While you read this, I will be in Lisbon, for the first holiday abroad in two years. Our trip to Portugal was initially planned for last year, but with me changing jobs, and my annual leave allowance getting slaughtered by the time I had to set aside for interviews, there has been no booking a holiday before I started my new role – or after. And now, here we are: my “new role” has been mine for nearly a year, and we’re finally flying out to see a new part of the world. I’m excited, and can’t wait to tell you all about my adventures and discoveries in a couple of weeks (that’s five days to take the trip, and the eons it will take me to write about it. I don’t even want to think about the load of work and life admin I’ll have to catch up with on my return).
While I write this, I still haven’t got a clue what we will be doing in Lisbon. We haven’t yet picked the sights we;ll see, although have made vague plans of heading out of town for day trips in Sintra and Cascais at some point. As it often happens when my partner and I travel together, all preparation will be done on the plane, with me reading the guide to combat my crippling fear of flying, and him sleeping sound in the seat next to me. I don’t know how people can sleep on planes; I’ve always found it challenging to carve myself a spot to rest my head, without everything else from the neck down being stuck in unnatural positions – let alone dozing off. I shall thank god for crosswords and books. Who else gets excited about their holiday reads? Come on, I know I’m not the only one.
Unusually for me, I haven’t even decided where and what we’re going to eat. The only thing I know for sure, is that we’ll be heading to Pasteis de Belem at least once (and probably more often than even we can imagine, if it’s as good as everyone says it is). If a native Portuguese tells me that Lisboa Patisserie‘s pasteis de nata are great, but Belem natas are from another planet, I can only believe it – and I’ve heard that a lot here in London.
I hope to eat plenty of fish; travelling with a fish-loathing partner means that while we’re away, I can treat myself to all the stuff I can’t cook at home. I hope Portuguese cuisine surprises me with something I’ve never heard of or tried before, that will remain a cherished memory over the years. I hope they have good bread; do they have anything like focaccia in Portugal? In doubt, I’ve made some at home, to remind myself that my favourite Italian comfort foods aren’t that hard to recreate away from the homeland.
Whether you love Italian food, love focaccia, or simply can’t live without a daily fix of carbs, you should make some time to try it: the recipe is foolproof, and the soft, fulfilling focaccia you’ll get tastes as good as anything you’d buy from a legit bakery. And if you’ve ever been to Lisbon – whether you’re from there, or happened to visit at some point – don’t forget to send me your tips and recommendations. Eating, drinking, sightseeing, walking, shopping: I’m hoping to do all of these things, and more!
Sage and Mozzarella Focaccia
(makes 4 – 6 servings)
- 400g plain flour (or strong bread flour)
- 300ml warm water
- 2tsp salt
- 1tsp sugar
- 5tbsp Olive Oil
- 1 sachet active dry yeast
- 75g mozzarella, diced
- 5 – 6 sage leaves, coarsely chopped
- Sea salt, to your taste
- Pour 120ml warm water in a glass, and add the sugar and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes and froth up.
Cook’s tip: Make sure the water is just warm to the finger; if it’s too hot, the yeast won’t proof.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. Add the yeast, 2 tablespoons oil and the salt, and knead until combined.
- Once you’ve added the yeast, gradually add the remaining warm water, and keep kneading until you get a soft dough ball.
Cook’s tip: I usually start kneading with my hand mixer, then finish off by hand. In the end, your dough has to be smooth, not sticky; if it’s too sticky, add more flour to adjust the texture.
- Put your dough ball in a greased bowl, and let it rise until it doubles in volume (every time I’ve made this recipe, this step has taken between 2 and 4 hours).
- Knock down the dough to release the trapped air, then gather it again, and transfer it to a greased baking tin (I use a 24cm round baking tin).
- Gently spread the dough with your palm, so it fills the tin evenly. Set aside, and let rise again for around 20 – 25 minutes.
- Make dimples across the dough, and fill each of them with a piece of mozzarella and a sprinkle of sage.
- Using a pastry brush, apply the remainder of the oil across the dough; add a couple whole sage leaves for decoration, and spread some sea salt on top, too.
- Preheat the oven to 220C, and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes.
Cook’s tip: Your focaccia will be ready when the crust turns golden in color, and produces a hollow sound when tapped.
- Serve your focaccia warm; it’s great on its own, but also works well with an olive oil dip, or made up as a sandwich, with fresh mozzarella and grilled vegetables or cured meats as the filling.