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Milk Street Secret Italian Recipes (Ep 416)

Tomato-Olive Focaccia

Start to finish: 7¼ hours (40 minutes active), plus cooling | Servings: 12

This recipe recreates the light, open-crumbed focaccia we ate in Bari, Italy. To achieve that texture, the dough must be wet—so wet, in fact, it verges on a thick, yet pourable batter. Resist the temptation to add more flour than is called for. Shaping such a sticky, high-hydration dough by hand is impossible. Instead, the dough is gently poured and scraped into the oiled baking pan; gravity settles it into an even layer. If you have trouble finding Castelvetrano olives, substitute any large, meaty green olive. To slice the baked focaccia for serving, use a serrated knife and a sawing motion to cut through the crust and crumb without compressing it. If desired, serve with extra-virgin olive oil for dipping. For convenience, the dough can be prepared and transferred to the baking pan a day in advance. After it has settled in the pan, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The next day, prepare the toppings. Uncover, top the dough with the olives and tomatoes and let stand at room temperature for 45 minutes, then finish and bake as directed.

Don't disturb the dough during its rise. And when transferring the dough to the baking pan, handle it gently. The goal is to retain as much gas in the dough as possible so the focaccia bakes up with an airy texture. Don't use a baking dish made of glass or ceramic; neither will produce a crisp, browned exterior, and glass is not safe to use in a 500°F oven.


  • 500 grams (3⅔ cups) bread flour
  • 5 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 cups water, cool room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and halved (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


In a stand mixer with the dough hook, mix the flour, yeast and sugar on medium until combined, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on low, drizzle in the water, then increase to medium and mix until the ingredients form a very wet, smooth dough, about 5 minutes. Turn off the mixer, cover the bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, coat the bottom and sides of a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of oil; set aside.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of salt over the dough, then knead on medium until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes; the dough will be wet enough to cling to the sides of the bowl. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the dough into the oiled bowl. Dip your fingers into the oil pooled at the sides of the bowl and dab the surface of the dough until completely coated with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 5½ to 6 hours; during this time, the dough will double in volume, deflate, then rise again (but will not double in volume again).

After the dough has risen for about 4½ hours, heat the oven to 500°F with a baking steel or stone on the middle rack. Mist a 9-by-13- inch metal baking pan with cooking spray, then pour 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in the center of the pan; set aside.

When the dough is ready, gently pour it into the prepared pan, scraping the sides of the bowl with a silicone spatula to loosen; try to retain as much air in the dough as possible. The dough will eventually settle into an even layer in the pan; do not spread the dough with a spatula, as this will cause it to deflate. Set aside while you prepare the tomatoes.

In a medium bowl, use a potato masher to lightly crush the tomatoes. Scatter the olives evenly over the dough, then do the same with the tomatoes, leaving the juice and seeds in the bowl. If the dough has not fully filled the corners of the pan, use your hands to lightly press the toppings to push the dough into the corners. Let stand uncovered at room temperature for 20 minutes.

Drizzle the dough with the remaining 4 tablespoons oil, making sure each tomato is coated. Sprinkle evenly with the oregano, remaining 1½ teaspoons salt and the pepper. Place the pan on the baking steel or stone and bake until golden brown and the sides of the focaccia have pulled away from the pan, 20 to 22 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Using a wide metal spatula, lift the focaccia from the pan and slide it onto the rack. Cool for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Orecchiette with Broccolini

Start to finish: 40 minutes | Servings: 4

Orecchiette with broccoli rabe (orecchiette con cime di rapa) is a signature pasta dish from the Puglia region of southern Italy. The bitterness of rabe is challenging for some palates, so we use sweeter, milder broccolini. However, if you like the assertiveness of rabe, it can easily be used in place of the broccolini, though rabe will cook a little more quickly. We boil the pasta in a minimal amount of water, then the starchy liquid that remains becomes the base for the sauce that marries the orecchiette and broccolini. A finishing sprinkle of toasted seasoned breadcrumbs adds a crisp texture.

Don’t use fine dried breadcrumbs instead of panko breadcrumbs. Their sandy, powdery texture doesn’t offer the light, delicate crispness of panko.


  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, 4 minced, 4 thinly sliced
  • 8 oil-packed anchovy fillets, minced
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1½ pounds broccolini, trimmed and cut crosswise into ¼-inch pieces
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces orecchiette pasta

INSTRUCTIONS In a large Dutch oven over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. Add the minced garlic and half the anchovies, then cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add the panko and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside; wipe out the pot.

In the same pot over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil until shimmering. Add the broccolini, pepper flakes, sliced garlic, 1½ teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the broccolini is crisp-tender and the garlic is golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Add ½ cup water and continue to cook, stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated and the broccolini is fully tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside.

In the same pot over medium-high, boil 5 cups water. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the pasta, then cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Stir in the broccolini mixture, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and the remaining anchovies. Continue to cook over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the liquid has thickened enough to cling lightly to the pasta and broccolini, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs.

Fregola with Shrimp and Tomatoes

Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes | Servings: 4

This is our simplified version of the fregola with seafood and tomato sauce that we tasted in Sardinia. Cooking the pasta in chicken broth and bottled clam juice that were first simmered with shrimp shells adds deep complexity without calling for a lengthy ingredient list. If your shrimp already are shelled, remove the tails and use those to infuse the liquid. And if you have trouble finding fregola, an equal amount of toasted pearl couscous is a good stand-in; see p. 18 for toasting instructions. You'll also need to reduce the chicken broth to only 2 cups. And after cooking the fregola for 8 to 10 minutes following the second addition of shrimp- infused broth, remove the pot from the heat before adding the shrimp.

Don't fully cook the shrimp when browning them. They'll be only parcooked when they come out of the pot, but will finish in the residual heat of the fregola. After adding the shrimp to the fregola, don't forget to cover the pot, as this traps heat for cooking the shrimp.


  • 1½ pounds extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled (shells reserved), deveined and patted dry
  • Two 8-ounce bottles clam juice
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 cup fregola (see note)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

INSTRUCTIONS In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine the shrimp shells, clam juice, chicken broth, bay, thyme and peppercorns. Microwave on high until the shrimp tails are pink and the mixture is hot, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh strainer set over another medium bowl; discard the solids in the strainer.

Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large pot over medium- high, heat 1 tablespoon of oil until barely smoking. Add half the shrimp and cook without stirring until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat with another 1 tablespoon oil and the remaining shrimp.

Return the pot to medium-high. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil. Add the tomatoes, onion, carrot and ½ teaspoon salt, then cook, stirring, until the tomatoes are spotty brown and the onion has softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and fregola, then cook, stirring, until the garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in 2 cups of the shrimp broth, then bring to a simmer. Reduce to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in another 2 cups broth, return to a simmer and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid is absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 cup broth and cook, stirring constantly, until the fregola is tender and the mixture is creamy but not soupy, 6 to 8 minutes.

Off heat, stir in the shrimp and accumulated juices, remaining 1 tablespoon oil, lemon juice and parsley. Cover and let stand until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 5 to 7 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

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