Here’s one from Mary Ann Esposito – another of my favorite Italian chefs. Her show, Ciao Italia has been on TV for almost 30 years – the longest-running TV cooking show, ever. Not bad for a girl from Buffalo!

One of the things I like most about Mary Ann is that she didn’t start out to be a cook. She learned to cook from her family but she went to school and became an elementary school teacher – definitely useful skills in a teaching-cooking environment. It really wasn’t until after visiting Italy with her husband and taking a cooking class that her Italian cooking passion surfaced. She began learning the history of Italian cooking – region by region – and traveling back to Italy for cooking lessons. And even with an Italian background, she had to go school to learn to speak Italian. Cooking classes, Italian classes… It didn’t just happen – there’s a bit of drive and dedication, here!

In this episode, she started off by talking about focaccia. Every region of Italy has something they call focaccia – and no two places are alike. The focaccia we had in Sicily is totally different from the focaccia of Genoa – they don’t even remotely resemble one another. And all of them are different than the flat-breads made with pizza dough – and they’re all made with yeast.

This one hails from Molise – southeast of Rome, northeast of Naples, and bordering the Adriatic Sea. It’s more like a cracker dough – unleavened.

Focaccia alla Molisana

adapted from Ciao Italia with Mary Ann Esposito

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 heads escarole, cleaned and chopped
  • 10 black olives, chopped
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 8 anchovies in oil
  • 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • black pepper, to taste
  • Egg wash for top of dough
  • Black Garlic Salt and additional pecorino for the top – optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a food processor, combine the flour, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt and white wine and form a dough. Set aside in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap while you make the filling.

Sweat the escarole leaves in a little water in a large sauté pan until leaves are wilted; drain and squeeze very dry. Chop.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan; add garlic, escarole, olives, capers, red pepper flakes, raisins, pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and anchovies; cook 3 to 4 minutes.

Mix well, then add grated cheese. Set aside to cool.

Divide the dough in half and roll out to 12-inch diameter and place one half in a greased and parchment lined rimmed cookie sheet. Spread cooled filling over the dough leaving a 1″ border and top with second rolled out piece of dough. Pinch edges closed. Cut vent holes in the top of dough to let air escape as the focaccia bakes. Brush top with beaten egg and sprinkle with black garlic salt and pecorino. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

Cut into wedges and serve warm.

This is one for the ages! The crust is totally unique. It’s cracker-like in its structure, but juuuust soft enough. It is sturdy enough to actually pick up one of those wedges without it drooping, but tender at the same time.

And the filling… Everything balances with the bitter escarole. The salty anchovies, capers, and olives pair with the red pepper flakes and the sweetness of the raisins. A perfect little crunch from the pine nuts. Every bite was a taste sensation.

I can envision a dozen different fillings, from broccoli rabe and sausage to leeks and fennel with lots of cheese.

We actually toyed with the idea of cutting everything in half and making a smaller one – our fitness goals, you know – but decided to make it all and then have luncheon leftovers. I’m glad we did!

We’ll be making this, again. And again.