Olive Focaccia & Squid Ink Pasta with Seabass

Written by: Georgina Ingham | Posted: 28-08-2009

Bread is often called the staff of life and it is not difficult to see why. There are so many varients out there, different flours, different blends, different optional extras and different baking styles; need I go on? I love bread and I love baking bread.

Focaccia is the ultimate sharing bread and very easy to make. It is an uncomplicated, unfussy bread that lends itself to being served alongside strongly flavoured Italian meals, ranging from simple salads to pasta dishes and everything else in-between. What I’m trying to say is there is never a bad time to serve focaccia.

I suppose it could be classed as an Italian flat bread and the dough has been known (although not in my house, thank you) to be used as the base of ‘deep dish’ pizza.

Plain focaccia i.e. simply olive oil and salt drizzled and scattered over the top before baking is wonderful but to my mind the addition of some salty, earthy olives really makes this bread sing with joy.

To give a little more depth of flavour I also added some herb salt that my lovely friend Carla from Bologna sent me; it wasn’t overly strong, just a pleasing back note. Do feel free to just use everyday fine seasalt if you haven’t any herb salt to hand though; they bread will not suffer.

Good focaccia is not overly oily, nor overly salty but a tastebud tantaliser of the highest nature, I confess I have never found a shop bought focaccia that lives up to the kind I have eaten in Italy, even the kind from artisan bakers just do not seem to do it justice; home baked can do this. If you want to taste Italy, bake this bread! It is soft and chewy, whilst being light and airy with the air pockets evidence enough to prove it. The recipe I used is adapted from one in the River Cottage Handbook No.3 Bread by Daniel Stevens. This bread book is an utter delight. The author has such a laid back style, he takes away the fear of bread baking and makes everything so clear; I would recommend the book to novices and expert bakers alike; something for everyone. Don’t be put off by the book being a tiny hardback, it is so crammed with great information and tips that you won’t regret buying it at all.

It goes without saying that I am going to enter this delicious bread to YeastSpotting.

I was serving it with a squid ink pasta dish (adapted from a Nigella Express recipe) that contained capers, well olives and capers are a heavenly match and so how could I not pair them up?

I bought my squid ink pasta from an online Italian deli who have some fabulous produce, don’t blame me if you wander across to have a gander and end up maxing out your credit card; I have pre-warned you.

The lovely Nigella’s recipe asks for red mullet but I didn’t have any. I did however have a couple of lovely seabass fillets bought from The Lobster Pot on my holiday in Norfolk sitting in the freezer and she does say that seabass would be a good choice; Nigella is right, it is a perfect choice.

For a little additional flavour and texture I added some crayfish tails to the pasta dish too. I adore crayfish and will find any excuse I can to add them to seafood dishes. Unfortunately I have now used up my stock and will have to wait for another seaside visit to buy some more. Luckily it is only another couple of weeks until I visit Norfolk again.

I’m often asked if squid ink pasta really tastes any different to normal pasta and if it is just the colour that is different; well all I can say is this: it lends an earthy flavour and brings alive the taste of the sea so well. I suppose the key is it heightens the other fishy vibes going on.

The pasta was vibrant both in terms of taste and colour. Colourful food always tastes that bit better don’t you think? After all it is said we eat with our eyes before anything else isn’t it. Shut your eyes and imagine you are sat on the Tuscan coast, ahh bliss.

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