11. Bake the ring for about 20 minutes to half an hour, until it is dark and crisp on top, and hard and dry on the bottom. Transfer onto a wire rack to cool.
You have everything you need in one bite, but particularly delicious served with some tzatziki and balsamic vinegar for dipping.