I admit to a little envy this week as I sit by my desk receiving videos, skype messages and photos during Vanessa’s visit to Mulino Marino near Turin. Still, while I sit inside looking out, I do know that this week at least – or for a day or two more anyway, we have weather akin to the beautiful weather in Italy.

Late spring sends wildlife into a reproductive frenzy with the birds and bees making the most of the fine weather. For a beehive, this means swarming. The colony reproduces by splitting in half, taking the old queen and the most senior worker bees to create a new hive somewhere. Better beekeepers than I (mostly retired with plenty of time) work hard to avoid the swarming but occasionally, one gets away. I had one this week, spotted by our builder, I was able to get to it and offer it a new home before it found somewhere really inaccessible and probably a nuisance to settle. They seem very happy.

I can’t think of a better bread to accompany a meal eaten outside in the sunshine than a focaccia covered in herbs, garlic, peppers and a good splash of olive oil. Inspired by her trip to Italy, this focaccia is easy to make and with a soft and sweet tender crumb, the bread especially suits our Italian 00 flour, which of course is ideal for this recipe.

Look for our Father’s Day suggestions next week.

The relative simplicity of a good focaccia is part of the attraction – white dough flavoured with local, seasonal ingredients. Add a little chopped parsley and some sea salt and you have bread for tearing and sharing at a barbecue, for dunking into soup or making fabulous sandwiches. The soft dough can be topped with seasonal ingredients, tomato and basil for the summer, or roasted squash with chilli and sage in autumn. Or, you can customise this bread to complement the food it will accompany – try adding thyme and sesame seeds to go with hummus. Experimenting with new flavours is one of my favourite things about baking focaccia. One evening last week, while the oven was still hot after baking, I roasted a red pepper and some garlic to make a richly flavoured pepper pesto to use on a focaccia. The combination of sweet roasted red peppers with a good salty goat’s cheese and chopped fresh parsley not only tastes good, it looks amazing too. Red peppers are rich sources of beta-carotene. Carotenoids have been associated with several health promoting functions including antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory properties, so this is really part of the Mediterranean diet approach.

Recipe: Roasted Red Pepper & Goat’s Cheese Focaccia


Start by roasting the pepper. Take off the stalk, remove the seeds and brush with olive oil. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F/gas 6. Wash the pepper and place it on its side in a small roasting tin, along with the garlic cloves still in their skins. Place the tin in a preheated oven. The garlic should be soft after about 10-15 minutes, remove them from the oven and set aside to cool. Turn the pepper over and leave to cook longer, until it is soft with the skin blackened in places - about 20-25 minutes in total. Remove the pepper from the oven and leave to cool in the roasting tin.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix the yeast with 30g of the water at 30°C and ½ tsp of caster sugar. Allow to stand for about 15 minutes, until it has developed a slight froth on the surface.

Make the dough by combining the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast mixture, the rest of the water and 1 tbsp of the olive oil and mix everything together to form a rough dough. Turn the dough out onto the work surface and knead for 5 or 6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and soft. Put 1 tbsp of olive oil into the bottom of the mixing bowl, form the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp cloth and leave to rise at room temperature for one hour.

Once the pepper is cool enough to handle, peel away the skin. This should be easy to do. then cut the pepper into small chunks and put them in a pestle and mortar. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its papery case and straight into the pestle and mortar with the pepper, and gently mash the two together until you have a rough paste. Stir in the finely chopped parsley.

After the dough has risen for an hour, fold about half of the red pepper paste into it. This is best done in the bowl, because the dough is oily. Put some pepper paste on top of the dough. Using both hands, gently stretch the dough by picking it up on either side and pulling your hands apart, then fold each side over to the middle, enclosing the paste. Repeat this twice more. Cover the bowl again and leave to rise for a further 30 minutes to one hour.

Prepare two 8” or 9”cake tins by lining them with baking parchment. Divide the dough equally into two and shape each piece into a ball, placing one in each of the tins. Use your fingers to gently flatten the dough until it fills the base of the tin. Dot the half of the remaining red pepper paste over each loaf, along with 1 tablespoon of goat’s cheese. Cover the two loaves (cling wrap is good here because a cloth is going to get very messy), and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Bake the focaccia using a La Cloche as the steam created will prevent the crust from drying out, making it very soft and will give the focaccia extra lift making it more voluptuous. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400F/gas 6, placing a cloche in from cold to heat up with the oven. When the dough is ready to bake, dimple the top with your fingertips. Drizzle each loaf with 1 tbsp of olive oil, and season the top with a pinch of the beautiful Fleur du Sel and a good grinding of black pepper. Put one tin into the fridge until the first is baked.

Lift the first loaf from its tin, still on the baking parchment, and place it directly onto a cloche base and place on the lid. Bake for about 20 minutes and remove the lid for a further 10 minutes until the top is golden brown and the bottom of the bread sounds hollow when you tap it. Remove the baking parchment and leave on a cooling rack.

Repeat for the remaining loaf.

(Makes two 20cm round loaves)

For the red pepper paste
1 red pepper de-seeded
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp olive oil

For the dough
9g sachet Bioreal organic yeast
420g lukewarm water
600g organic “00” white flour
7g fine sea salt
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

To finish
2 tbsp soft goat’s cheese
a pinch Fleur du Sel
freshly ground black pepper


Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton


Fermentation Guru at Sourdough School

When Vanessa invited Sandor Katz, the renowned fermentation revivalist and author of The Art of Fermentation, to teach a course at the Sourdough School, she hadn’t appreciated just how popular it would be. In all honesty she said "we could have filled it five times over".

It has grown so much that it has now become a fermentation garden party exchanging experience and ideas with affordable tickets and the proceeds going to charity.

The event is on the 17th of June and is at the Sourdough School. You will no doubt meet lots of other interesting people and maybe even bump into me with my jar of fermenting vegetables. Vanessa says there will be beer, cheese and local wine. I am very much looking forward to meeting Sandor Ellix Katz, author of Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003) which Newsweek called “the fermenting bible”.

For remaining tickets see the Sourdough School. There are 2 FREE tickets available for one of those buying a fermentation jar this bank holiday weekend. (Note there is no cash alternative and this is the only date for the event).

featured products

Fleur de Sel | £2.25

Fleur de Sel, or Flower of Salt, is a delicate finishing salt known for its bright, fine, naturally white crystals. The Fleur de Sel is carefully harvested by hand off the top of the salt marches.

Organic Type "00" Soffiata Strong White Flour | £2.75

Type "00" flour from strong organic wheat suitable for ciabatta, baguettes, brioches, croissants and as a general bread flour.

La Cloche Baking Dome | £47.99

Make fantastic bread in your oven every time with a La Cloche. Ensure perfect golden, crackly crust and moist, evenly baked bread with this amazing product, based on 1000s of years of bread baking traditions.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

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