Chris Bianco's Lemon Focaccia

Like just about everyone in Phoenix, we're fans of Chris Bianco and the amazing things he does with bread. Making trips to his sandwich shop, Pane' Bianco, at 4404 N. Central Ave. is on heavy rotation in our travels. However, right now the whole team is off on their annual summer break, the shop is closed until September 14, and we are left without our near weekly fix.

What to do? Martha Stewart to the rescue of course - wouldn't you know, she has a wonderful recipe on her site for a delicious lemon focaccia. The recipe was even contributed by Chris Bianco and is a staple of the Pane Bianco menu. In the shop a daily focaccia selection is served with any number of combinations of toppings onto this versatile canvas. We decide to add onions and cherry tomatoes (similar to one we've had in the store). 

To make the focaccia dough, take a large bowl and combine one package instant yeast with 2 ½ cups flour and 2 cups water; whisk and let stand for 15 minutes. 

Next add 2 ½ cups more flour and 2 ½ teaspoons sea salt. Mix well. Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until, "wet and tacky, but not sticky, 8 to 10 minutes". Place inside a well-oiled bowl and cover. Let stand until the dough doubles in size, 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

When ready, oil a baking sheet and press dough evenly onto the sheet, let rise until puffy, about one hour. 

When it comes time to cover the dough with toppings, the recipe calls for fleur de sel, a fancy hand made French sea salt, which it would be nice if we had on hand, but we don't, so we used coarse sea salt from the supermarket. 

When adding other toppings as we did, like onions and cherry tomatoes, use half or less of the lemon slices called for in the recipe. Feel free to use just about anything you'd find in grandma's Italian kitchen (sausage, onions, rosemary, sage). Another good tip for slicing the lemons or onions, is to use a mandoline, which makes those lovely paper thin slices of lemon you find at Pane Bianco. Ours is an inexpensive plastic one but it works wonders. 

This recipe is surprisingly easy and very satisfying - just be sure to give yourself the time to leisurely prepare the dough. The smell of caramelizing vegetables and baking bread reaches out from the kitchen drawing us in to munch on big squares of warm focaccia.