Kawan kawan, I’ve been travelling of late. This time to Bergamo, Italy. There we celebrated a special birthday – the FIL turned 80 on Friday, 25th November. We have an octogenarian in the family. Actually, we have two, for my father is also 80.
The trip took us on a gastronomic adventure high on the hills of the Città Alta, the ancient Venetian walled city of Bergamo. The Upper City which was built in the 17th Century forms the historic centre of Bergamo. The Città Alta is accessible by la macchina/car, la funicular/cable car or à piedi/by foot. On Sundays, in order to prevent congestion and pollution, the upper city is only accessible by cable car and foot. Many stairways, built around the 17th century take residents and visitors on foot to the Upper City. These footpaths or scale connect the Lower City to the Upper one and can be found dotted at the base of the Città Alta.
The family decided to take a stroll up along one of these stairways. Afterall, what else is there to do on a beautiful Sunday morning in Italy? The nearest one to the home of i nonni is aptly named del paradiso. I guess cities are built on higher ground for particular reasons – vantage point, fortification and to be situated advantageously closer to paradise.
At the top very top of the Città Alta is the Piazza Vecchia, the old piazza which is the upper city’s main square. There, one can find the oldest church in Bergamo – Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore– which was founded in 1137 on another site that was constructed in the 8th Century that was dedicated to Mary. Inside the basilica, you can also find amongst various artwork, tapestries that were partly executed in Florence and the Flanders, depicting the life of Mary. These tapestries date back to at least 1583.
While the old folks attended mass, the young folks attended to their stomachs. We strolled along the cobbled main street of the Upper City and found ourselves gawping open mouthed into the window of a foccaceria. Christmas had come early for us that day – inside this palace of bread (and not just simply bread but foccacia bread) we witnessed rows and rows of foccacia with various toppings. Here’s my personal favourite:
A meal in itself. For those of you who know me well, you’ll know that I like it when meals can be cooked simply and healthily. A one-pot stew or a dish of veg and meat stirfry – simple, healthy and delicious. And here in the città alta in Bergamo, I found a meal on a piece of bread. This is a tweak on the open faced sandwich.
There were so many to choose from. But we were only a couple of hours from lunch. What do we do? The answer was simple kawan kawan, we choose the best piece of foccacia that takes our fancies and gobble them up. Where can we perch to eat this bread? On the steps of the biblioteca Angelo Mai, of course.
At home in London, with the help of a bread machine, I used to make foccacia. The Italian adores this bread and we have been known to have purchased a kilo of this bread on one visit to Genoa many moons ago. This kilo didn’t last very long, of course, as we ate it all up in one weekend!
Here’s a simple foccacia recipe that I found and tweaked:
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 (.25 ounce) packet of active dry yeast
- 1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
- 2 cups all-purpose organic flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of gross salt
- In a small bowl, dissolve sugar and yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.
- In a large bowl, combine the yeast mixture with flour; stir well to combine. Stir in additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until all of the flour is absorbed. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly for about 1 minute.
- Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 degrees C).
- Deflate the dough by pressing or rolling it out gently, then turn it out onto a lightly floured surface; knead briefly. Pat or roll the dough into a sheet and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Make small indentation with your thumb and brush the dough with oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Bake focaccia in preheated oven for 10 to 20 minutes, depending on desired crispness. If you like it moist and fluffy, then you’ll have to wait just about 10 minutes. If you like it crunchier and darker in the outside, you may have to wait 20 minutes.
Once you know how to make the foccacia, the toppings are really whatever you want them to be. Here look:
And look again:
Isn’t this fabulous, kawan kawan? No more boring sandwiches in between dry tasteless pieces of bread. Now you have the foccacia-wich! Bon appetit, mes amies!